Watch videos of our speakers and contributors at the final day of the course at Goldsmiths College by clicking on their names:
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 https://www.facebook.com/clhlwr 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