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.
Though out of sync with blog posts from my course mates on this topic, my hopes and concerns are nonetheless sizeable. Conducting an oral history interview for posterity is, after all, a daunting and exciting prospect. My area of interest, the influence of gender roles on activities undertaken by girl guiding groups in the mid-twentieth century, is virtually untrodden by historians. This both concerns me, as I have little specific research to go on, and motivates me, to really uncover a previously untold story.
Despite the fact that I have known who I am going to interview since early February, I am nervous for a number of reasons. I am concerned about creating a rapport with my interviewee, because whilst this isn’t usually a problem, I recently interviewed someone with whom I was unable to establish rapport with, this resulted in a bored sounded interviewee, although perhaps that is his natural demeanour. The interviews I conducted for my radio documentary have no doubt been helpful preparation for this one, but on those occasions I knew precisely what content I could hope to obtain, having read the interviewees’ work. In this instance I am stepping into the unknown. For this reason I am concerned that my line of questioning will not do the interviewee justice, and will not contribute to the historical record as much as it should.
I am worried about navigating myself, and the interviewee, through the interview so that we both leave feeling satisfied, and indeed happy about the experience. In this vein, I am concerned that I will assume too much knowledge, and forget to ask the interviewee about how they felt in a certain situation. Furthermore, my primary concern is forgetting to ask follow up questions, or asking leading questions, as I have a tendency to do in my normal life.
I wish to be as prepared as possible so I will ensure I have an extensive interview plan, whether or not I feel I need to actively use it in the interview. And something that could be considered a hope and a concern is my desire to stay engaged throughout, when I have conducted interviews over the years there have been times when my thoughts have wandered, occasionally to calamitous effect, and these, were much shorter interviews. So, I am concerned that I will daydream, and I hope that I will not.
I hope to give back to the girl guiding community from what I uncover. I am also hoping that it will enrich my own experience of guiding today. I trust that I will gain insight into the experience of leading youth groups in the mid-twentieth century, and how gender roles are perceived to have been influential in activities at the time. Lastly, I want to learn more about the way memory works, and reflect on the challenges of conducting and using oral history.
I am looking to interview someone that was a Girl Guide during the 1950s and 1960s. I want to address the extent to which activities were gendered, and to what extent they diverted from gender norms. It will look at whether these activities were aimed at preparing young girls to become good wives and mothers. Hopefully I will find someone who has stayed in Guiding in some capacity up to the present day, to allow we to address changes over time. I will ask about attitudes towards Guiding, and potentially issues of class, community, religion and personal freedom. This will be a life interview which focusses on the impact of a specific period. It will feed into historiography about childhood and perceptions of Gender, particularly conceptions of the stereotypical 1950s woman.