Oral History and Dance

The idea of oral history in dance was really intriguing and after my presentation I decided to write my first essay about it. Essentially there are not many examples of oral history being used in dance but with a wider perspective of research I think that it will be an interesting topic to look into. Undoubtedly the most challenging aspect of the essay is to find a way to combine oral history and public history within this specialized field that is dance. This is the part which, while it definitely troubles me the most, it makes me think that it is not that peculiar because dance is a performance towards a specific audience; therefore the public is always there and the challenge is to succeed in engaging with it further than the performance of the dance itself.

As I previously stated there are not many examples of oral history in dance -however this is not the case in theatre. The main example I will look into is Jeff Friedman’s ‘muscle memory’ project, in which he choreographed the testimonies of two dancers and the result was brilliant. Another example is the ‘Dance Oral History Project’ of New York’s Public Library which collects testimonies from people that dedicated their life and work to dance. I will look into more examples and I hope that in the future dance will be a more researched oral history topic; there are definitely interesting aspects to it so that oral history could engage more actively with it!

An Indian female Doctor’s perspective on the NHS

I know an inspiring lady called Phyllis . She is a retired doctor who came from India to this country to study medicine in the early 1950’s. It would be interesting to discuss the barriers she encountered both on racial and gender grounds. Was it difficult to obtain a place at the right university in the UK? It could not have been a commonplace that a woman would study medicine  in Britain in the same way that it is today.  I would like to discover the process she went through to qualify?

I will explore some of the challenges as well as opportunities that occurred both whilst training and when she began practising as a Doctor. Which field did she specialise in (if any) and how has that field of medicine  advanced over the decades?.

The topic is significant for public history as I hope to discover some of the changes in her field of medicine as well as her knowledge of some of the organisational changes to the NHS. I would like to know her views on improvements in health care and were she feels there have been lost opportunities.  It will be interesting to obtain an Indian woman’s perspective on Britain’s health service and the journey both she and the institution has made. Moreover it will be important to discover why she chose her particular field and ask weather  she was directed/ persuaded to practice this specialism by her peers or University teachers? It is also important to record an interview with an individual who came from India at a time of social change for both Britain and India.

Hopes, Concerns, and an Interview partner

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Mrs. Hamilton was eleven years old when the Second World War broke out. Through an interview with her I am hoping to find out more not only more about her lived experiences, but more about the experiences of women and girls during the Second World War.

But this is not only the information I hope to learn from the interview. I hope to learn a new level of listening in order to better conduct the interview. I also hope to learn how to appropriately time questions so I don’t rush the interview.

I found it relatively easily to find a person to interview, so my main concerns come from the interview process itself. I’m very nervous because for reasons ranging from the fact that Mrs. Hamilton speaks very quietly and I want to make sure that the recorder will pick up her voice properly to more major concerns where I don’t want this to feel like an interrogation. In other words I’m concerned with finding a balance and landing in an interview space, rather than a visit or an interrogation.


The use of Oral History in Museums.

With aspirations for a change of career and becoming a public historian in a British museum I decided it was useful to research and write about the uses of oral history in museums.

Knowing virtually nothing about the use of oral history in the sector I decided to consult the Oral History Society’s archived articles to see the different methods and curatorial planning that has taken place in museums in the last 30 or so years. I was fascinated to find that oral history resources have been used in enhancing the story of human experience both here in the UK and the rest of the world.

My reading has not surprisingly included some of the theoretical concepts embedding oral history, but also  the differing delivery methods of using oral history both in a gallery situation and online. I have learnt why utilising oral history in museums is important –for example, providing contextual information. That it is a key feature of research for both national and local institutions. That it is a useful tool for the democratisation of history. That its’ interpretation can sometimes be problematic –between what the scholar wants to learn and what the interviewee want to communicate. That there can be problems relating to design space, the amount of time to organise and deliver and the challenge of changing technology. I have also learnt that using oral history in a museum project has to be a collaborative process between the museum, the narrators and other organisations that may be involved in its delivery.

The reading has informed me that oral history can be used as a restorative and re-interpretative process, particularly when a society has repressed its past to suit its political masters. This illustrates the challenge of presenting history within living memory. Moreover, that  in the modern age, oral history can act as a tool to encourage debate on historical or contemporary issues that grab public attention. Witness the use of the ‘Belonging: Voices of London Refugees’ at the Museum of London. I have also discovered that oral history can stand alone in an exhibition environment.  The current climate for museums is tough and the collection and archiving of oral sources is underfunded, but this does not mean society should ignore the valuable contribution this method of delivering history provides.

Planning the Interview with an Indian Female Doctor.

Since recording the first blog I have learnt from Phyllis that she has had a varied career. After she completed her medical training it was her intention to go into General Practice but she was canvassed to specialise in Geriatric care. Then after 30 years in this field she re-trained to return as a General Practitioner.

I therefore need to research more on both the leading figures contributing to Geriatric medicine and the main changes brought to this medical field during her career. I also need to research and gain an overview of the skills that GP’s have to have to cope in a General Practice. However, I do not want to lose sight of the personal story made by this remarkable lady.  I need to plan questions  to  gain a  knowledge of her chronological career but I would  also like to explore how she was treated as a woman in the medical profession. Was there any prejudice on gender grounds? Was there any racial prejudice in the medical establishment. I would also like to know how she coped raising a family and continued in her profession.

I will  explore her views on the changes to the NHS since she began practicing in the late 1950’s both good and bad. I would like to know her views on improvements in health care specifically for elderly people and were she feels there have been lost opportunities. Consequently, through both personal research and her interview, I hope to learn more about  the general  innovations in Geriatric care and General Medicine.

The interview is important for public history as it is gives an insight into the NHS through a female, ethnic minority professional’s perspective. It may also provide information into the management of care as well as medical innovations within British health care since 1945.


Oral History on Television: Is there any other way?

For my essay I plan to continue on with the topic of oral history on television. I would say historical television is at its peak right now, and though the bulk of this focuses on fictionalized accounts, interview based documentary is incredibly strong. My presentation focused mainly on the different ways interviews have been used on programmes over time. I plan to speak about this in more detail (as obviously I can’t just slot in a bunch of clips to a written paper to get the point across. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth, well, all the words, right?) tumblr_ljgsnjCj4h1qzagdho1_500

But I think the bigger point I wish to speak to is how just about any documentary style programme you find is driven by oral history.

There are the obvious topics to consider: does the camera change what people say, what do you do with translation, etc. However, I also think it might be interesting to look at editing for television. These interviews are cut WAY down for the show, and there has to be a lot of thought and planning that goes into that. Also, if possible, I’d like to consider the possibility of using “oral” history for topics outside of the living memory.

Challenges to Oral History after the “Digital Revolution”

What have been the repercussions of the increasingly digitised world that we live in on oral history? Well, the repercussions have doubtlessly been felt by all operating in the field of oral history, whether good or bad, or more likely, a complex concoction of the two. This has been fuelled by our inherently complicated relationship with technology. The world we live in is, on the one hand, mesmerised by technology, and observes changes as undeniable progress, but, on the other, it fears the future and the exponentially increasing power of technology over our lives. My essay will address the new challenges incurred by oral historians as a result of the so called “Digital Revolution”.

Gone are the days when oral history was conducted and then placed in the archive, unheard,OH mix tape for eternity. Though of course many are left unheard, we now have the technology to make oral history records available to the masses, but is this necessarily something we should be striving for? There are ethical, logistical and academic concerns to consider first. Accessibility will be the focal concern of my essay, namely, what issues arise from making oral history available online?

Oral history has increasingly come under the jurisdiction of public historians, we see it being used by television makers, museum curators, and even, theatre producers. It has been used by Heritage Lottery Funded (HLF) projects to engage with communities and promote social cohesion. This propagates the understanding that anyone can do oral history. Indeed, there is nothing to stop anyone, whoever they may be, from conducting their own oral history project, posting it online, and allowing the public to pass comment. This has been heralded by some as a democratisation of the past, but is this an accurate interpretation?

My question is this, does digital oral history mean bad oral history? Does opening up, or indeed, conducting oral history specifically for a digital audience automatically make it less academic, less credible, less worthy? Or has the use of technology, and the opening up of oral history records ‘put the oral back into oral history’?

I have asked a lot of questions because digital oral history is a diverse area. I have chosen to look at accessibility because I feel this is the strand which has had the most significant impact on the way oral history is conducted and interpreted. I argue that whilst increasing accessibility can be a wonderful thing which promotes the utilisation of oral history, we should not open the field entirely to public scrutiny without addressing the serious ramifications.

Hopes and Concerns: Inspiring Young Women, Girl Guiding in the 1950s

Though out of sync with blog posts from my course mates on this topic, my hopes and concerns are nonetheless sizeable. Conducting an oral history interview for posterity is, after all, a daunting and exciting prospect. My area of interest, the influence of gender roles on activities undertaken by girl guiding groups in the mid-twentieth century, is virtually untrodden by historians. This both concerns me, as I have little specific research to go on, and motivates me, to really uncover a previously untold story.

Despite the fact that I have known who I am going to interview since early February, I am nervous for a number of reasons. I am concerned about creating a rapport with my interviewee, because whilst this isn’t usually a problem, I recently interviewed someone with whom I was unable to establish rapport with, this resulted in a bored sounded interviewee, although perhaps that is his natural demeanour. The interviews I conducted for my radio documentary have no doubt been helpful preparation for this one, but on those occasions I knew precisely what content I could hope to obtain, having read the interviewees’ work. In this instance I am stepping into the unknown. For this reason I am concerned that my line of questioning will not do the interviewee justice, and will not contribute to the historical record as much as it should.

I am worried about navigating myself, and the interviewee, through the interview so that we both leave feeling satisfied, and indeed happy about the experience. In this vein, I am concerned that I will assume too much knowledge, and forget to ask the interviewee about how they felt in a certain situation. Furthermore, my primary concern is forgetting to ask follow up questions, or asking leading questions, as I have a tendency to do in my normal life.

I wish to be as prepared as possible so I will ensure I have an extensive interview plan, whether daydreaming-copyor not I feel I need to actively use it in the interview. And something that could be considered a hope and a concern is my desire to stay engaged throughout, when I have conducted interviews over the years there have been times when my thoughts have wandered, occasionally to calamitous effect, and these, were much shorter interviews. So, I am concerned that I will daydream, and I hope that I will not.

I hope to give back to the girl guiding community from what I uncover. I am also hoping that it will enrich my own experience of guiding today. I trust that I will gain insight into the experience of leading youth groups in the mid-twentieth century, and how gender roles are perceived to have been influential in activities at the time. Lastly, I want to learn more about the way memory works, and reflect on the challenges of conducting and using oral history.

Planning: Oral History on TV

History began to appear on British TV screens in the 1960s, but has really taken off in the past two decades in the guise of various historical dramas, reality shows and celebrity or presenter-led documentaries. As a result, oral history in particular has developed a place for itself in mass-consumed television; but there have been big changes in how oral history is used within these programs. I am curious about the various ways in which oral history has been incorporated into popular mainstream television culture today.

I intend to track the development of oral history on television, highlighting instances where moving towards the visual medium has benefitted the presentation of oral history, and in turn, where it has provided more of a challenge. I also will look at how video recording can affect the interview and how that affects the whole process. Although it presents its own concerns and considerations, I believe that visual oral history can solve some of problems associated with the communication of traditional history – such as the issue of authenticity – on television in general.

Oral History and Museums

For my first essay I will explore oral history in museums, this use of oral history is the first time I really came into contact with oral history, let alone its usage in public history. The essay will address the practical problems of using this method, such as what form to use it in, audio or visual. Then once this has been decided there are a whole other plethora of practical choices and problems which are encountered, such as how will they listen to it? Will sound bleeding occur? Does it need context? Does it add or detract to the rest of the items on display? And also are the interviews themselves any good and do the public actually engage with it? Good use of oral history in museums can massively impact upon the audience for a variety of reasons and can enhance their experience. So, when well planned and executed using oral history in museums can be an extremely fruitful venture. This essay will explore these problems and benefits as well as using case study examples of oral history in museums to demonstrate such points.