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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.
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, 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.