Our Voices, Our Pasts, Our Histories: Oral History in Practice

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Sunday 17 January 2021
Friday 26 March 2021
19 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

We will never know how most people in the past lived and died; their stories were not considered worthy of recovery or preservation, and so their voices are lost. With the boom in social history since the 1960s, historians have experimented with different ways to bring the voices of those 'hidden from history' into the record. One of the most important ways in which this has been achieved is through the development of oral history – the practice of interviewing people about their past experiences. Oral testimonies provide one of the most important types of source for social historians of the modern world. Oral history sheds light on aspects of life which may not have been recorded, and allow us to hear the thoughts and emotions of "ordinary" people who have traditionally left few written records. More than this, oral history provides insights into how individual and group memories are shaped or "constructed", showing how culture influences experience, memory, and individual subjectivity.

This module combines in-depth exploration of the development of oral history in Britain since the 1960s with an introduction to formulating and conducting oral history projects. It examines how oral historians have incorporated the voices of previously neglected groups into historical record, the special properties of oral history as a form of evidence, and the operation of oral history beyond the academy. As well as introducing students to debates on emotion, subjectivity, and memory in oral history, it enables students to explore these issues through the design of a mini-project and conduct of a short interview. Lectures, seminars, and practical workshops support students through this innovative assessment. The modules therefore both enhances historical research skills, and provides a valuable addition to students' CVs in allowing them to demonstrate attention to ethics, interview skills, and reflection on interpersonal encounters.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:
1. to investigate the theory, history, and practice of oral history, with a focus on Britain since the 1960s;
2. to relate shifts in the practice of oral history to wider developments within the historical discipline;
3. to examine the aims, process, and findings of a range of oral history projects;
4. to explore the use of oral history in empowering marginalised groups;
5. to analyse the deployment of oral history in contexts beyond academia;
6. to provide a practical introduction to formulating and conducting an oral history project.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:
1. demonstrate a broad and systematic knowledge of changing approaches to oral history since the 1960s;
2. Analyse the role of oral history within the development of the historical discipline;
3. Examine strengths, weaknesses, problems, and/or peculiarities of oral history in theory and practice;
4. demonstrate an awareness of key factors that shape the formulation of an oral history project, conduct of an interview, and the subsequent potential uses of the interview.

Module information

For introductory reading, see:

Lynn Abrams, Oral History Theory, 2nd edn (Routledge, 2016).
Nan Amilla Boyd and Horacio N. Roque Ramirez (eds), Bodies of Evidence: The Practice of Queer Oral History (OUP, 2012).
Thomas L. Charlton, Lois E. Myers, and Rebecca Sharpless (eds), Handbook of Oral History (AltaMira Press, 2008).
Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson (eds), The Oral History Reader, 3rd edn (Routledge, 2015).
Donald A. Ritchie, Doing Oral History, 3rd edn (OUP, 2014).
Elizabeth Roberts, Women and Families: An Oral History, 1940-1970 (Blackwell, 1995).
Katrina Srigley, Stacey Zembrzycki, and Franca Iacovetta (eds), Beyond Women's Words: Feminisms and the Practices of Oral History in the Twenty-First Century (Routledge, 2018).
Penny Summerfield, Reconstructing Women's Wartime Lives: Discourse and Subjectivity in Oral Histories of the Second World War (St. Martin's Press, 1998).
Paul Thompson, The Voice of the Past: Oral History, 4th edn (OUP, 2017).
Alistair Thomson, Anzac Memories: Living with the Legend, 2nd edn (Monash University Publishing, 2013).
Emma Vickers, 'Dry Your Eyes, Princess: Oral Testimony and Photography: A Case Study', Oral History [publication date TBC].

Learning and teaching methods

Lectures and seminars.



Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Essay (1500 words)    35% 
Coursework   Portfolio (2000-3000 words)    65% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Matthew Grant, email:
Professor Lucy Noakes, Professor Tracey Loughran, Dr Alix Green
Belinda Waterman, Department of History, 01206 872313



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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