Oral history and the current crisis

In this statement on behalf of the Oral History Collective, Graham Smith, Professor of Oral History at Newcastle outlines some of the challenges and possible responses that oral historians face during the COVID-19 crisis. He argues that oral historians need to go beyond the technical challenges of remote working and think about the political crisis arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, he warns against oral historians supporting stereotypical and dangerous attitudes to older people, and outlines the Collective’s local and international strategy.

Graham would like to thank Oral History Unit colleagues for their early input and Collective members who commented on the draft. Graham notes: ‘Any errors or mistakes are his alone’.

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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

UKRI GCRF Living Deltas Hub

The Oral History Collective is delighted to be associated with the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Living Deltas Hub. As part of a large, multi-disciplinary team, Professor Graham Smith and head of Newcastle University’s School of History, Professor Helen Berry, will lead a team of Research Associates and collaborative partners in history and oral history that will explore popular memories of environmental change across three of the world’s major delta regions. Here Graham reflects on just why the project is so exciting. 

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In His Own Voice: Dr Julian Tudor Hart (b. 9 March 1927, d. 1 July 2018)

In this blog post Graham Smith remembers the pioneering general practitioner Dr Julian Tudor Hart who died on the 1st of July. Graham interviewed him in June 1999.

Click HERE for a .mp3 audio extract from the interview and for a .pdf transcript of that extract: Tudor Hart in His Own Voice pt 1 extract 1

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Reflecting on a Life in Progress and the Stories of Oral History

Public Lecture All welcome. Admission free.
Register here

Launch of the Oral History Collective and Unit @ Newcastle
Wednesday 10 January, 5.30 pm
Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building,
Newcastle University

Professor Alessandro Portelli
Professor of American Literature Sapienza, University of Rome
Alessandro Portelli has played a leading role in transforming oral history. Through a number of key studies, he has promoted an appreciation of oral history as a literary genre that throws light on the significance of subjectivity in history. By interpreting the themes and structures of eyewitness testimony, Portelli has consistently demonstrated new ways of understanding memory. In this lecture Portelli reflects on his work to date, illustrating his intellectual journey with reference to the stories of the personal, and the historical, victories and defeats that have inspired his critical contribution.

Being Human – Paths Across Waters: lost stories of Tyneside and the Caribbean’ Exhibition

When Dr Emma Coffield (Arts & Culture) and Vanessa Mongey (History, Classics and Archaeology at Newcastle UNiversity) heard about this year’s theme for the Being Human Festival  ‘Lost and Found,’ they knew that it was the perfect opportunity for working together. They set up an interactive exhibition ‘Paths Across Waters: lost stories of Tyneside and the Caribbean’ that charts the connections between the two regions at the Old Low Light Heritage Centre, Fish Quay, North Shields The exhibit aims to raise awareness of Tyneside’s international heritage and ask questions about the memories, objects and understanding of this history in the North East. Included in the exhibition is a storytelling booth designed by John Bowers, creating a live soundscape called Passages that explores people’s responses to the sea and to the paths of migration which connect the North East of England with the rest of the world.
The exhibition runs 9 – 26 November, 10am-5pm. Free entry and event series 17-25 November as part of the Being Human festival. A £2 entry fee will be in operation at other times.

Ben Houston’s on his oral history and photograhic exhibition:

Ben Houston, a member of the the Newcastle University Oral History Collective has a new exhibition opening at the Great North Museum on 7th October. The exhibition depicts elements of race relations and the civil rights struggle in Pittsburgh, USA, by combining the oral histories of black Pittsburghers (recorded by the Remembering African American Pittsburgh oral history project at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy) with historic photos from the world-class Charles “Teenie” Harris Archive held by the Carnegie Museum of Art.

We also feature Ben in the first of a number of occasional podcasts from Newcastle’s Oral History Collective.  Listen at: The Lug Podcast #1. You can also listen to an extract of one of the interviews from the exhibition. Here Sala Udin offers an overview of the key themes of the exhibition.

By using Pittsburgh as a case-study, this exhibition embodies one of the central messages of Dr Martin Luther King’s speech: that racism looms over our world and yet the thirst for freedom and dignity remains unquenchable.

The exhibition runs in parallel with the “Teenie Harris Photographs: In Their Own Voice” exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh which takes place from 29 July 2017 – 28 February 2018.

Poster Image: Charles “Teenie” Harris
American, 1908–1998
Elderly woman holding Pittsburgh Courier newspaper with headline reading “Reverend King Freed: Albany Tense” seated in armchair, July 1962
Black and white: Kodak Safety Film
H: 5 in. x W: 4 in. (12.70 x 10.20 cm)
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh: Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.7018 © Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles “Teenie” Harris Archive