Les Ethnographies Intimes: Encounters from the November 13th Paris Attacks

Caroline Cunfer

What does it mean for a narrator and interviewer to co-create an interview surrounding the shared experience of a traumatic event, and what does it mean for that interview to serve as the public historical record? 


This installation is a part of INTER\VIEWS: an inter\active oral history exhibition, showcasing multimedia projects and stories recorded by the 2018-2019 cohort of Columbia University’s Oral History MA program. Register here!



In 2015, I was twenty years old and studying in Paris when the coordinated terrorist attacks on Friday November 13th devastated the city. When I decided to return home following an unsettling experience two nights later, I felt the weight of the attack’s psychological repercussions as I tried to navigate what I would later identify as post-traumatic stress disorder.

I eventually discovered and turned to oral history, a practice that would prove to be instrumental in my processes of heal- ing, mourning, meaning-making, and connecting with others in the attack’s aftermath.

The interviews that I’m sharing are gifts— gifts to me, gifts to Paris, and gifts to the historical record. A record made all the more full and rich and complex with the intimate, embodied experiences of these women. To quote Portelli, the inter\view induces the interviewer to look not only at the interviewee, but also inside herself. Through oral history we encounter our narrators’ minds, their interior and exterior worlds, and in turn we more deeply encounter ourselves.

Merci mille fois to my narrators for giving me this opportuni- ty to more deeply encounter both you and myself. You are my co-authors, and I am so grateful for the privilege of holding your beautiful words. -Caroline

Caroline Cunfer is a member of OHMA’s 2018-2019 cohort and is thrilled to have the privilege of spending this year taking in and carrying strangers’ stories with her. She comes from an interdisciplinary undergraduate education in global studies, with a particular interest in the French language and literary translation. Her thesis project will explore the ways in which the November 13th, 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris have had varying implications and impacts on people’s lives and well-being, including her own.