Reflecting upon the two interviews I have performed for this topic in oral history, I can safely say that they were how I expected a first oral history interview to go. Definitely not a disaster, but in no way exceptionally wonderful on a professional note either. This is the task of the essay now set, to reflect on the interview’s qualities, and also how this interview relates to the subject addressed primarily with these women, that being that they are graduates in Science from Royal Holloway.
The first thing I’ll have to start off by saying is that I instantly recognised that throughout the two interviews, I was not presenting myself as a professional oral historian might. Not to say that I behaved unprofessionally in the slightest – I was however instantly taken with my interviewees relaxed attitude, and this played back to the fear I had beforehand on how to appear to the interviewee. She immediately put me at ease however, which meant that being situated in such a relaxed environment led to my interviewing style being perhaps less formal than it should have been for a first-time interview. I didn’t want to appear standoff-ish to her or distant in any way if she tried to engage with me around the interview questions in a friendly manner, and so I found myself responding to her informal conversation whilst recording. This meant that at one point during the interview she asked me personal questions about myself, to which I readily responded. My reasoning behind this was that I was a stranger coming into her home and asking such questions of her, so that even though it may have been unorthodox to the oral history interview I was happy to respond to her and answer any question she presented me with to the best of my abilities.
While the quality of the interview is necessary to reflect upon, the interview content itself is as important, especially when considering it shall now be part of the Women in Science collection that is in the Royal Holloway Archives. It was extremely interesting to find that the interview actually took a different path to the one that I expected; I had originally thought I could talk to her about her career in the sciences and the difficulty she faced in these jobs as a woman. Instead I learnt that she had left all connection to science completely after her graduation, and took on the role of a house wife. Any specific questions relating to the subject of science therefore became difficult to pursue, and so there was a lack in specific opinions connected to it. It did mean however that I could instead explore the areas in connection to her domestic life rather than her professional one, and how this was a consequence of the times and her position as a woman. However, the interview definitely lacked a feel of a ‘Woman in Science’, which is absolutely not to say that what she told me during the interview was anything but valid and interesting. Therefore the reflexive essay written about these interviews will have a focus on the topic of Science, but primarily on the differing relation to that topic that the interviewee had from original conceptions.
Initially when arranging the interview with a science graduate from Royal Holloway, I was excited and eager for it to occur. Now however a few days before our first meeting, I admit that it appears to be a daunting prospect. My main concern is on whether or not I can provide an atmosphere that puts the interviewee in as comfortable position as possible to talk to a complete stranger about her life. I don’t imagine that my questions would put her in a position which she feels unable to be relaxed around me, but my main concern is that I will not appear as professional as I possibly can as this is my first ever oral history interview. A slight disadvantage I feel is that the only interviewing I have ever done has been in a radio programme context, which is far more journalistic and far less engaging with the person interviewed. It has given me a slight feeling of reassurance that I have previous experience, which is actually untrue given their different contexts. I feel it is therefore important to forget about that given situation and try and focus more on being attentive, open and competent with my interviewee. I am after all being allowed into her home and therefore life for two occasions, to ask her questions that can be seen as very personal. It isn’t something I feel I am taking lightly, especially as my first time doing so.
Hopefully this interview will be engaging for the both of us and the questions I have prepared will be extensive enough to give each parties scope to work with. Despite being (I believe) a relatively confident and friendly person, I have apparently a dislike for awkward silences, and so do my best to fill them, something which I hope I will not endeavour to do during any point in the interview while I try to provide questions or she answers. I also hope to be able to think on my feet and respond to the information she provides with questions that I have been unable to think of before the interview, as there will undoubtedly be topics which are discussed that I have not thought of or know much on.
Finally, as selfish as it may sound, I hope the interview provides me with a relatively easy subject to work with. A big concern of mine is that no matter my own preparation, if my interviewee is unwilling to discuss certain things or engage with the interview in ways that I hope, there is little I can do about it given my amateur status as an oral history interviewer. Having said that, as mentioned above, I will do my best to endeavour to be a competent enough interviewer to show her that it is worth giving her time to answer my questions. Hopefully in this interview I shall get to know someone totally new to me practically from scratch, and learn a little their life, whether it be judged as exciting, extraordinary or normal by whomever afterwards.
Ask someone about the Channel Islands, and apart from the few who perhaps went there during Easter Holidays with their families, many will look a little confused, or perhaps cite them as the tax haven of choice for UK millionaires. Despite them being as much a part of Britain as the Isle of Man is, their proximity to France means their prominence in UK history is almost non-existent. This is unfortunate due to their interesting and extensive past, most significantly of which was the occupation of all four islands, Sark, Alderney, Guernsey and Jersey, by the Nazis during the Second World War. This means that despite the overall euphoria of post-war Britain that comes with being the little island standing last and alone against the might of Germany, Hitler did actually manage to place the jackboots of his soldiers firmly on the ground of his enemy.
For me, this is hugely fascinating. To have a population of British citizens on British sovereign territory under the rule of Nazi authority, in the same way as their neighbours in France were for all those long years, is stunning to think of. It is incredible to think this given the way the history of the Second World War is presented in countless books, films, television and radio programmes and countless other media. It hasn’t been purposefully covered up from these outlets at all – on the contrary, the plight of the Channel Islanders was covered during the War itself regularly, as I discovered when investigating the topic during my undergraduate dissertation, which looked into the Jersey and British newspaper coverage during the war. There has also been within the last few decades or so books and articles published which cover the Nazi occupation across the Islands, with historians such as Madeline Bunting, Charles Cruikshank and Gillian Carr leading the research in this area.
Oral history often investigates uncovered and neglected stories and lives, of which the Channel Islands are most definitely able to fall into this category. Although there have been interviews conducted for the work mentioned above, there has yet to be extensive oral research conducted pursuing the memories and lives of those who lived through the Occupation, of their experiences and own interpretations, rather than just their chronology of the war. It would be incredibly insightful to examine the patterns of remembrance that occur with the men and women interviewed on this period of their lives, especially as there are mythologies tied into the Channel Islands that are independent of those myths attached to the Second World War alone. These include the concepts of resistance from the Nazis which is a difficult topic even now to address, as well as the potentially uncomfortable suspicion of fraternisation and collaboration which have surrounded the Channel Islands since their liberation in 1945. An extensive oral history of say Jersey or Guernsey, the largest and second largest islands respectively, would contribute greatly to their own local history for future generations and interpretations, but also to the overall view of Britain during the Second World War. Associated with this of course are the benefiting effects oral testimonies will give to the historic record which other sources could simply not provide, due to the personal and deep-rooted nature of the issues concerning collaboration/fraternisation and also resistance. It would also be beneficial to conduct this important and influential research sooner rather than later due to, as is the unfortunate case with Second World War oral testimonies, the increasing age of the concerned populace.