Funded PhD opportunity: Oral History’s Design: A creative collaboration.

Sustaining visitor (re)use of oral histories on heritage sites: The National Trust’s Seaton Delaval Hall AS A case study.

Oral history’s popularity as an active collecting method and archiving tool have outstripped the level of reuse of oral histories in historical interpretation. And while oral history’s limited reuse of archived oral histories has attracted some interest, this is based mainly on proposed digital technical fixes. Significantly, there is relatively less research on the dissemination of oral histories and their reception by audiences. Oral history as an emerging discipline has yet to adequately integrate users and audiences into the processes of analysis and reuse.

The PhD project draws on oral history reuse theory and practice in combination with design science to explore ways of addressing reusability. We are particularly keen to explore how heritage site visitors might become active curators and historians in reusing oral histories from an existing on-site archive and how in turn new data could be generated to shape future collecting. The PhD will generate, in partnership, new knowledge to understand and address visitors’ active engagement in interpreting the past through a case study utilising the National Trust’s oral history archive at Seaton Delaval Hall.

Terry Whalebone, 2006, CC BY 2.0 (no changes)

With the support of the local community, Seaton Delaval Hall was acquired by the National Trust ten years ago. Although a recent acquisition in Trust terms, the Hall shares with its locality a rich and significant history, including being the site of a Second World War POW camp. Much of The Hall is currently undergoing major repair and conservation, including a large engagement programme, embedding collaborative practice across the site and encouraging relevance and legacy for the Hall within the local community. Over the next few years, the site will offer opportunities to rethink and experiment with programming and interpretation. The Hall currently primarily focuses on one aspect of history, the Delaval Family, but there is an acute awareness that this is an incomplete picture. Staff and volunteers at the Hall are also interested in exploring a 360-degree interpretation of history. This is, therefore, a timely opportunity to approach this collection, archiving and engagement holistically from the outset. Above all else, the Trust staff want to ensure that Seaton Delaval Hall’s oral histories are not only collected and archived but that they are sustainable.

Design science in this project offers the possibility for a change in how oral history archives are created, curated, accessed, and most significantly in their use and reuse. This will be achieved by the student establishing a network of people from different, relevant, subject-areas and engaging them in a design-facilitated creative discourse around the specific issues identified above. By ensuring that archive creators, staff and volunteers, local community members, and visitors are involved in this network, needs and opportunities will be identified, and insights and ideas harvested and developed in design.

By researching and immersing themselves in the culture of oral history as a set of practices and theories from collection to reuse, the student will be able to create a deeper understanding of barriers and opportunities. Working together with oral historians at Newcastle, design thinkers at Northumbria and staff and volunteers at the Hall they will aim to create a new active archiving and curation system. This system will also aim to support accessibility for all and open to wider interpretations. Following the development of the system, prototyping and testing will be conducted at Hall with visitors with the findings disseminated through the Trust and beyond. The Hall, as a site for experimentation, has been identified to undertake development and shares learning at a regional and national level within the Trust. This PhD research would, therefore, include sharing lessons to regional and national colleagues across the Trust and within the wider heritage sector.

This Northern Bridge Collaborative Doctoral Award is offered through a three-way collaboration involving colleagues from the National Trust, Northumbria School of Design and History, Classics and Archaeology at Newcastle. The supervisory team will be led by Graham Smith, Oral History Unit and Collective (OHUC), with Mark Bailey, Northumbria, and Jo Moody and Emma Thomas, National Trust.

The successful applicant will be located in the Oral History Unit and Collective (OHUC) at Newcastle, and will also have a place within Northumbria’s Design-led Responsible Innovation Practice Research group. This will provide the student with access to CoCreate and the wider Northumbria PGR community which has an established programme of doctoral support promoting interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration. Research in the School of Design has developed to embrace both practice-based, action research and fundamental theoretical studies. Especially relevant to this study, the school has particular expertise in externally engaged, applied participatory research supported by dedicated research studios within CoCreate, a research group which explores societal challenges and cultural experiences through participatory and design-led research, with an emphasis on interaction and social design and creative practice.

OHUC at Newcastle has a core team of four PDRAs and four Associate Researchers. OHUC was launched in January 2018 and operates within Newcastle University’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology. Working across diverse academic disciplines, from creative arts to medicine, and in partnership with local history groups and community historians, the Unit’s work explores the role of oral history in communicating the past in the present with particular reference to historical justice. OHUC produces globally significant research while attending to regional and civic responsibilities. Using oral history as both a method and a source in public history settings, OHUC shares the common agenda of co-researching memory and historical narratives through reflective practices and theories, with the Collective providing a forum for knowledge exchange that explores the dynamics of individual and social memories and historical narratives. The Unit is therefore ideally suited as a research environment for this PhD, providing opportunities for engagement with knowledge-exchange activities and interdisciplinary explorations within the university and with community oral historians in the region.

The student will also have access to an extensive range of National Trust training including working with volunteers, managing change, communication, and leadership and will be allocated working space at Seaton Delaval in addition to a place in the Oral History Unit’s team.

Applicants should have experience of oral history and design. Excellent first and second degrees. Enquiries should be made to  graham.smith@newcastle.ac.uk For further details of how to apply for this Northern Bridge Collaborative Doctoral Award

Recovery Journeys: Placement Reflection by George Selwyn Sharpe

During the summer months, the Oral History Unit & Collective has hosted our first undergraduate intern, supported through Newcastle University’s Vacation Scholarships programme. Here George Selwyn Sharpe reflects on his experience so far. His project looks at the experiences of eight individuals who identify as recovering alcoholics and their recovery journey.  

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Oral History in crisis? Casualisation, deskilling and precarity in our field

In this post, Andy Clark reflects on discussions originating from the 2019 Oral History Society Conference held in Swansea regarding the current state of oral history. In particular, he reflects on the casualisation* and precarity faced by practitioners of the methodology. How can we develop an approach that is inclusive, democratising, whilst also promoting the skill-set of trained and experienced oral historians? Please feel free to join the discussion by posting in the comments section below.

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Mutinous Memories and Survivor Memorials: Report on Collective book launch

A sizeable audience gathered in the Armstrong Building on Wednesday 5 June for the joint launch of two exciting new publications by members of the Oral History Unit & Collective: Research Associate Alison Atkinson-Phillips’s Survivor Memorials: Remembering Trauma and Loss In Contemporary Australia (University of Western Australia Publishing) and Reader in Labour History Matt Perry’s Mutinous Memories: A Subjective History of French Military Protest in 1919 (Manchester University Press). Jack Hepworth reports. 

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Deindustrialisation, heritage and memory: Reflections on 2018-2019 network

Deindustrialisation, and the understanding of how it continues to reverberate through working-class communities, is a relatively new but growing interdisciplinary field. Alongside academic interest, community activist groups, heritage organisations, trade unions and artists are engaged in examining the impact of structural economic change. The Deindustrialisation, Heritage and Memory Network came together through three workshops – held in Glasgow, Newcastle and Canterbury – which brought together research from across academia and the heritage sector, offering an important space where significant and lasting connections have been made. In this post, network contributors Paul Barnsley and Emma Copestake reflect on their experiences of the workshops, and consider future directions in the field.

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From reflective to prospective practice: an oral history of the Lockerbie disaster, 1988

Last year, Dr Andy Clark was awarded a British Academy / Leverhulme Trust Small Grant to conduct a scoping project on the Lockerbie disaster, 1988. Working with Dr Colin Atkinson, Lecturer in Criminology at UWS, they will conduct interviews with a number of witnesses involved in the aftermath of the disaster. In this Lug post, Andy reflects on how to prepare for such a project. There is an extensive literature on reflections of oral historians once projects have been completed, but in this piece, Andy discusses his thoughts and approaches before beginning the interview process. Continue reading

Foodbank Histories: Placement Reflection by Jack Hepworth

Foodbank Histories is a collaborative project between Newcastle West End Foodbank, Northern Cultural Projects, and Newcastle University Oral History Unit & Collective. The project began in 2018, recording approximately 30 short oral history interviews with foodbank clients, volunteers, and supporters. Over the past five weeks, PhD candidate Jack Hepworth has completed a short-term placement on Foodbank Histories, funded by the Newcastle University Social Justice Fund. Here he reflects on his experience. 

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A historiography of erasure: a case study of Japanese in Canada

In advance of his paper for our oral history seminar series on Wednesday February 27th, Dr Darren Aoki outlines the rationale behind his research into Japanese experiences in Canada at the end of the Second World War. He argues that the participants in his oral history interviews actively reject notions of victimhood in the construction of their identities. Please click here to see the full abstract for Darren’s paper.

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Oral History in 2018: What did we learn?

The Newcastle Oral History Unit and Collective is celebrating its first full year of operation with our Annual Public Lecture in March. As with any new venture, it has been a year of learning, and an important part of that has been figuring out where we fit into the world of oral history. To help us with that, we made sure at least one member attended each of the four large oral history conferences held in Europe and North America in 2018*, to get a sense of the ‘state of the field’ that we are a part of. So, what have we learned?

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