My interviewee is a woman who received a degree from Bedford College in Chemistry in the early 1950s. Before the first interview my two main concerns were something going wrong with the recorder and the experience feeling forced with lots of silences. Instead I found the woman to be forthcoming and the questions to develop naturally from what she said. Although I had prepared a few pages of questions as a security blanket I found that I didn’t need to look at them at all during the interview.
I feel much more anxious going into the second interview as now the onus is on me to interrogate the narrative she gave and draw out more insights. Given the ample ground covered in the first interview there are plenty of opportunities to do this. Some of the topics we discussed clearly leave room for more questions but she also mentioned many difficult times in her life related to depression, serious family illnesses and rifts. I’m concerned about how to address some of these issues in a sensitive way and also question whether some things should merely be left as casual asides by her in the first interview which do not need probing. Considering the purpose of this project how much do events in her later ‘post-science’ life need to be questioned? After having spent some time with this nice woman and talked about her present life and grandchildren over coffee and cake it feels really difficult to probe some of the more unpleasant aspects of her personal life even if they affected her professional one.
According to historian Graeme Davison ‘the suburb has a claim to being one of the most successful and least loved inventions of the modern era’. As a potential oral history project I would like to use book clubs as a vehicle to explore suburbia and more specifically the lives of women in suburbia. There is a proliferation of book clubs in the suburbs and the overwhelming majority of people who join these clubs are women. I would either look at women from different generations who belonged to clubs to gain insight into how suburbia has changed for women or I could look at one club and explore the individual life of each woman in the club. The dynamics of these clubs and even the books that the members chose to read can show us things about women’s relationships with each other and popular culture.
This is clearly a large project and if I were to look at only one club then the information I would get would depend greatly on just which club I looked at. Nevertheless, I think it would be interesting to examine such an ordinary experience of being a member of a book club and use it to look at the history of women in suburbia. I would especially like to find out if, and how, gender roles have changed in suburbia. To make the project fit the constraints of the course I could look at one woman’s life and examine suburbia through her experiences, attitudes and memories.