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?
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.
Last week Matt Perry and I visited the Old Low Light Heritage Centre. Matt along with Sarah Campbell teaches oral history on the second year undergraduate module, Oral History and Memory. I’ll be writing more about the module next week, but want to acknowledge that our oral history teaching more broadly relies on community and institutional partners like the Old Low Light. So thank you to David Bavaird, chair of Trustees, Pearl Pearl Saddington, Community, Heritage and Events Manager, and Guy Moody, Operations Manager for their guidance and offers of help.
The Old Low Light is a fascinating community history venue. Give it a visit if you are in the area – they are a hospitable bunch and the exhibitions are great.
Many of the exhibits are a result of co-production between Centre staff and members of the local community. Much talked about, but much less practiced, co-production is neither easy nor quickly achieved. What is particularly striking about the approach at Old Low Light is the variety of ways that Centre staff have worked with volunteers and the rich range of outcomes that have been achieved. As well as a permanent exhibition to commercial fishing in the area, there are co-curated paintings, photography from ex-shipyard workers and my favourites: the memory table (the table itself was salvaged from a trawler) and a short video of fishing memories.
The Centre also features a series of talks and events throughout the year.
I’m looking forward to developing our partnership with the Centre.
Graham Smith, 21 September, 2017