Women in Science: Interview Trepidation

I had many fears about my first interview with a Bedford College Zoology graduate because this was my first Oral History interview and I wasn’t sure what to expect from my interviewee as, despite contact via email and phone calls, I knew very little about her and her character.

My previous experience with the recorder had also worried me as, during one interview for my radio project, I found that the machine had not been recording halfway through my interview. Fortunately, my radio project interviewee was a former lecturer of mine and so understanding and luckily we had plenty of time to re-do the unrecorded questions and covered the lost material but since then I have been fearful of it happening again although my lecturer did say ‘Well now that it’s happened once, you’ll never let it happen again!’ I was particularly fearful of this or any problems with my recorder occurring during my Oral History interview because, unlike with radio, it should not follow an almost scripted narration so could not just be ‘redone’ without having changed the original ‘recording’. I was also concerned about the recorder’s battery life and searching for a plug near to where she would like to sit for the interview as her comfort was paramount but so was the position of the recorder in order to pick up our conversation.

Another concern was that I was stepping into a stranger’s home. This was not a concern with regards to my well-being (although she is rather sprightly) but instead an issue of location and social conduct. I had her address but was not sure of exactly where it was and how to reach her and Google was of little use but there was also the problem of how to act when I reached the front door. I had been invited to her home so should I bring something and if so, what? Shoes on or off? I can also be quite a clumsy person so that’s always the greatest fear.

I was worried about asking questions that might offend or upset her, asking about a person’s family can be a touchy subject, she may have recently lost a loved one or she may have wanted but never been able to have children. To have asked something along those grounds might have not only upset her but soured our relationship for the rest of the interview process. She had also had a great deal of trouble hearing me on the phone which worried me with regards to the interview because I wasn’t sure of the extent of her hearing problems as, although she was answering the majority of my questions, I know that that is not always an accurate indicator because my Grandfather has terrible hearing and appears to be speaking in reply to me until he begins on a completely different topic which is when I start to realise that he’s just brilliant at guessing what I’m asking him!

For my imminent second interview, the fears I had when I originally began this course have resurfaced. I had been so concerned with meeting my interviewee and the workings of the recorder that I had completely forgotten that my fumbling questions were also being recorded for an archive and couldn’t be ‘fixed in edit’. This is my last chance to find out about her experiences as a woman in science so I need to make sure I get it right and ask the questions that need answering for the sake of History

The RAF in West Berlin

During my undergraduate degree I (as part of a small team of students) had to create an event to do with the Cold War. As this project was in partnership with Cinema City, Norwich, we decided to put on a screening of 1984 and create a small Cold War exhibition to go alongside it. While doing some research for this exhibition and finding things to put in it, I got talking to a family friend who began telling me stories of his time based in West Berlin with the RAF not long after the end of the Second World War. The stories he was telling me were not only fascinating but also pretty funny and gave me a good idea about the fearmongering of the press (which hasn’t really changed that much…) and the interaction between the two opposing sides of the Cold War.

He told me that straying over into enemy airspace was quite a regular occurrence on both sides but there was a protocol in place for such events and their regularity didn’t prevent this from having to be followed: whenever they strayed, they had to touch down and both sides had to present any findings and have a little chat. Every so often, the press would get word of this and create crazy headlines saying that East Germans were coming to get us… When the pilots saw these kinds of headlines they joked ‘I wonder which time this was: last month, last week, yesterday…?’

The Cold War is something shrouded in mystery for those of us that didn’t live through it but also for many of those who did experience it because of the secretive nature of the war and if we don’t act quickly and record such memories they could soon be lost completely. These types of military experiences were unique to Cold War Berlin and would help to explain some of the feelings between those on both sides of the wall to each other and the RAF’s protocol at the time. It would be an interesting study and to be able to interview people on both sides of the wall would really help to understand the military mentality during the rather unique conflict that was the Cold War.