Women and TechnologyPosted: February 3, 2016
When choosing a topic for my oral history project I wanted to ensure that it had a link to the ideological origins of British Oral History. For example, I want to understand and uncover the stories of those who have traditionally been overlooked by history. Therefore, I have decided that I want to look at women who were pioneers in working with technology in the 20th century. In a profession that has traditionally been perceived as ‘masculine’, I think it will be interesting to hear the stories of women who undertook these roles. As someone who has always been heavily invested in gendered history I think it is important to look to project like this. Interviewing these women will allow us to comprehend changing gender roles during this era within a professional setting, but on a personal level.
I decided to pursue this particular idea as I was inspired by a recent visit to the Science Museum. The switchboard, which is displayed in the new ‘Information Age’ exhibition, was a brilliant example of how oral history can enhance and bring life and meaning to public history in museums. The switchboard, which originated from Enfield, was purchased by the museum as a display of communication technology from the 20th century. However, it did not showcase any history of the object itself. Ultimately, it was the women who worked with the switchboard and their stories that gave the piece of equipment historical significance.
The Science Museum recognised that simply displaying a historical object was not enough and reached out to the general public in hope that they could speak to people who understood the profession. They were lucky enough to be able to contact and interview nine women who worked as operators in telephone exchanges. Their stories of their working experience and the implications that it had on their lives during the 1950s and 1960s not only made for a much more interesting piece of public history, but it also opened up a new area of historical study that I had not considered previously.
Therefore, I hope to be able to conduct an interview for my project with a similar significance. Interviewing women who were involved in technological developments in Britain will be significant as I aim to discover just how far women were in the ‘background’ of the profession. In this sense I want to attempt to combat stereotypes about women and technological developments in the 20th century. However, in looking at their working lives I want to discover more about how it affected their private lives. In particular, how their work was received in terms of the perceived gender roles of the time.