When I first heard that we might be working on a project involving interviewing female science graduates from Royal Holloway and Bedford College I must admit I was a little apprehensive. I was worried that I might not have a sufficiently scientific background myself to do the interview justice. What if the person I was allocated was going to talk to me about some extremely complicated piece of post-doctoral chemistry? How would I respond? Would I make the right noises? How would I even know what was going on? I could foresee despondency and panic. Alternatively, thinking about experiences with some of my own older relatives, there were alternative scenarios in which the interviewee was either extremely deaf resulting in a great deal of shouting and confusion, or else prone to repeat the same story several times in one sitting interspersed with the statement “I’m eighty-four you know” at regular intervals.
As it turns out, I was worrying over nothing. When I spoke to my interviewee over the phone to arrange our interview dates she was very friendly, joking that she was glad I called when I did as she was working in the garden and needed an excuse to come in doors to make a cup of tea. She gave the impression that she is very much looking forward to taking part in the project and I must say I’m looking forward to interviewing her.
My interviewee is a Physics graduate from Bedford College (so I must be careful to not refer to the project as if it is solely about Royal Holloway) and this is interesting in itself as there will be lots to ask her about life at Bedford and around Regent’s Park in the 1950s. Born in the 1930s, I’m hoping to find out about her memories of life as a child in wartime Britain and if that was one of the things that drew her towards science as a career. After University she worked as a secondary school teacher and it will be interesting to perhaps explore the many changes she would have seen in post-war education, especially as her career spanned the rise and fall of the grammar schools. I also know that she was involved in local politics after retiring from teaching and maintains an interest in the arts, so I’m looking forward to hearing about that part of her story too.
All of this is great, but now I have some more worries. Will two 90 minute sessions be enough? Will my batteries hold out? Will we go off on an interesting tangent and not talk about Bedford College enough? At least with two interviews we have a bit of flexibility to allow for problems like these. My other worry, is striking the balance between not speaking too much myself (because it’s not a normal two-way conversation) and making sure that she knows I’m interested and engaged in what she’s saying.
It will be a good thing to record my interviewee’s memories, not just for our college archives but for her own family. Over the years I heard a lot of stories and anecdotes from my older relatives, but rarely wrote any down and certainly never sound recorded any because I foolishly kidded myself that they would be around forever. Now they’re gone and I wish I’d have had the foresight to carry out interviews like this on my own parents.
This comes along a little late, but nevertheless better late than never I suppose. I feel like my concerns are probably bigger than my hopes at the moment since I am still unsure about who I will be interviewing for this assignment. I have not yet received a solid response but still hoping to create an interview based in the field of terrorism. I actually came across something very interesting quite recently which I wasn’t aware of. We have all of course heard of the 7/7 bombing attacks at King’s Cross in London in summer 2005 I actually remember it quite well because a couple of days after the attacks it happened I was traveling to London for the very first time, what a strange welcome that was!
Anyway, something, or someone rather, I hadn’t heard of before is Sajda Mughal. She was actually present during the attacks and compared to the 52 victims who were unfortunately killed, she survived, witnessed, and decided to dedicate her life to persuading extremist to swear off violence. At the time of the attack, Sajda was 22 and gave up her career to form the JAN trust, a women’s charity that helps women from ethnic minorities, including refugees and asylum-seekers, to integrate society. Besides helping those women, she also aims to stop young people from being radicalized.
When reading her story I knew it would be difficult and delicate to create an interview either with her or with other women part of this charity. Quite frankly, I am not an expert on Islam, not close to being one actually, but I know that if I decide to do an interview in this direction I would be rather thrilled to interview someone like Sajda and not only understand what it must feel like to experiment something such as terrorism, but also understand her stance, and those of other Muslim women in a society such as Britain, in which hundreds of young people have already left to join the Jihad in Syria.
As a whole I am having extremely mixed feelings about this interview. On the one hand I am considerably stressed not having received a formal response, and on the other, I am really looking forward to this interview and to be able to look back at it thinking that this was perhaps one of the most enriching and exciting experience of my academic life so far.
The summer before I graduated with my undergraduate degree. I distinctly remember walking around a dig site during our field school excavation and thinking. “I wish we could just ask them what this structure was for—it’d be so interesting to know for certain.” It was the ‘for certain’ that got me. Later in a medieval history class I had the same questions: “If only I could ask them what it was really like to live in the fourteenth century.” Obviously, without a time machine such questions are now impossible to ask.
I’ve found myself (and heard others) asking similar questions about periods in time much closer to the present. My younger brother once asked me “I wonder what it was like to be a fighter pilot during the Second World War” in response to my question about a project he was working on. These are exactly the type of questions that oral history can help us answer. It can help us to preserve others’ lived experiences and extend their voices into the future. It can provide a window to help us understand what life was really like for people as historic events were taking place and how those events impacted their lives personally.
It is in this vein of preservation as well as my own interest in gender roles that I have selected the topic for my interview: women’s roles and how they shifted during and after the Second World War. I would like to interview a woman who lived through the war. I intend to pursue the interview as her life story while paying particular attention to how the war impacted her ideas about gender roles as well as shifts in those roles over time.
I intended to interview a friend of my grandmother’s who was a child during the Second World War, living in London, and as a result was soon evacuated. I would like to explore this further as it resonates with my grandmother’s wartime experiences as she too was an evacuee and her stories always fascinated me; so the opportunity to hear about and explore another person’s experience of this interests me deeply.
Whilst there has been much telling and retelling of such evacuees experiences each individual experience of this event is just that, individual. Everyone will have different reactions emotions and emotions which they felt at the time but also how they feel about it now, how they look upon this event in their life.
Additionally the evacuation of mainly working class children from London to more affluent middle class families in the countryside was one of the greatest (unintentional) social experiments in the country, the the conservative well to do families were often shocked at the gap of the prevalent social gap between the middle and working classes. For the children to it was often a culture shock, moving from crowded industrial towns to the countryside and encountering things they had never seen before. Again all of the experiences of this cultural and social change and shock are different and this gives us the chance to hear her experiences of this, of her opinions, and even if she agrees with this view.