Despite its numerous possibilities and opportunities, it is only recently that oral history has become integrated into the museum sector. Although oral history began to gain ground in museums in 1960s, still in 1994 only 35% of museums in Britain were including oral history in their displays. Even today, oral history tends to be confined to the larger, major museums in the UK. The reason I have chosen this topic stems largely from this curiosity. When oral history so obviously offers so many opportunities, why is it only recently that curators have begun to incorporate it into their exhibitions? Answering this question will be a key part of my investigation. I aim to examine the key advantages of oral history in this sector, such as its democratic, flexible and humanising effects, and compare these to the critical responses oral history has had, for instance the problem of universalising the experience of one into the experience of many. Sadly, practical issues such as funding have also constantly halted the progress of oral history, and consequently it has not yet been able to develop to its full potential as a result of the practical and ideological barriers that stand in its way.
Oral history has presented itself in a variety of formats in the museum sector. More traditionally museums have used oral history as an accompaniment to the textual and pictorial content of the museum, for instance through the use of listening posts, included as quotes within text or in audio guides. Recently, however, there has been a rise in the number of “stand-alone” oral history displays, in which oral history makes up the entirety of the museum content. This was the case with the Museum of London’s Women’s Talk exhibition, which presented a display entirely devoid of objects. The Museum of London has led the way with a series of innovative new ways of including oral history, for instance with their use of the Colour Contacts dance piece, which not was not only based on oral history interviews of experiences of migration and settlement in London, but also performed by people who had personally experienced this. The diverse nature of oral history in museums has thus made it an extremely interesting topic to cover, especially since this flexibility often results in an accessible form of history, more likely to involve a wider audience. However, critics have not failed to voice their complaints that the “stand alone” oral history approach diminishes the role of the curator in its move away from the traditional object focused approach of museums. As a result it would also be interesting to examine the advantages and disadvantages of these different methods for the presentation of oral history in museums.
In interviewing Wendy Sadler, the Church Warden for St. Mary’s in Erwarton, I hope to be able to gain an insight into her experience as a woman with a key position in the both the local Church and the community. I have always been interested in women’s history and therefore this is a great opportunity to practically apply this interest to learn about the development of women’s roles on a more local scale. Since I come from the same village myself, it will be particularly interesting to learn about the history of the local area in this context. I also hope to gain an understanding of Mrs Sadler’s own views on the development of women’s positions in society more generally, particularly as this is a topic so relevant to the Church today.
However, I also have a few concerns when approaching this project. Although I do not have a close personal relationship with Mrs Sadler and see her very rarely, she has been my neighbour for my entire life. We live in an extremely small village of few more than a hundred people and consequently I hope that this will not result in a reluctance to approach certain topics with someone who is a member of the same community as her. As a result of the size of our village I also may know many of the people she would wish to talk about in the interview and I hope she would not avoid covering certain topics related to these people.
In terms of conducting the actual interview I am slightly concerned that it will be difficult not to approach the interview in a conversational manner. I feel that this possibility is again heightened by my pre-existing relationship with Mrs Sadler as she may expect a more informal and conversational approach on my part during the interview.
With the recent consecration of the first female bishop in the Church of England, the issue of women’s role in the Church has been brought to the forefront of recent debate. Whilst this change was widely well received, it was not without its opposition. During the ceremony, for example, Rev Paul Williamson stepped forward and shouted that it was “not in the bible”. Women have consistently, throughout time, faced direct challenges to their roles in society, in particular prominent positions in the Church. I find this extremely interesting, especially coming from a small village in rural Suffolk where women have always played a large role in our local church.
My intention is to interview Wendy Sadler, the Church Warden for St. Mary’s in Erwarton, to explore her experience of her life as a woman with a key role in the local community. As a woman with a prominent position, both within the Church and as a county councillor, I feel she will have interesting views on the social development of women in the Church and rural society. I intend to discuss her own role, the development of her faith and religion, as well as any possible challenges she faced upon first starting this job. As a woman in her eighties, who has lived in the same village for her entire life, I also think it would be interesting to explore the changes she has seen in rural Suffolk, with regards to both the local community and the Church.