Our Voices, Our Pasts, Our Histories: Oral History in Practice
Postgraduate: Level 7
Sunday 17 January 2021
Friday 26 March 2021
19 June 2020
Requisites for this module
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.
The aims of this module are:
1. to investigate the theory, history, and practice of oral history since the 1960s;
2. to relate shifts in the practice of oral history to wider developments within the historical discipline, with especial attention to the concepts of subjectivity, memory, and power;
3. to demonstrate advanced retrieval skills in locating oral history projects relevant to their interests;
4. to examine the aims, process, and findings of a range of oral history projects;
5. to explore the use of oral history in empowering marginalised groups, with particular reference to interview techniques and preservation practices;
6. to analyse the deployment of oral history in contexts beyond academia, including the digitisation of oral history projects;
7. to provide a practical introduction to formulating and conducting an oral history project;
8. to enable students to reflect on their own practice as researchers and nascent oral historians.
By the end of the module, students should be able to:
1. demonstrate an advanced, broad and systematic knowledge of changing approaches to oral history since the 1960s, with particular reference to the concepts of memory, subjectivity, and power;
2. express their ideas on and assessments of the role of oral history within the development of the historical discipline, with particular reference to the shift from social to cultural history;
3. Analyse strengths, weaknesses, problems, and/or peculiarities of different approaches to oral history, potentially including feminist, queer, and community oral history practice.
4. demonstrate an ability to examine key factors that shape the formulation of an oral history project, conduct of an interview, and the subsequent potential uses of the interview, and relate these factors to key themes and debates in oral history;
5. critically reflect on the conduct of an interview.
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].
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Matthew Grant, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor Lucy Noakes, Professor Tracey Loughran, Dr Alix Green
Senior Student Administrator, Department of History, Telephone: 01206 872190
No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.
* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.
Disclaimer: The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its Module Directory is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can
be necessary to make changes, for example to programmes, modules, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements,
industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to modules may for example consist
of variations to the content and method of delivery or assessment of modules and other services, to discontinue modules and other services and to merge or combine modules.
The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications and module directory.
The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.