Planning my interview has proven to be increasingly stressful and prompted more concerns that I expected originally. So far the largest difficulty I had had to overcome has been finding an interviewee. Because I recently moved to the UK from the United States, I have virtually no relationships with any adults in the area. Luckily, I have received a very promising lead from Dr. Matthew Smith at the Egham Museum and have a number of back-up options should that fall through.
My main concern is that my questions and the topics which I wish to explore may be seen as too probing or personal. The woman I will likely interview was a child during WWII and her mother worked at a local ammunitions factory; I am interested in discussing gender during and after the war but I don’t want to step on any toes in doing so. Also, I am interested in expressions of sexuality but do not know how to approach that topic in a delicate way. I am hoping to gain more insight into this issue through the readings.
My second concern is related to my own abilities as an interviewer. In an undergraduate class, I was assigned an oral life history as a final project. We were encouraged to interview members of our own family (simply for ease of access). I found myself unwilling to ask probing questions and struggled to stick with a definite them. Hopefully, however, this can be attributed to a lack of training and preparation and also my relationship with the interviewee (my grandmother).
In terms of hopes for my interview, I would like to gain a greater insight into England during the Second World War. Most of my knowledge on the topic is US centric so I am excited to see the topic in a new context. I also hope that my interview will make the experience of war, especially one on such a large scale, seem more human to me instead of historical and academic; I hope that I am able to illustrate the importance of her experience, her story, and her voice.
On a much more personal level, I hope that this interview gives me a deeper connection with Egham and England in general. Though a full-time student here, I still feel transient, like a perpetual tourist, and I trust that learning more about this community will change that.
My original plan for this project was to interview a former member of the Women’s Voluntary Service. I am very interested in gender and lived experiences of war, particularly how women define their femininity during times of conflict. On a recent trip to the Imperial War Museum, I made note of some duties of the WVS and felt that I wanted to explore the more personal side of WWII service on the home front. I was very interested in how this wartime service would have impacted the women’s image of themselves as female, their sexuality, their wartime and post-war relationships, and future goals, both personal and professional. I feel that this type of interview would add another dimension to the study of women’s wartime work, one that looks at the intersections of gender, sex, labor, and war and would likely reveal a great deal about the construction of gender and femininity from 1945 onward. I am worried, though, about finding a participant, given the age of these women and accessibility for a lengthy interview.
If my first topic choice is unavailable for whatever reason, I would also very much like to interview a former female staff member of Royal Holloway. I feel this would still have relevance to my research interest of women, work, and femininity. If this is the topic I pursue, I could perhaps look at constructions of gender in the more recent years since the end of WWII.
Through a life history interview of a participant from either group, I am confident that I could examine the development of gender identity and the impact of labor (either academic or through volunteer service) on the construction of femininity and sexuality in these women’s lives.