What was it like when…? Preserving lived experiences

The summer before I graduated with my undergraduate degree. I distinctly remember walking around a dig site during our field school excavation and thinking. “I wish we could just ask them what this structure was for—it’d be so interesting to know for certain.” It was the ‘for certain’ that got me. Later in a medieval history class I had the same questions: “If only I could ask them what it was really like to live in the fourteenth century.” Obviously, without a time machine such questions are now impossible to ask.

I’ve found myself (and heard others) asking similar questions about periods in time much closer to the present. My younger brother once asked me “I wonder what it was like to be a fighter pilot during the Second World War” in response to my question about a project he was working on. These are exactly the type of questions that oral history can help us answer. It can help us to preserve others’ lived experiences and extend their voices into the future. It can provide a window to help us understand what life was really like for people as historic events were taking place and how those events impacted their lives personally.

It is in this vein of preservation as well as my own interest in gender roles that I have selected the topic for my interview: women’s roles and how they shifted during and after the Second World War. I would like to interview a woman who lived through the war. I intend to pursue the interview as her life story while paying particular attention to how the war impacted her ideas about gender roles as well as shifts in those roles over time.


Evacuees during the Second World War , the first social experiment?

I intended to interview a friend of my grandmother’s who was a child during the Second World War, living in London, and as a result was soon evacuated. I would like to explore this further as it resonates with my grandmother’s wartime experiences as she too was an evacuee and her stories always fascinated me; so the opportunity to hear about and explore another person’s experience of this interests me deeply.

Whilst there has been much telling and retelling of such evacuees experiences each individual experience of this event is just that, individual. Everyone will have different reactions  emotions and emotions which they felt at the time but also how they feel about it now, how they look upon this event in their life.

Additionally the evacuation of mainly working class children from London to more affluent middle class families in the countryside was one of the greatest (unintentional) social experiments in the country, the the conservative well to do families were often shocked at the gap of the prevalent social gap between the middle and working classes. For the children to it was often a culture shock, moving from crowded industrial towns to the countryside and encountering things they had never seen before. Again all of the experiences of this cultural and social change and shock are different and this gives us the chance to hear her experiences of this, of her opinions, and even if she agrees with this view.


Comics In Britain

I would like to focus my project on the growth of comics in Britain. Ideally I would hope to get in touch with a creator, preferably one from the Silver Age of Comics (1956 into the 70s). I would be interested to get their take on the rise of comics in Britain, as the superhero comic was largely an American construct that was “exported” around the time of the Second World War.

If a creator were unavailable, I would hope to find a purveyor who could speak about the role of comics in Britain’s history. Comics (or more specifically their featured heroes) are fast becoming a great unifier in the expanding global pop culture, and I think it would be invaluable to get the story of someone who was in on the ground floor of their rise outside of the U.S.


Various Impacts of British Sport

Coming to a foreign country one of the first thing I notice are their sporting passions. Sports have been a major part of my past growing up with multiple professional teams in my home town as well as attending a major football college power. I have seen how sports can divide or unite communities when against certain opponents. I have seen how major American television will cover anything and everything regarding sports and thus the impact they have over the nation. As a result of this it only makes sense to me that when I enter a new country I look to pick up on these same trends and to look further into them.

One of the things I have noticed in the U.K. is that, similarly to the U.S., football is not just a game but rather can be a way of life. Teams will unite and divide communities. People love to watch their rivals fail almost as much as watching their own team succeed. This is particularly evident on this weekend, in the matchup between Celtic FC and Rangers FC in Glasgow. Football fans are split whether Rangers FC is the same club with the same history that was sent to the lowest level of the Scottish Premier League in 2012 and currently owned by a new company. This is just one instance of a the rivalry among the aggressive history between the clubs. The passion given to these, and other, teams seems unrivaled around the world. One goal while in the U.K. is to further understand this passion.

It has been suggested that I explore another side of U.K. football, women’s football. I have seen images and short articles regarding this portion of the game but never explored its history. This side of the game has since peaked my interest and is something I hope to further understand.

Through exploring the women’s side of football I hope to bring these women to the foreground in the public image. Many fans of the game, such as myself, may not know much about them or their impact in the football world. Through an Oral History interview with someone who has experienced this side of football, I wish to bring their experiences into the public conscious.


In The Asylum: Experience of Mental Health Nursing in London

I have a strong interest in Victorian Mental Health and Asylums, but unfortunately, as of last week, there are no more Victorians alive today. As such I have been brought into the 20th century and plan on interviewing a retired mental health nurse from one of the asylums along the ‘Surrey Belt’ (an area home to most of London’s asylums). I want to focus the interview on the experience of the asylum across the 20th Century; what changed, the treatment of the patients and the attitudes towards mental illness (and those who suffered with it), but also why the nurse chose to go into this particular field of nursing. I also hope to be able to spend some time focusing on male patients that the nurse has come into contact with, commenting on any stigma that they may have faced in relation to their gender, as masculinity and mental health is a specific area of interest for me, although the main goal of this interview is to understand the changes in the asylum. I had initially thought about interviewing a male patient about his experience in the asylum/psychiatric hospital or of mental illness more generally; however, I was concerned about the ethical issues that might accompany an interview like this.

I want to try and trace the shift from the idea of the asylum to the psychiatric hospital, and from the limited understanding of ‘madness’ to a knowledge of mental illness. Although, this transition has not been a smooth one, and, even today, people suffereing still face a strong stigma about their illnesses.


Welsh Identity through Language and Education

At first I was going to do an oral history interview on the male identity over time in England, but then I had an excellent opportunity to do an interview on the Welsh language and how it affects male identity. Although Britain is made up of many different nations like Scotland, Wales, England, Cornwall, England is typically seen as having the most power culturally and politically.

For my interview, I plan on interviewing Colin H. Williams, a professor in the school of Welsh at Cardiff University who works with language policy and language planning. I am interested in how the Welsh language helps to carve out a distinct Welsh identity in Europe as well as the role it plays in education and Welsh culture at large. Moreover, I am interested in Dr. Williams’ opinion on whether they should teach Welsh literature as well, much like they do in English classes.

This will be significant for future generations as it will allow them to see how Welsh academics and people see the Welsh identity as it is today and also to hear how the language is planned on being used in education and policy for its preservation for the future. Looking back, those that listen to the interview may see what things went wrong and what went right and take the necessary steps to help preserve another Celtic language and identity.


Women in the Church: The Development of Women’s Roles in Local Religious Communities

With the recent consecration of the first female bishop in the Church of England, the issue of women’s role in the Church has been brought to the forefront of recent debate. Whilst this change was widely well received, it was not without its opposition. During the ceremony, for example, Rev Paul Williamson stepped forward and shouted that it was “not in the bible”. Women have consistently, throughout time, faced direct challenges to their roles in society, in particular prominent positions in the Church. I find this extremely interesting, especially coming from a small village in rural Suffolk where women have always played a large role in our local church.

My intention is to interview Wendy Sadler, the Church Warden for St. Mary’s in Erwarton, to explore her experience of her life as a woman with a key role in the local community. As a woman with a prominent position, both within the Church and as a county councillor, I feel she will have interesting views on the social development of women in the Church and rural society. I intend to discuss her own role, the development of her faith and religion, as well as any possible challenges she faced upon first starting this job. As a woman in her eighties, who has lived in the same village for her entire life, I also think it would be interesting to explore the changes she has seen in rural Suffolk, with regards to both the local community and the Church.