A Summary of ‘Oral History and New Technology in Museums, Galleries and Communities’ Conference

Our Day started at 4 am on Monday 30th June -luckily the day was bright enough to almost wake us up and following a relaxed, caffeine fuelled, train journey we arrived ata a frantic, peak commuter-time, Kings Cross Station. In route to Queen Mary University’s East End campus, where we were to learn all about new technologies and how they are applied in oral history and in gallery environments. The conference organiser, Eithne Nightingale, a PhD candidate based at Queen Mary’s and the V&A Museum of children had collaborated with the AHRC and Creative Works, London, in order to stage this most informative of events.

The day consisted of our sessions interspersed with well-deserved tea and lunch-breaks and opened with a paper given by, Padmini Broomfield – a freelance oral historian with many years’ experience in recording and using oral testimony in a variety of contexts. Padmini has previously delivered training workshops at universities in the UK and abroad. She is also a Trustee and Regional Network Deputy Co-ordinator at the Oral History Society. In her paper, Padmini argued that as oral historians we are constantly playing catch up with new technologies, both in the literal process of recording interviews, and the latest innovations in presenting them. She then proceeded to give a case study of the ‘Titanic Story’ exhibition, which she had worked on at the SeaCity Museum, Southampton. In this popular instillation, Padmini discussed how ‘oral histories’ both the scripted and first-hand historical accounts were used to bring both life and meaning to narratives which are primarily delivered through text panels, artifacts and interactive displays. As a purist she was initially against the insisted use of sound effects weaved into oral history narratives. The pinnacle of the exhibition was a mock court room which played oral recordings read in verbatim from the original titanic trail transcripts. The success of this was measured by the fact that enthusiastic museum visitors happily sit through the entire fifteen minute presentation thus proving the benefits of oral history in this particular groundbreaking way.

Padmini proceeded to discuss a project overseen by Mark Woods called ‘Suitcase Stories’ Which shines a light on post war migration stories from individuals from mainly Commonwealth countries such as India, Pakistan, Caribbean, Uganda, China and Poland. Al Jonson provided the artifacts for this project such as clothing and historical cultural objects. This exhibition also saw WW2 evacuee children, German POW’s and war brides provide oral testimonies. The interesting slant on this project was again in the presentation whereby the oral histories came to life on opening on each individual suitcase thus keeping the audience in control of which particular narratives they wanted to hear.

Halima Khanom and Olivia Belle gave a joint presentation on the wondrous world of animation as a tool of showing oral history in a public space. They showed how utilizing old traditional technologies mixed with up to date knowledge can completely transform the oral history experience. Rather than talking about it just follow the link so you can judge the effectiveness for yourse3lf – enjoy!

www.neralynormal.tv/underneaththearches

In terms of physical technology there can be fault in any information passed to us by Sarah Lowry. An experienced Community and Oral historian frequently affiliated with the Museum of London. During Sarah’s paper she warned of many pitfalls in exhibiting oral histories in open spaces. For example, her first-hand experience of the ‘bottle-neck’ effect of presenting testimonials to large crowds in small spaces. Accordingly she argues the use of space must be considered to be as important as the medium pf presentation and the narratives themselves. Sarah controversially then argued for the use of smartphone technology in the recording of oral histories. She suggested that the sound quality is perfectly acceptable through this mode could prove problematic in the archiving of such material. She certainly saw that these technologies are where the future of oral history lies. furthermore, she presented the argument that using old technologies in new ways can prove to be as effective as using new technologies themselves though often prove to be much more cost effective.

Here is an example of her ‘Foundling Voices’ exhibition which shows the low cost and innovative use of speakers dangling with audio recordings:

This thought was echoed later in the day by Michael McMillan who spoke about his instillation inspired by ‘black hair’. Here he recorded recollections taken from his participants in which they discussed their relationship with their hair. However, what made this exhibition even more enjoyable was the creative way members of the public were invited to sit under hairdryers as sound bites of the audio recordings were played through them whilst they were positioned in a barbershop setting. Again this is an imaginative use of old technologies in presenting oral histories.

Indeed, the highlight of the day – and this was I am sure unanimous – was Michael’s presentation who also detailed his exhibition called ‘The Front Room’. This was basically a series of oral testimonials given by individuals on ‘black culture and childhoods’ during the 1960s and 1970s. He used a mock-up of the archetypal ‘front room’ as extracted from personal memories of early black migrants’ homes based on their interpretation of the British front room. He spoke of this setting as a catalyst for inspiring his participants to relax and talk, owing to their nostalgic responses to the material culture. He then combined these ora;l testimonies to the instillation and it became an art exhibition in its own right. Resulting in an amazing and unique presentation!

This led him to discuss how memories are emotional recollections thus may also be ‘factually’ contested. He further detailed how the oral history interview is dependent on a power relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee. Accordingly, he argues the interview, becomes a performance. To help to combat this he explained that for him the interviewer has the duty to share his/her own experiences in order to remove the ‘interview power dynamic’ and replace it with a conversation of shared memories thus resulting in a more ‘honest’ recollection.

All in all a great day was had at Queen Mary’s and we came home with very many things to think about: including the use of space, the use of technologies and the relationship between interviewer and interviewee in oral histories. But obviously we couldn’t so any of this until we’d managed to catch up on our sleep!

By Razia Parveen and Charlotte Mallinson

 

History in Practice: Reconstructing a Lost Seventeenth Century Chapel at Temple Newsam House, Leeds.

Maggie Bullett, PhD student, tells us about an exciting project in which third year history and computer games design students are working together to create a digital reconstruction of a four hundred year old chapel.

When Sir Arthur Ingram rebuilt Temple Newsam House in the 1630s, he included an internal chapel so that his family and staff could attend religious services.  One hundred and fifty years later the chapel was turned into a kitchen, and today only a few of the original furnishings and objects survive. Continue reading

Not yet the Break-up of Britain: Researching the history of Britishness

Paul Ward, Professor of Modern British History and author of Britishness since 1870 (London, 2004), considers the role of history in understanding the outcome of the referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014.

I’m terribly disappointed by the outcome of the Scottish referendum. I hoped for Scottish independence as a way of changing a too conservative and complacent United Kingdom in which too much power rests with traditional elites from wealthy, privileged backgrounds and which the Labour Party has historically accepted as ‘the British way’.

Britishness since 1870

In the last days of the campaign I did think that a Yes vote was possible. The Yes campaign was exciting and radical and the British Establishment combined to try to suffocate it. It is an amazing achievement that 45% or so of Scottish voters, despite this barrage of ‘Better Together’ propaganda, voted for an independent Scotland. But as a historian of Britishness and other national identities, I did think that the outcome would be a No vote.

My research across the last 20 years has been about the way in which the United Kingdom has allowed the negotiation of multiple identities within its borders – that it has been possible to be Scottish, Welsh and English within the UK. That, at the top of society, being united gave elites in Scotland the chance to be imperial rulers, and that politicians from Scotland and Wales (Lloyd George for example) had the opportunity to play a global role based on Britain’s imperial past. For others, there were advantages to being British and united offered by the success of radicalism, which culminated in the British National Health Service – a rallying cry for Yes campaigners in Scotland was that English Tories were privatising the NHS and that independence would save it.

Britishness is able to absorb but not assimilate, because this inclusive view of Britishness seeks to allow space for the expression and affiliation to a never-ending range of identities. Sam Selwyn, a Trinidadian novelist of South Asian descent, utilised the phrase “black British” to describe all non-white Britons, and while the term’s use is disputed, particularly among those young black people alienated by police and state racism, it has also been taken up with pride by a range of prominent figures. The adoption of the description “British Muslim” also signifies integration with a sense of difference. It is also clear that many, probably the majority, of people see that cultural contact between different ethnic groups in the UK leads to cultural trading rather than cultural contamination. Most white Britons do not feel swamped by “foreign” cultures, but embrace them in a huge variety of ways. In many northern cities for example the traditional galas are now joined in the civic calendar by Asian-inspired melas and Afro-Caribbean carnivals. The Notting Hill Carnival, held annually in London in August, is the largest street festival in Europe. As it is possible to be a British woman, so it is possible to be black-British, Chinese British, as it has been possible for most in Wales to be British and Welsh. Of course there are tensions and conflicts – the Irish revolution of 1916-21, the Troubles, racist murders and violence all show that it’s not always easy living in Britain, and more than four out of ten Scots want out, but the UK and Britishness are flexible enough to accommodate much of the debate and discussion about living in the UK.

Last of the Summer Wine meets multi-cultural Britain. The programme for Huddersfield’s Carnival of Racial Friendship in 1978

This is what I’ve explored in my books, Britishness since 1870, Unionism in the United Kingdom, 1918-1974 and Huw T. Edwards: British Labour and Welsh Socialism (available from all good booksellers). As a citizen, I want radical social and political change and I’m optimistic that it can happen, but as a historian I know that radical change isn’t easy to achieve and that to achieve change you need to understand what you are up against. I’ve argued, based on historical research, that Britishness is a remarkably resilient identity. The Scottish referendum, which I so hoped would break up Britain, showed that a historical approach to national identities is essential.

History at Huddersfield uses research-led teaching and a commitment to public engagement to ensure that what we do is both useful to society and beneficial to the employability of our students. We see our students as researchers  –  partners in the development of knowledge with academic staff, often through co-production of knowledge with community partners. For more information see http://www.hud.ac.uk/courses/full-time/undergraduate/history-ba-hons/  and http://www.hud.ac.uk/research/history/

      You can email us at historyadmissions@hud.ac.uk

The BBC’s World War One At Home Live and Armed Forces Day in Woolwich by Amerdeep Singh Panesar

On June 28th I was given the opportunity to work with the UKPHA’s outreach team at the BBC’s World War One at home tour in Woolwich. The BBC’s World War one at Home tour is visiting many different locations in the UK and the aim of tour is too reflect on the impact the war had on families and communities during the outbreak of war.  With Armed Forces Day falling on the same day it was fitting the tour was based at the Woolwich army base. My role on the day was working with the UKPHA (UK Punjabi Heritage Association) and there outreach team. Our contribution to the tour was a stall recognising the non-white contribution to the World War one war effort focusing on Sikh/Indian contribution. Despite the Indians playing a large role in war their contribution is often forgotten.  Close to 1.5 million Indians served fighting in all the major theatres of battle from the Flanders fields to Mesopotamia. At Woolwich we had many artefacts from the war for the public to view and handle. This included original war medals and a Death Plaque which was given to the next of kin of servicemen/woman who had fallen. Other objects were on the stall such as a standard Indian soldier’s kit bag and an officer’s swagger stick. The stall also included a stereoscope to view images from war.

In all we received a positive reaction from the British public on the day. For some of the people that came to the event it was a shock for them to learn so many Indians had gone to War to defend Britain and its allies. Many were surprised about size the Indian contribution in terms of soldiers sent. The main aim of the day was to promote the opening of the Empire, Faith and War gallery at SOAS, Russell square which is an exhibition on the Sikh contribution in World War One. The Gallery is open till 28th September with free admission. For more information please visit   http://www.empirefaithwar.com/. I would also like to thank the BBC and UKPHA for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the World War one at home tour.

History at Huddersfield uses research-led teaching and a commitment to public engagement to ensure that what we do is both useful to society and beneficial to the employability of our students. We see our students as researchers – partners in the development of knowledge with academic staff, often through co-production of knowledge with community partners. For more information see http://www.hud.ac.uk/courses/full-time/undergraduate/history-ba-hons/  and http://www.hud.ac.uk/research/history/

You can email us at historyadmissions@hud.ac.uk

Manchester and the Punk scene

Third year student, Jack Clarke, shares his love of the Manchester music scene and his experience of researching and writing an honours project

Towards the end of our second year at University we were given the option of choosing our topics and titles for our upcoming dissertation in the third year. As much as I enjoy history my initial idea of writing 12,000 words on local politics wasn’t as enthralling as first thought after some further reading. I began exploring my own interests for a historical twist and decided on local music. Being from Greater Manchester there has always been a large pride in the local culture and I’ve seen the effects music had on friends, work-peers and family, and how music drove opinion. Continue reading

World cup fever

Dr Daryl Leeworthy waxes lyrical on world cup songs and football camaraderie

With the last steps on the road to Rio nearly upon us, it’s time for football fans across the world to settle down in front of the radio, the tv, or the projector screen in the pub, to watch one of the greatest sports tournaments humans have yet invented. The best bit about soccer is the camaraderie that goes along with it – getting carried away singing songs and leaping to the air when your team scores. Sadly, as a Welshman, my team never quite makes it. We will one day! And so, I fall back on my dad’s nation – England – to pin any hopes of a world cup victory on. Continue reading

Huddersfield: A Century of Pacifism – student soundwalk

Stop the War Coalition

My name is Jack Yard and I am a second year History undergraduate studying the ‘Hands on History’ module, led by Dr Janette Martin, at the University of Huddersfield. For our second project of the module we were set the task of producing an audio walk presenting an area of Huddersfield’s history to the public. The project required us to carry out research through both archival research and oral history, and then assemble the twenty minute audio walk on editing software. Continue reading

Linking dress history and the study of amateur film

Amateur Cine World, Front Cover July 1948

Heather Norris Nicholson, at the Centre for Visual and Oral History, in the Department of Media and Journalism at the University of Huddersfield, tells us about her latest journeys into seeing differently that spring from and add to her continuing work on amateur visual culture and the making of films by Britain’s non-professional filmmakers during the mid twentieth century. Continue reading

The Impact of History on Mental Health Awareness

‘Hands on History’ students at the Mental Health Museum

Dr Rob Ellis tells about how history plays a part in Mental Health Awareness week.

This year Mental Health Awareness week takes place between 12-18 May. As part of the programme of events that are taking part across the country, I will be giving a public lecture, hosted by West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS).  As a historian of mental health care, I know the WYAS collections well and I am looking forward to discussing the importance and relevance of them with another new audience. Continue reading

Holly Lewis tells us about her work placement with St Anne’s Community Services

Students and participants in the St Anne’s Project

As a second year history student and a person who has a keen interest in modern history it is very easy to be swept away with tales of great nations and great people. We may often turn our sights to our own country but it is, however, a rarity that we turn our sights to something closer to home: our own community. Continue reading