Oral history spring school

Course date(s): 
19 Apr 2018 to 21 Apr 2018


The Institute for Historical Research and the Oral History Society will be staging the seventh annual Oral History Spring School between 19 and 21 April 2018 at Senate House, London WC1E 7HU. Past students at previous Spring Schools have contributed to the development of the programme with comments and suggestions and their enthusiasm for the three day event is evident in feedback:


‘Thank you so much. I learned a lot and enjoyed the atmosphere’


‘ I would definitely recommend it to others’


‘There was an enormous amount of fascinating discussion. I was particularly pleased to get a basic grounding in the theoretical developments and turns in oral history’.


‘There is a general lack of training related to using oral history in an academic context. This course was a very welcome development’.



Course details


The Oral History Spring School covers the theory and practice of oral history in depth, with the help of leading UK oral historians. To be able to take advantage of the course students should have some prior experience in recording and writing, or planning to write, oral history and will be asked to complete readings in advance, available through a dedicated online website. Anyone new to oral history should consider enrolling on either the IHR's An Introduction to Oral History or the Oral History Society's basic training course.


Through lectures and discussion and practical examples from oral history research the three day course will:


·         Consider the emergence and development of oral history, and the links between theory and practice when considering memory of the past

·         Compare different approaches which oral historians have used to understand and analyse their interviews

·         Reflect on emotion as a part of oral history and the inter-subjective relationship of the interview when reflection on past experience may lead to displays of emotion

·         Explore the ethical considerations of oral history interviewing and archiving

·         Review the rewards gained from returning to archived oral history data as well as the challenges which re-use generated

·         Provide an opportunity to explore challenges and questions posed by individual research interests through group discussion

·         Discuss the use of oral history in a range of contexts from academic monographs to museum exhibitions and community projects


The three day course will also include a visit to a central London museum where oral history is incorporated into exhibitions.


Tutors on the 2018 course are:

Professor Joanna Bornat (The Open University)

Professor Jenny Harding (London Metropolitan University)

Dr Joel Morley (University of Essex)

Professor Paul Thompson (University of Essex)


Programme Details

(The programme for 2018 will be as follows)

DAY ONE, Thursday 19 April

·         9.30 Arrive, sign in, put up individual research posters

·         10.00 Introductions

This session enables all present to describe their current work and experience.

·         11.15 Coffee

·         11.30 Oral History Worldwide (Paul Thompson)

This talk surveys how oral history worldwide has taken different forms in different countries, shaped by varying approaches to research, specific national memories and cultures, and different forms of patronage. It draws on the recent work of Joanna Bornat and myself in evaluating hundreds of new publications and websites for the 4th edition of my book The Voice of the Past. I will start with the diverse traditions within the English-speaking world of life stories, community studies and cross-analysis. I then look at a variety of other research traditions: the life story competition, the German narrative interview, the political Latin American testimonio, and the colonial research tradition. Finally I consider histories of contestation and shame, persecution and reconciliation.

·         12.30 Lunch

·         1.15 Oral History Surgery (Joel Morley)

In this session we will make use of the posters completed by participants outlining research interests and challenges in oral history. We will take some of these challenges and questions and open them up for group discussion and compare experiences and approaches.

·         2.15 Representativeness and Generalisability (Joel Morley)

The question of how broad or representative conclusions can be drawn from one or multiple interviews, often discussing subjective experiences, is an important one for oral historians. This session will focus upon how to approach this question, and we will compare and contrast two very different approaches to collecting and using oral history, paying particular attention to the ways in which unique memories are generalised or represented as history.

·         3.15 Tea Break

·         3.30- 5.00 Analysing the Data: Drawing Out Evidence (Joanna Bornat)

In a talk and workshop session we will consider why and how we analyse oral history data. From the need to communicate what is heard to meeting the expectations of interviewees and funders we will go on to compare three different approaches to data analysis. These will be: narrative; biographical interpretive and reconstructive oral history cross analysis. We will be considering their relative strengths and weaknesses and discovering what we can learn from each. The session ends with a case study from a large oral history project, to illustrate the process of drawing evidence from data generated through oral history interviews.


DAY TWO, Friday 20 April

·         10.00 Emotion (Jenny Harding)

This session considers the consequences for oral history scholarship of a recent turn to emotion in the humanities and social sciences. It looks at the various ways in which emotions have been understood and studied in different disciplines. It then examines examples of work by oral historians in which they foreground emotions and considers the following: What might oral history add to contemporary debate on emotions? How might such debate contribute to understanding oral history interviews? How might we interpret emotional expression in interviews? What are the distinctive theoretical, methodological and ethical issues facing to oral historians studying emotion? 

·         11.00 Coffee break

·         11.15 Emotion (Jenny Harding)

This session involves discussion in groups of issues arising from the earlier session and readings. 

·         12.30 Lunch

·         1.15 Re-use: Issues from the Secondary Analysis of Archived Interviews (Joanna Bornat and Joel Morley)

The re-use or secondary analysis of archived oral history interviews has become a much debated practice in the last few years. With the knowledge that there are many thousands of hours of recorded interviews lodged in archives and given the highly competitive funding situation, a turn to already created data seems both desirable and inevitable. In this session we will be drawing on examples from oral history research to discuss: whether re-use creates new data or new knowledge;  to what extent the original context is knowable; how new questions may be asked of archived data;  ethical considerations arising from re-use; and implications of re-use for archiving practices. 

·         2.15 Ethics (Paul Thompson and Joel Morley)

Drawing on the Oral History Society’s ‘Ethical and Legal Guidelines’, this session focuses on ethical considerations at all stages of the oral history research process: in planning oral history research; conducting interviews; interpretation and use of interview material. Topics will include: informed consent; copyright;  the interview relationship; archiving and web access to interviews. 

·         3.15 Tea Break

·         3.30- 5.00pm.  Open discussion (Paul Thompson)

Discussion of ethical issues will continue, broadening out to consider implications for recording and transcription 


DAY THREE, Saturday 21 April

·         10.00 Outputs and Impacts (Jenny Harding and Joel Morley)

In this double session we will discuss the use of oral history in a range of contexts, from academic articles and monographs to museum exhibitions and audio walks. As well as suggesting a multitude of different potential outputs for oral history projects, we will also discuss a number of case studies, and consider how the potential outputs and impacts of oral history research relate to obtaining academic research funding.

·         11.00 Coffee break

·         11.15 Outputs and Impacts cont. (Jenny Harding and Joel Morley)

·         12.30 Lunch (and travel to Museum of London)

·         1.45 Oral History in Museums: the Museum of London (Joanna Bornat)


The spring school is organised by the Institute of Historical Research and is open to all who are interested in using oral history. Numbers are strictly limited and early application is recommended.