Northern Bridge (AHRC) Oral History course
For the last two years Graham Smith has run annual training for postgraduate students alongside Michelle Winslow of Sheffield University. The course is delivered to PhD candidates from Newcastle, Belfast, Durham, York and Sheffield as part of the Northern Bridge (AHRC) doctoral training partnership. This popular three-day course provides students with an intermediate understanding of oral history theories and methods.
PhD placement Funded by Newcastle University Social Justice Fund
In February and March 2019, thanks to the university’s Social Justice Fund, Jack Hepwork completed a short-term placement in the Oral History Unit with the Foodbank Histories project.
“Having previously volunteered with Foodbank Histories for eight months with my colleagues Alison Atkinson-Phillips and Silvie Fisch, I arrived with a working knowledge of the project, but those five weeks taught me a lot. I transcribed approximately 500 minutes of interviews, designed copyright and re-use agreements (enabling licensed interview material to contribute to future research), liaised with interviewees, and drafted a report for the Newcastle West End Foodbank trustees including recommendations for the foodbank. I also presented initial findings from the report at a workshop, where interviewees fed back. Over those five weeks, I thrived on working as part of a team – a welcome departure from the potentially isolating nature of doctoral study. I developed valuable communication and organisation skills and gained tremendous experience of the mechanics of a multi-partner project. By nature of the project’s focus, amplifying issues which pervade contemporary Britain, the process was also, by turns, saddening and infuriating.”
Undergraduate Modules in Oral History
HIS2219 Dr Sarah Campbell and Dr Matt Perry established a second-year history module in Oral History and Memory which was the precursor to the current Oral History Unit and Collective. In 2019 two of our (then) Research Associates, Dr Andy Clark and Dr Alison Atkinson-Phillips, took over teaching the module, along with HCA colleague and Oral History Collective member Dr Ben Houston. The module introduces students to the theory and practice of oral history, as well as diving into a particular subject theme — in 2019-2020, the theme was history of deindustrialisation in the North East. Students undertake group work to research, conduct and transcribe an oral history interview, present their findings to the class, and are asked to think about what kinds of public history projects could be developed from these interviews. Some of the student interviews recorded in 2019 and in previous years relates to North East shipbuilding, and will be added to our We Made Ships website. The module, which can be audited, is a prerequisite for History students conducting oral history research as part of their final dissertation.
HIS3334 Professor Graham Smith designed and continues to deliver Talking Cures and Troubles: An Oral History of Health and Medicine in Britain, c. 1948 - 2000. The module explores the way health professionals and patients have remembered the history of medicine and health care under the NHS. It also equips students with the skills to identify and evaluate relevant oral history sources, examine them as oral sources and sources of memory, and synthesise with specific and general historiographies of medicine and methods. The module provides the skills necessary for reusing a challenging source and should be of interest to all finalists considering (re)using oral history sources in their final dissertation.
SEL2218 Research Project in English and History. Oral history featured centrally in this research skills module for the joint English—History degree programme. Dr Ben Houston and Dr Rosalind Haslett, SELL’s specialist in dramatic literature, focused on the African American experience in Pittsburgh. Drawing from famed black playwright August Wilson, who rooted most of his plays in his hometown Pittsburgh, and Houston’s oral history archive documenting black lives in Pittsburgh, students wrote original research essays drawing from those varied sources, using both to think about the nature of archives, narratives, and evidence.
Undergraduate Placement Funded by Newcastle University Vacation Scholarship
Second-year History student George Selwyn-Sharpe was awarded a 2-month summer research grant to undertake a project which involved interviewing nine recovering alcoholics and recording, transcribing and archiving their experiences of mental health and addiction treatment services in the North East from the 1960s onwards. The interviews were based on a semi-structed thematic framework which was in part put together by the members of OHUC. These consisted of themes such as childhood, schooling, addiction, mental health, Alcoholics Anonymous, recovery, ageing and the self. George writes:
“I learnt how to plan and carry out an academic project, as well as how to summarise and submit an academic poster detailing methodology, theory, conclusions and results. I also developed a better understanding of oral history. Oral history complemented my interest in ‘new’ social history as well as an interdisciplinary approach sharing methods from other social sciences. The project was about democratising history and working towards empowering those who are often silenced and forgotten by history.
“I have no doubt the skills developed through research, project-planning and delivery will continue to be felt in my professional and personal life.”