In this post, Andy Clark, who is a research associate in History, Classics and Archaeology at Newcastle, discusses his upcoming INSIGHTS Public Lecture based on research that he has led into the aftermath of the Lockerbie Disaster, 1988. The lecture will take place on Thursday December 7th, 2023, at 5:30pmContinue reading
Professor Graham Smith posts here about his recent visit to India to promote collaborative partnerships in environmental oral history.
Last month I travelled to Bengalūru, the capital and largest city in the southern Indian state of Karnataka to work with colleagues on an environmental oral history pilot project. We held a series of workshop sessions to discuss memories of environmental change recorded by researchers from across India. The gathering consolidated partnership approaches for larger scale oral history projects as well as generating new questions in research that use oral history to explore environmental history.
The “oral history and environmental science” workshop was hosted by the archives of the National Centre for Biological Science (NCBS) on their wonderful campus, which proved an inspirational venue for our three-days of discussion. It was heartening to be able to explore different disciplinary perspectives not only in a beautiful setting, but also without the levels of disciplinary boundary policing that bedevil similar initiatives in the global North. It is striking, for example, how important arts and the humanities are to the archive team at NCBS
The autumn workshop was organised and delivered by Professor Indira Chowdhury, India’s leading public oral historian, Venkat Srinivasan, the archivist at the NCBS, who is pioneering new approaches to archiving the history of science in India, and me, representing Newcastle University’s Oral History Collective. Participants were drawn from other science institutes as well as NGOs with each participant bringing along a recently recorded interview.
Building on training designed by our colleague Siobhan Warrington as part of the Living Deltas Hub, as well as Indira’s and my teaching experience, the workshop participants had earlier attended online training sessions that covered the theory and practice of oral history from interviewee selection, through ethical considerations, to Venkat on curation and archiving.
In Bengalūru we were able to jointly explore oral histories that had been recorded in multiple locations and languages, and in different environmental settings with attendant challenges that included understanding human/animal conflict in the east and west of India, to supporting shepherding in the borderlands of the far north to island life in the south. During our meeting, the researchers collectively identified key themes from their interviews and began to develop analytical approaches as well as thinking through ways of returning findings to the communities that they are currently working in.
As a result of the workshops we have built an equitable collaboration that straddles different ethnicities, religions and languages, different geographies, from mountain to plain, from coast to forest, that will allow us to investigate the recent histories of many environmental challenges that include drought, soil degradation, cyclones, and flooding.
We continue to work through the bigger task of understanding how oral history may support positive and inclusive policy change at micro and macro levels.
As well as support from NCBS, which is part of India’s Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, and from Dr Siddhi Bhandari of the Srishti Manipal Institute of Art Design and Technology, funding was provided by Newcastle University’s Global Partnerships Fund and additionally from the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at Newcastle University.
 Siobhan Warrington, Laura Beckwith, Hue Nguyen, Graham Smith, Lan Nguyen, Thuy Mai Thi Minh, Chamithri Greru, Tanh Nguyen, Oliver Hensengerth, Pamela Woolner and Matt Baillie Smith (2023) “Managing distance when teaching, learning, and doing oral history: a case study from Vietnam,” In Melanie Nind, Handbook of Teaching and Learning Social Research Methods, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham.
Ryan Fallon, who completed his Masters at Newcastle University last year, has been been appointed to a Northern Bridge Studentship for an oral history project, starting this October. This project is centred around children’s experiences of the Stannington Sanatorium. Situated in Morpeth, the Stannington Sanatorium was England’s first tuberculosis sanatorium specially designed for children. Other projects have used the hospital as a focal point for analysis, but the patient’s voice as a mixed methodological standpoint has yet to be addressed. Ryan’s project will consider the perspective of the child patient, which is often overlooked within medical care and within discourses around the ‘patient voice’.
The provisional title of the project is: ‘Finding the Voice of the Child Patient: The Stannington Children’s Hospital, 1920-1980’, which is a development of Ryan’s Masters dissertation. Through an innovative amalgamation of oral history, visual culture studies, archival research, and material culture analysis, Ryan’s will seek out the voice of the child patient and thereby provide a new analysis of an important medical site.
Ryan aims to demonstrate how intersecitonalities of age, class, and gender impacted on people’s perceptions of space and time, and how they formed relationships. Gender, for example, played an important part in who the child played with and who the child saw on a daily basis. The role that the children attributed to their caregivers also impacted their relationship bonds. Using Oral History studies, the project hopes to illuminate how the experiences of the patient in their formative years impacted their adult lives. In doing so, it attempts to answer the important methodological question of how historians can recover patients’ voices when the stability and reliability of their voices is in doubt.
This project will use other materials, in addition to oral history. Ryan will weave therapeutic horticulture and the impact of hospital architecture into his research, discussing them from a sensorial and oral history standpoint. The project will also examine x-ray plates using visual culture studies. Medical materials – such as X-ray plates, and patient profiles – often lack a distinctive “voice”. Ryan’s project will attempt to demonstrate how material written about the patient, by a trained doctor, can reveal information, and how patient profiles show progression over time. When paired with oral history testimonies, these can show that health care provisions, offered to children from a low economic background, had a positive impact on the lives of the children, something which will be demonstrated further by his use of the five families study.
The project will contextualise the experiences of the child patient within the United Kingdom by drawing on research from other health institutions. It will implement comparative approaches to seek out and express similarities and differences between the Stannington Sanatorium and Craig-Y-Nos sanatorium in Wales. In turn this will centralise working-class experiences of medical care, and how these can vary based on location. This will allow the project to cater to some contemporary discussions about health; discussing how class, place, and age, all have an impact on hospital care.
Throughout this project, Ryan, who is an active member of the Newcastle Oral History Collective, will be supervised by Lutz Sauerteig (Senior Lecturer in History of Medicine), Graham Smith (Professor of Oral History), and Coreen McGuire (Lecturer in British History at Durham), working with the Northumberland Archives. Graham Smith will be instrumental to the project, allowing it to flourish through oral history and memory studies. Lutz Sauerteig – who supervised Ryan’s Master’s dissertation – will provide much-needed guidance on children’s history. Coreen McGuire will provide Ryan with valuable knowledge of visual culture studies. The Northumberland Archives currently hold the material of the Stannington Sanatorium. Their help and knowledge will be crucial to the project and will be a welcome source of information gathering.