Day 4: Friday 26 February 2016, Goldsmiths University, London: Oral History: After the Interview

Goldsmiths University, London

Watch videos of our speakers and contributors at the final day of the course at Goldsmiths College by clicking on their names:

JOlly  Dr Margaretta Jolly   Linda Dr Linda Sandino

NIrmal Dr Nirmal Puwar    HLF  HLF QA

Discussion Discussion     LesBack Professor Les Back

Dr Angela Campos (University Sussex) recalls the day:

On 26 February at Goldsmiths we had the perfect ‘finale’ to our Oral History for Public Culture course. We were welcomed by Dr Margaretta Jolly who presented a helpful review of the previous school days and set out important issues. The aim of the day was to thoughtfully wrap up the dialogue between ‘oral history’ and ‘public culture’; for me, this was productively achieved. Helping us define public culture in oral history contexts via an interdisciplinary, cross-fertilisation approach were Dr Nirmal Puwar and Dr Linda Sandino. Dr Puwar offered us a vivid presentation on several exciting projects emerging from the Methods Lab, and significantly the Migrating Dreams + Nightmares: materials and movement’ project. The existing dialogue between memory and space was particularly illustrated with examples involving Coventry Cathedral and the ‘call and response’ method – which Dr Puwar explained is fantastic for collaborative work in oral history. Dr Linda Sandino then led us through a very reflective journey through the oral history of the Victoria and Albert Museum, emphasising the rich and challenging ethical and methodological journey of charting the ‘organic place of memory’ of such a public (and yet at times very secretive!) institution.

The Q&A discussion that followed raised important issues on ethics and confidentiality, representativeness and the actual process of transforming our oral history materials into public cultural items, for instance, through exhibitions and performances.

Here are some photographic impressions of the day (more at the end of this post):

Afterwards, we welcomed Sarah Wick and Sue Washington from the Heritage Lottery Fund, who provided a very informative presentation on history, heritage and funding in the public sector. We discussed how to make heritage inclusive, and the relationship between tangible and intangible, (like our recorded oral history histories!). The HLF value and prioritise public engagement and impeccable ethics in selecting who to fund.

This was followed by Dr Sam Carroll (Community Heritage Researcher and project manager) presenting on the various roles an oral historian may assume in a public context, truly highlighting the value of using oral history in public history projects. She gave us concrete examples from the many projects Dr Carroll has been involved in throughout the years, particularly the People’s History of the Level, which represents one of many oral histories intriguingly funded under the Parks for People HLF strand. Delightfully, we also got to hear from one of Sam’s interviewees, Sacha McGann, who shared with us what it felt like to be on the other side of the oral history relationship. Despite the possible vulnerabilities, ultimately, she felt included and motivated by this more public form of history-making: ‘Brighton was ours’.

After our delicious lunch, the task was to put all information and knowledge into practice! In groups, we discussed how our own oral history materials and approaches could be developed to respond and engage with the needs of public audiences in different sectors. The final roundtable brought out ongoing concerns with ethics, but also new insight into the difficulties of ending projects, the need to cultivate relationships with curators, broadcasters or other public cultural folk, and how to think about using social media.

The course closed in a powerful and compelling way with Professor Les Black guiding us on a memorable walk through the New Cross area and several decades of its eventful social history. It made the meaning of public culture very concrete, as the place of contested memories of race relations, protest, tragic loss, resistance and resilience. Les ‘doubly’ highlighted the importance of oral history as he wove his own family memories, vast (and lived!) socio-historical knowledge of the area, with audio and video extracts played to us during the walk.

So, a great ‘finale’, yes, but hopefully one that is not literally ‘final’ because we would like to continue in touch and develop our fruitful discussions. To be up to date about further activities, you can join the Sussex Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter: @CLHLWR. Also, keep an eye out for our forthcoming ‘Subversive Histories for Public Culture’, the 8th annual Brighton-Sussex postgraduate conference on 22 June 2016, at the University of Brighton, co-organised with the Brighton Centre for Research in Memory, Narrative and Histories.  

Let’s stay in touch!


3 March 2016

Day 3: Friday 5 February 2016, University of Essex: Oral History – After the Interview


The aim of the day was to look at analytical frameworks and tools through which one can begin to analyse the slippery but intriguing ‘data’ that arises from oral history interviews – although even to call it data is to move towards a social scientific methodology, and we discussed it as well in the more literary/humanities terminology of ‘texts’, ‘stories’, ‘histories’, and the related choices as to whether to focus on micro or macro contexts, individual stories in depth or many stories woven thematically.

Pam Cox presented on her work on the histories of women who worked as servants and in shops, showing a clip from her television interpretation of this research


Reflecting on the analytical framework implied in her projects, she talked about her own return to the model that Paul Thompson and others proposed in the beginnings of oral history in the UK, oral history as testimony and example of large social historical patterns. For her this was a deliberate move away from ‘the cultural turn’, such as represented by narrative, psychosocial and other methods that focus on narrative/story structures, identities, psychologies, in her view, to the detriment of looking at the laws, economies, classes that define people’s lives.

Libby Bishop then spoke of her own approach, which was perhaps even more ‘social science’ in method and terminology, but also began from the question of re-using oral historical material, which has traditionally been less typical in the social sciences and much more common for historians or literary critics (for whom indeed this is sine qua non!). Libby gave us clues as to the challenges of imagining an original interview context and purpose while affirming one’s own purposes and rights as an analyst-researcher, including the emotional elements involved. She also raised questions about the interpretative moment involved in transcription itself and how one can begin to analyse an interview through coding. We could have spent much longer on comparing our results of this. Libby would be very glad to correspond if you have further questions about the attached, and I also point you to the wonderful online resource associated with Qualidata – tips on storing interviews, transcription as well as interview methods and more

Paul Thompson’s presentation took us to the history and geography of oral history itself in a whirlwind overview prompted by his current preparation of the 4th edition of The Voice of the Past. Although he did not explicitly discuss analysis, his talk gave us a sense of why and where particular methods have evolved – including the psychosocial/BNIM approach arising in Germany as a response to the challenges of analysing Holocaust testimony, and the interest in myth and symbol involved in Latin American approaches to oral history as testimonio of indigenous people. Again, you may take this further in your own time, perhaps looking at Paul Thompson’s own artful ways of interpreting and analysing oral history – rather more in the social historical/triangulated manner that Pam describes.

Finally, we heard from Julianne Nyhan who brilliantly brought together an introduction to the history of digital humanities (which she is opening up through oral history precisely to uncover elements lost through teleological historiographies of technology as salvation/progress or disaster) with practical training in various software packages useful to oral historians.

Dr Margaretta Jolly, Director of CLHLWR

Day 2: Friday 27 November 2015, The Keep, University of Sussex – Oral History Interviewing

Day 2 of the course was held at The Keep, a world-class centre for archives that opens up access to all the collections of the East Sussex Record Office (ESRO), the Royal Pavilion & Museums Local History Collections and the internationally significant University of Sussex Special Collections. The day included talks and presentations by Margaretta Jolly on ‘interview data-as-resource’ vs ‘interview data-as-topic’, by Fiona Courage, Special Collections Manager & Mass Observation Curator and Bob Prosser (Media Technician from the School of Media, Film & Music at the University of Sussex).  The day ended with a presentation of how we can open up the soundscape of oral history, with the example of Voices in Movement:

Voices in Movement still
Still from Lizzie Thynne’s film Voices in Movement.

Great energy, discussions and “hands on” atmosphere at The Keep! Thank you all for your enthusiasm.

We are really looking forward to the next step of our journey in Essex.
Until then, keep in touch, and why not send us your thoughts and comments to add to our blog?

The Keep in Brighton. Picture by Jim Holden.
Fiona Courage, Special Collections Manager & Mass Observation Curator at The Keep.
Bob Prosser (Media Technician from the School of Media, Film & Music at the University of Sussex) explaining the technology.
Do not be afraid of technology – learn how to make it work for you.
How to formulate first questions.



Day 1: Friday 30 Oct 2015, University of Sussex – Oral History: Before the Interview

Itzel Toledo García, University of Essex: “This programme has been my first contact with oral history and it has been really inspiring for future research projects. As someone with no knowledge on oral history the first session was very informative, I actually took a lot of notes that I intend to use in the future. I enjoyed the format of short presentations with a lot of time for questions and answers to listen from the experts´ challenges when doing field work. The exercises that allowed to see the different types of questions one can do when doing oral history and explore different projects that already exist were illuminating. Also, it was a great opportunity talking to other students from different disciplines interested in or doing oral history.”  

Itzel is doing a comparative study of Mexican relations with three European Powers (Great Britain, France and Germany) in the 1920s. His goal is to understand how Mexican diplomats in these countries tried to improve cultural and economic relations.

Sonia Lambert, Goldsmiths, University of London:“I had a really exciting and inspiring day – it was great to look up from my own research and get a glimpse of the range of fascinating projects that are going on out there. I appreciated the introduction to oral history and some of the changing debates and approaches in the field, followed by the fascinating talk by Alessandro Portelli on his own experience as a trail-blazer. He had some illuminating anecdotes about interviewing, and I liked his observations about memory as process, and the reworking of past events in relation to the present.  Angela’s description of her “ethics journey” was useful and precise. I was particularly impressed by the fact that the organisers had gone through every person attending to suggest useful archives and websites for their area of interest – which must have been an epic task!”

Sonia is looking at migration to London over time, and in particular the internment of refugees during the Second World War. As part of her research she has been listening to sound recordings (interviews) held by the Imperial War Museum, and also reading published and unpublished memoirs in various archives. She has also conducted her own interviews with women who remember the internment camps during WW2. The end product will be a piece of creative writing on the subject and a more analytical piece relating to the topic. She has also interviewed subjects within her family as research for her previous novel (Three Mothers, published in 2006).

Elena Distaru (University of Essex): “My research is on the documentary interview, and at this stage I am particularly interested in how it evolved over the 20th century, and its links to Oral History. This short course was a fantastic overview of oral history for someone like me who did not know much about it, and I now feel confident that I have a strong base for future research to do with oral history. It was particularly fascinating and inspiring to listen to renowned oral historian Alessandro Portelli talk about his career and interviewing techniques. Another fantastic aspect of this workshop was the fact that I got to meet like-minded people with similar interests who were roughly at the same stage of their PhD research as me, and could all share experiences and any worries to do with the process of interviewing.

Elena’s research is focused on the history of the documentary interview and how the interview practice has changed over the 20th century. She is particularly interested in the space of the interview, and how the space where an interview is conducted may change the dynamics between interviewer and interviewee. Her PhD is an interdisciplinary study of interviews and looks at interviews from other disciplines and how interview practices differ.

Francisco Miguel Araújo (University of Porto, Portugal): When I heard about the launching of this course, I immediately thought of applying for a place to take part in it. Having been accepted is particularly important for me, since I am coming on purpose from Portugal, where Oral History as a discipline and professional practice is still not very developed and this kind of academic training initiatives are rare.
The full programme and main goals of “Oral History for Public Culture”, as well as the excellence of the team and of all tutors and speakers invited for each session, contribute to provide a fundamental learning experience regarding the main notions, methodological procedures and reflections on how to use Oral History properly in our doctoral research. I want to thank Margaretta and Angela and the entire team for this opportunity, and look forward to returning to attend the next sessions!”

Francisco’s PhD thesis aims at an analysis of the development of political guidelines on Portuguese science and the functioning of universities during the “Estado Novo” period (a dictatorial regime spanning the years 1933-1974). This analysis will occur through the lens of the conceptions and policies of Prof. Amândio Tavares (1900-1974), former national scientific advisor and chancellor of the University of Porto, and on whom Francisco’s thesis will include a biographical essay.

Alexandra Loske, University of Sussex: “[To follow]

Introduction to our course and blog

Oral History for Public Culture poster

Oral history is a deep and dialogical form of interviewing which can enhance historical understanding as well as contributing e to cultural organizations and community development. It has been used to promote inter-generational relationships and open up the cultural environment though interactive story-telling, creative uses of memory art and reminiscence programmes.

This advanced training course is for all doctoral students across the South East who are interested in using oral history methods.
Four sessions, beginning 30 October 2015

After completing the course, you will have experience of interviewing, archiving, analysing and curating. You will understand oral history as academic method, data-source and creative story-form. The course will also feature masterclasses with leaders in the field and an oral history-led audiowalk in London. Students will have access to computers in class and recording equipment.

Funded by CHASE and ESRC         CHASE logo     ESCR logo

We are documenting the course with this blog, to which any participant can contribute. Please send your brief reflections and notes on each day to . Thank you!