"Out of shared telling and remembering grow identity, connection and pride, binding people to a place and to one another." Tom Rankin
Recording oral histories are always a daunting task and we chose a key political figure to interview in one of our first Interview captures... RT Honourable Margaret Beckett MP who on March 24th was named the longest serving woman MP in Parliament. The process of organising the interview was overseen by Margaret's Parliamentary Assistant
Oral history has several unique benefits that no other historical source provides not least because it allows us to learn about the perspectives of individuals who might not otherwise appear in the historical record. While historians and history students can use traditional documents (newspapers, census data, diaries, letters, photographs, memoirs, and other documents etc) to reconstruct the past, everyday people often fall through the cracks in the written record. Politicians, activists, and business leaders may show up regularly in official documents and the media, but the rest of us very seldom do. Chances are, if someone had to reconstruct your life story from the written record alone, they would have very little to go on — and the information they would be able to gather would reveal very little about the heart and soul of your daily life, or the things that matter most to you.
Oral history allows us to compensate for the digital age. Historians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries can rely on extensive correspondence and regular diary entries for information about life in the past. But in today’s world, telephone, email, and web-based communication have largely replaced those valuable written records. Without oral history, much of the personal history of the late-twentieth and twenty-first centuries would be lost to future historians.
Oral history allows us to learn different kinds of information. Even when we do have extensive written sources about someone — such as a politician — we may not have the kind of information we want. Newspaper articles, speeches, and government documents may reveal significant useful information, but those kinds of sources often neglect more personal and private experiences. Through oral history, you can learn about the hopes, feelings, aspirations, disappointments, family histories, and personal experiences of the people you interview. These insights are the invaluable gift of oral history.
Oral history allows us to ask the questions we are interested in. If you are a historian studying Hannah Mitchell and you have a burning question about her life, the best that you can do is to hope that, through a creative reading of the existing sources, we’ll find the answer somewhere in her papers and other contemporary documents. But by talking to people in our community about the past, we can ask what we want to ask and create the source materials that will help us answer your questions.
Oral history provides historical actors with an opportunity to tell their own stories in their own words. Through oral history, interviewees have a chance to participate in the creation of the historical retelling of their lives. Unlike Hannah Mitchell who is long dead and cannot complicate, extend, or argue with our understanding of her life, living historical actors can enrich our understanding of history by telling their version of events and their interpretations in their own words.
Oral history provides a rich opportunity for human interaction. History, after all, is all about the human experience. Through oral history, researchers and interviewees come together in conversation about a commonly shared interest — as with all human interactions, this has the potential to be tremendously rewarding for both parties.
These are the hopes we take with us as we enter every interview situation - we are well prepared, armed with necessary paperwork and have covered all our logistical and technical bases - we are ready to record unique and indi