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Oral History

Many of the online resources for oral history concentrate on practical methodological issues and dissemination. Oral history is chiefly approached as a technique; one to be applied rather than to be reflected upon. There is relatively little theoretical discussion and it has yet to engage fully with academia, despite groundbreaking work done in history and the social sciences since the 1960s. Oral history emerged, and continues to develop, as a grass roots phenomenon. So whilst there is a growing number of academically-based oral history projects the resources listed here must also reflect the fact that most research takes place at the community level.

Qualidata Resources

To begin with there are the data collections already preserved by Qualidata. Some examples include the following;

'The Edwardians : Family Life and Work Experience before 1918', Thompson, P.
This project, conducted between 1969 and 1973, created 444 detailed life history interviews with men and women born between 1870 and 1908. The sample was a quota derived from the occupational census of 1911, distributed regionally in selected districts. The interview schedule covered domestic routine, the role of husbands and children, childrearing, emotional relationships and family values. It also covered areas such as leisure, religion, politics, community structure and the experience of work. This work formed the basis of the book 'The Edwardians: the remaking of British Society' (1975, 1992 : second edition). Further dissemination has been made possible by the recent Qualidata online multimedia Qualidata Online project.

'Families, Social Mobility and Ageing, an Intergenerational Approach (100 Families)', Thompson, P.
The study was carried out between 1985 and 1988 with the purpose of gathering ethnographic and dynamic information illustrative of family, ageing and social mobility. A sample of 110 families was taken from England, Wales and Scotland. The initial focus was middle generation informants, aged 30-55 and married with children. A total of 213 interviews were gathered typically covering family background and occupation as well as childhood, working life, marriage and childrearing. This work formed the basis of the book 'I don't feel old; understanding the experience of later life' (1990).

'1968: A Student Generation in Revolt', Fraser, R.
This study comprises a series of 58 interviews that formed part of a larger project exploring the memories, motivations and experiences of those involved in the politically radical student movements of the late 1960s, in six of the West's industrialised countries. These interviews were with former student activists from a wide range of universities and colleges in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and were conducted during 1984-5. Subjects covered included education, family life, sexual behaviour, student politics, student organisations and demonstrations, Marxism and anarchism, subversive activities and Northern Ireland. These interviews subsequently formed the basis for Ronald Fraser's collaborative work: '1968: A Student Generation in Revolt' (1988).

More details of these collections may be obtained by consulting each particular catalogue entry. Other examples of oral history based data and oral history projects identified by Qualidata include;

'Interviews with Women Workers in North-East Shipyards during the Second World War', Roberts, I.
This project comprises a series of interviews with 45 women about their experience as workers in shipbuilding and ship-repair yards. The project explored the experience of work within a very traditional and male-dominated occupational world. Also, the data from the interviews illuminated aspects of changes in division of labour and organisation of work. However the primary aim was to secure an oral history record and to establish a data archive resource for future researchers.

'Family and Social Life in Barrow, Lancaster, Preston, 1940-1970', Roberts, E.
This study described and defined the quality of life and the standard of living of working class men and women in Barrow-in-Furness, Lancaster and Preston using documentary sources and interviews. A total of 205 interviews were conducted with 98 respondents. Topics covered included family life, standards of living, work, the extended family and health.

Information on these and other resources will be available soon.

Qualidata has also prepared a selective bibliography of oral history.

National Resources

Within the UK, oral history is characterised by the work of local groups and community organisations. These increasingly have a web presence, albeit of a non-academic nature. However the ongoing work of oral historians is slowly beginning to be represented more within academia, and in major library collections. Sites of note include:

The Oral History Society
The society supports and advises on the techniques and issues of oral history fieldwork. Information is provided on funding, project development, training, copyright and ethics. The site also gives practical support and advice about the equipment to use, best techniques, preservation of tapes, and how to make best use of what has been collected. The society is also the publisher of 'The Oral History Journal'.

National Life Story Collection, National Sound Archive, British Library
Established in 1987, the NLSC works within the Oral History Section of the British Library's National Sound Archive. Its key focus and expertise has been oral history fieldwork. Over the past decade it has initiated a series of innovative interviewing programmes funded entirely from sponsorship, donations and voluntary effort. Each individual life story interview is several hours long, covering family background, childhood, education, work, leisure and later life. Further information is available through the National Sound Archives online catalogue.

Millennium Memory Bank, National Sound Archive, British Library
The Millennium Memory Bank is one of the largest collections of oral history interviews ever to have been assembled - a unique and invaluable record of how the British think of themselves and their past - undertaken in the closing months of 1999. The project included 6,000 people of all ages and backgrounds talking about changes in their community and family during the course of their own life. In so doing it created a sound map of the century. Recordings are gathered under sixteen headings so that each subject is discussed and seen through the eyes of different generations.

Mountain Voices
This site was developed by the Panos Institute and will eventually allow users to access interviews with 300 people who live in mountain and highland regions around the world. To date, some 250 interviews have been conducted by local people in local languages, recorded, transcribed, translated, and summarised. This project is part of the Panos Oral Testimony Programme, which aims to amplify the voices of those at the heart of development: people who are disadvantaged by poverty, gender, lack of education or other inequalities. Collecting and disseminating oral testimonies in this way allows the least vocal and least powerful members of each society to speak for themselves.

Imperial War Museum Sound Archive
Oral history interviews form the core of the Museum's collection. Over the course of the past thirty years interviewers have recorded the memories of men and women, civilians and service personnel, with regard to their experiences of conflict. Personal reactions and experiences are discussed in the ongoing programme which aims to understand the impact of war on all strata of society.

Voices Online, The Museum of London
'London's Voices' is a three-year programme of exhibitions, activities and events which aims to increase access to the oral history archive of the Museum of London. Begun in 1992, the collection now contains thousands of hours of interviews. The main sample is drawn from a wide variety of people who simply have lived and worked in London and who talk about their lives and everyday experiences. The web version, 'Voices Online', is a resource which provides access to full oral history interviews while exploring the connections within families, communities, the city and the world.

Mass Observation Archive, University of Sussex
Mass Observation was founded in 1937 with the aim of creating an 'anthropology of ourselves'. Observers and a panel of volunteer writers were recruited to study the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain. This original phase of work continued until the early 1950s. Today, as part of Special Collections at the University of Sussex Library, the archive preserves the papers of the original Mass Observation and makes them publicly available. This includes surveys and field notes taken during the initial phase of the project. Contributions are also made by the archive to the MA in Life History Research, Oral History and Mass Observation which is also based at the university.

Oral History Archive, University of Aberdeen
This ongoing research project is aimed at recording interviews with past students, staff and eminent individuals associated with the university. Established in 1985, the archive continues to grow and collate unique personal perspectives on the impact on the University of two world wars, the rapid expansion of the 1960s, reductions in funding in the 1980s and other events, right up to the present. These recordings detail changes in the social history of Aberdeen and the surrounding area, together with developments in, for example, medicine, psychology, education, law and music, set in a wider educational and social context. Anyone interested in individual personalities or the history of the University will find facts and anecdotes to add to the more formal records, statistics and other written works.

East Midland Oral History Archive, University of Leicester
The Centre for Urban history acts as host to the EMOHA. The latter aims to disseminate existing materials on the history of the East Midlands region and to generate new oral history recordings through its own programme of interviewing, and by providing advice, training and support for community groups, museums and heritage organisations, students and other individuals who are interested in developing their own projects.

Scottish Oral History Centre, University of Strathclyde
This research centre within the history department was established to support the use of oral history within the academic community and in cognate areas such as archives and museums in Scotland. The Centre also provides training in the use of oral techniques for historians, and in the design of research questionnaires. This is open to postgraduate researchers at the University but also to a wider public through workshops and training events.

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