Further questions for an oral history interview

Moving on from school days:

  1. Was there anything at school that inspired you to become a historian?
  2. When you left school did you go straight into higher education or did you follow another path?
  3. If you went into HE how did you choose your university?
  4. Were they happy times?
  5. Was there periods when you struggled or doubted what you wanted to do?
  6. Did you do any part time work or an internship?
  7. If you followed another career path, what did you do?
  8. What made you decide to change your career path?
  9. Why did you want to do your Masters in this particular field of public history?
  10. Do you have any plans for a career or PhD after your Masters?


“Starter” questions for an oral history interview

I thought I would post some ideas to get us started for next week’s seminar on interview questions.

A: Basic Information – perhaps say “I’d like to ask you some questions about your childhood”

  1. Can you tell me your name and address – (for the sound-check)?
  2. What is your date of birth?
  3. Where were you born?
  4. Do you have any brothers and sisters? (Probe: birth order and spacing)
  5. What was your father’s job?
  6. Do you remember your father ever being out of work? (Probe: if yes, how did you manage then? How did that affect your lives?)
  7. Did your mother work?
  8. What did your parents do in their spare time?
  9. Did you go out together as a family?
  10. Did you go on holidays?
  11. Where did you go to school?
  12. What did you enjoy most about school?
  13. What did you dislike about school?

I might then go onto ask more detailed questions under the theme  B: School and Work  to include; hopes on leaving school, part-time work whilst at school , jobs, hours worked etc….

Looking forward to reading other ideas for opening questions.




Concerns and Hopes in interviewing Peter Pearson

Dear reader,

this Thursday will be a big day to me, as it I will be conducting my first interview.
I will be interviewing Peter Pearson, who retired at the age of 54, finishing a great career within the army which took him to all parts of the world. At the moment he has a few honorary jobs, for instance as Lieutenant of the Tower of London. As he had a short, but very intense career, I hope to learn a lot about him, and his visions on a range of topics.

To start, I hope to hear how the life within the army is and as he was in Bosnia and Albania in the height of the battle in the end of the nineties, I hope to hear his visions of life on a mission. How this differs from the papers, but also how this affected his personal life. Firsthand interviews of the army nowadays could complement knowledge of the army that already exists. Furthermore, it could give a insight into a fairly closed off institution and hence giving insight into another community in society.

During the interview, I hope that I will be able to listen carefully and follow Peter’s pacing. If I am flexible to his answers, set challenging questions and probe where needed, I hope to be able to create a narrative interview and not a dialogue – which I am used to in daily life.

Furthermore, silence is important to generate time to think and draw out a further comment. I am concerned I can not maintain my silence. If I interrupt Peter, or frequently repeat what he just said, I will probably lose his trust hence not being able to get the truth I would have otherwise obtained.

In general, I hope to pick up on important topics indicated by Peter himself and grab opportunities given to deepen major themes. This will hopefully prevent the interview from wandering off into irrelevant topics or moments where I put out leading questions by accident. I hope this will get me behind stereotyped generalizations and into detailed memories.

Well, even considering my hopes and concerns, I look forward to this interview.


Interviewing Roza

Isla’s post also reminds me that I now need to prepare for the interview I’ve agreed to undertake. Some of that will have to be about method. It must be more than a decade since I undertook an oral history interview with a translator (it’ll be Sylvia this time). There is not much literature in this area. Luckily, however Bogusia Temple has just published a relevant article in Oral History (Autumn 2013, 14,2; 100-9). This article is much more than a ‘how to’; it raises key questions about how language produces identity, and shapes our worldviews.  Bogusia also suggests ‘casting a wider net’ and considering other disciplinary insights into cross language work and translation.

I will also need to get up to speed with the history of Roma. Briefings by the Support Group help here. There are some excellent materials produced by the group, including from an earlier project with the Museum of London ( sadly the Museum no longer does this work). However, I will still need to identify other reading. I’ll begin by searching Google Scholar

Unraveling Motivations: the Great War and masculinity in Oral histories of Second World War enlistment

The Oral History Society with the Institute of Historical Research is holding the above seminar next Thursday at 6pm at Senate House, central London.

The speaker is Joel Morley from Queen Mary University of London.

Is anyone interested in attending? Let me know.  It is free to attend. I shall be going.

First visit to the Roma Support Group

Tucked half way up Barking Road in Newham is the office of the Roma Support Group. Surrounded by a cultural and religious mish-mash of mosques, Christian Churches and Caribbean fruit sellers, this is where the Roma of East London come for help making sense of their new lives in the UK. It’s also the location for my first meeting with Sylvia and Tania, the two ladies who are responsible for keeping the advice centre going.

As we chat over a cup of tea, Sylvia tells me about what she calls the ‘carrier bag’ problems the Roma bring to them. She describes how many will arrive with a plastic bag full of letters and junk mail, ignorant of their contents but hopeful that someone will read and explain them. It’s a reminder of how difficult it is to function in a society when you don’t understand the language and struggle with literacy.

My tutor Graham then reminds me of the Roma’s strong oral tradition, passing their stories from generation to generation through speech, music and song. In many ways, this was the first type of ‘oral history’ and one that has enabled Roma culture and their past to survive.

It appears to have instilled a sense of identity and belonging in a group that isn’t a homogenous nation and doesn’t have a state of its own. Both are areas I would like to explore further in my interview. Another is how, or if, the barrage of bad press the Roma receive from certain sections of the UK media is undermining that identity.

Tania and Sylvia tell me they notice the development of an inter-generational tension within Roma families in the UK. They say the younger generation can be reluctant to describe themselves as Roma because they believe it carries a stigma and is a barrier to their progress. Cultural traditions and past-times are also a battleground as a new generation increasingly adopts the values and lifestyle of the country they’ve grown up in.

It’s clear from our conversations that the interview itself will present a number of challenges. Language and trust are top of the list. After much discussion, Tania says she will try to arrange for me to speak to Dudek, a musician, in his 40s, originally from Poland. He came to the UK ten years ago as an asylum seeker. However, she warns me to keep my questions short and simple, as his English is competent but patchy.

I’m relieved that I don’t have to conduct my first interview through an interpreter but I have roped Graham into a little extra work. The hierarchy of the Roma community is such that Sylvia thinks the group’s President Rosa should be interviewed first. That interview must be conducted through an interpreter. Graham kindly offers to take on the task.


For my oral history interview I am planning on interviewing an individual from the Cypriot community in London. I have contacted the ‘Parikiaki’ which is the leading Greek Cypriot newspaper in London. The newspaper itself was established in 1974 which was also the time a lot of Cypriots had arrived to the UK due to the Turkish invasion that took place in Cyprus in the year. A small number of Cypriots had already been living in the UK beforehand, however from the 1950′s onwards was when a community was beginning to be formed, the contrast is great between the community in the 50′s and today. I am very much interested in hearing (if possible) first hand accounts of moving to the UK, what life was like then; being away from home where an invasion was taking place, being in a foreign country where everything was unknown, even the language; and how it has changed to modern day, how the community grew and what factors were used to keep a collective spirit- such as the newspaper, the churches, Greek schools etc. Therefore, I will be focusing on the social and cultural side of the community hopefully through a person’s first hand account.
I am awaiting a reply from the ‘Parikiaki’, hopefully either allowing me to interview someone that works (and has worked for a long period of time) on the newspaper that would be able to highlight the growth of the community or even getting me in touch with someone that would be willing to participate. If this is unsuccessful, for whatever reason, I do know Cypriots in London so I am prepared to ask them if needed, as a life story interview would also be of interest to me and could easily be placed in the larger context of events taking place in the UK and the Cypriot community at the time (though I am aware that it would be preferable if they understood and spoke English).