South East Region Annual Report – 2012
There have been some changes since my last report: I now work three days a week, and we no longer organise a seminar on oral history at Winchester. We shall concentrate upon providing a home for film and sound material within our region (central Southern England), lend equipment for oral history projects, whilst acting as a venue and conduit for training and advice. Meanwhile, Wessex Film and Sound Archive (WFSA) continues to flourish with the help of my colleagues in Hampshire Record Office, and we have been receiving some good recordings to preserve and make accessible during the past year. The highlights are presented below.
Southampton Oral History Unit (SOHU) collection: firstly, and most importantly for us, the highly significant SOHU collection of tapes and discs has been transferred from Southampton City Archives, where it has resided since the Unit’s closure. A digital copy of many of the recordings (and information about them) stays in Southampton for local users to research, and we will be providing access in our own search rooms whilst completing the digitisation for both archive services. Enquiries should be directed in the first instance to Southampton City Archives (023 8083 2251; email@example.com) with whom we are working closely to provide as wide an access to this remarkable collection as possible. You are probably familiar with its contents, SOHU having been a major local authority unit for over 20 years and reported regularly to oral historians like yourselves at conferences and in journals. Suffice to say that we are enormously proud to be preserving interviews concerning the Titanic disaster, Vosper Thornycroft shipyard, merchant navy crews, reconstruction of Southampton Docks, the Home Front and the various communities in the city. Once sorted and listed, WFSA can add value to the SOHU collection via its online catalogue, which is available at www3.hants.gov.uk/wfsa/wfsa-catalog.htm.
Gosport Women in the Second World War: we were delighted to receive the original interviews (on cassettes) from Jenny Bartlett’s 1999 MA thesis ‘The Wartime Lives of Civilian Women in Gosport, 1939-1945: a Typical or Extraordinary Experience?’, along with a copy of the thesis itself. Jenny worked at the time as an education officer for the Royal Marines Museum in Portsmouth and was trained to use oral history in her work, so the interviews were recorded ‘in the proper manner’. One of the consequences of waiting so long to deposit the recordings was that the transcripts were still on floppy discs! Luckily, we were able to transfer the information to modern WORD files and make them available to our users alongside digital copies of the tapes.
Petersfield Museum: every year, we receive oral history recordings made to support particular exhibitions at the old court house in Petersfield, where this private museum is based. This time it was for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 50th anniversary of the town’s outdoor swimming pool, respectively. Elderly residents remembered Petersfield 50-60 years ago, not just dwelling on the celebrations for those events, but also the attitudes and way of life back then. This is something that oral history can do really well, of course.
Solent People’s Theatre: sadly, this publicly-funded group has now folded, but it has left behind a legacy in the form of its own records, including audio-visual recordings, which have now been deposited with Hampshire Record Office and WFSA. These recordings include interviews with local people, in order to find out about important events in their recent history, and to help inform the scripts of various plays which the group performed. This includes the experiences of migration*, nursing, Southampton Docks working, the Home Front and the Blitz. Once again, oral history is used for historical research in a direct sense, for use in public performances in this case, but analogous to Petersfield Museum. (* There were a number of interviews recorded on video for later incorporation in the play ‘Passage West’, itself based upon the oral history gathered)
(Jocelyn Goddard & Manda Gifford)
Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone
The new Kent History and Library Centre opened on Monday 23rd April 2012. It has been purpose built and houses about 14 kilometres of historic material relating to Kent dating back to 699 AD. There is a community history area, archive search room, digital studio and a large space for displays and events.
Kent Community History Network
Kent County Council’s Libraries and Archives team report that they would like to work more closely with community history groups in the county, to support the important work they are doing and to make more information on history available locally. Some groups already work in partnership with libraries, for example at Marden, Meopham and Joyden’s Wood. Others have set up their own heritage centres and community archives with advice, help and support from the History Services team, for example at Smarden, Ash and Kemsing. Many communities have expressed a desire to find out more about their local history and set up groups locally. Kent Libraries and Archives aim to continue to support them especially in areas that will benefit most from having access to their history. The aim is to do this by setting up a community history network linking all groups interested in history in the county and enabling them to support and encourage each other.
Paralympics Project – How It Used to Be
A project to revisit the records of two Maidstone mental health hospitals, Leybourne Grange and Oakwood Park, which began in 2010, is now nearing completion. Staff in the archives have been working with former hospital staff, members of MIND, Maidstone Museum and Time2Give volunteers to collect ‘then and now’ memories at reminiscence workshops and ‘coffee and chat’ sessions using archival documents, contemporary photographs and maps to stimulate discussion. This oral history material has been incorporated into a new guide to help bring the archive collections to life, put them into context and make them relevant to the present day. It also allowed project members with mental health issues to explore the different approach to mental health in the past.
Kent County Council also now has a link on its site to museums that are carrying out oral history work: http://www.kent.gov.uk/leisure_and_culture/museums/museums_in_kent/oral_history.aspx
Telling Whitstable’s Story
Telling Whitstable’s Story community memories group helped to create a highly successful exhibition at Whitstable Museum and Gallery about people and their sheds, which is now tipped to transfer to a central London venue. Visitors to the exhibition were able to listen to memories and enjoy photographs and the work of two artists, Lucy Steggals and Cathy Miles, inspired by the theme.
The group is now collecting memories of Peter Cushing, for an exhibition in Spring 2013 celebrating the centenary of his birth. It is also conducting an audit of all the previous local community oral history projects to inform the redisplays in the Museum.
Herne Bay Community Memories Group
Herne Bay Community Memories Group is collecting memories and photographs of the 1953 East Coast Flood, in preparation for an exhibition at Herne Bay Museum and Gallery planned for January 2013.
Brompton 200: Civilian Life in a Military Village
Brompton 200: Civilian Life in a Military Village has been set up and run by the Brompton History Research Group in association with the Royal Engineers Museum to record the history of Brompton from the past 200 years. The project has been part funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and aims to record historical and archival information about the village as well as personal memories and recollections. The oral history part of the project is open to anyone with a memory of the village; whether they lived there, passed through or visited. The Brompton History Research Group holds regular oral history sessions at the Royal Engineers Museum and also has the facilities to visit people wishing to share their memories who cannot make it to the Museum. The oral histories are being transcribed and edited and the final versions will be made available online at www.bromptonhistory.org.uk which contains all the research that has come to light as part of the project. Some of the oral histories already recorded are being used as part of an exhibition currently running at the Royal Engineers Museum. From January 2013 the exhibition will be touring the libraries of Medway.
Review of work in Surrey 2011 – 2012
There haven’t been many new oral history projects in Surrey in the last twelve months. Some long term work to record memories around the county carries on but hasn’t yet reached publication stage.
For Surrey Heritage, Mental Health continues to be a popular theme for oral history work. A series of interviews of ex-hospital staff and people still involved in the mental health community took place last winter to be transcribed and added to Surrey Archives catalogue. These interviews have added significantly to our understanding of life in mental hospitals from 1940s to their closure in the 1990s. There is potential to develop this work with a much larger number of mental health service users and professional care staff. An exciting prospect that could prove useful to both the general and the academic world.
A ‘Memories’ club run by Guildford volunteers at the Guildford Institute has been and will continue to record the life stories of people who live in the town and is now planning to create an archive of recordings with help from Surrey Heritage. I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing the collection when it’s been prepared for cataloguing for Surrey’s archives. It will be of great interest to local historians and residents alike.
In spite of the fairly low level of activity there is still a lot of interest in the potential of oral history from a variety of communities and I’m anticipating there will be more funded project work in the next year.
Apologies for my small contribution to the Network over the past year, mainly due to retirement and travel, and so have no exciting projects to report (unlike the rest of you).
I’m still receiving regular requests for information on Oral History, via phone or e-mail, mainly training requests, general information, funding and talks. I have also had several requests for people’s relatives to be interviewed, I try and put them in touch with an oral historian, or, alternatively advise them to go on one of the O/H training courses and carry out the interviews themselves.
I always ask for feed back but it’s rarely forthcoming, and I have no way of knowing whether the advice I am giving is followed up. It would be good to discuss with other networkers if they have some kind of feed back form they use to monitor the requests.
I was involved (in a very small way) with the Basque ‘Ninos’ project and very impressed at the successful outcome, with a publication, exhibition, and more recently an animated film, centred on the oral testimony of the Ninos, which has its premier in San Sabastian at the end of September.
On a personal note, I am about to interview a Holocaust survivor, who has been a friend for over 50 yrs, and whom I have been meaning to interview for over 50 yrs!! but have finally got around to it.
Unfortunately, I will not be attending this years Network meeting as I’m in Australia, but I hope it’s as successful and enjoyable as these events usually are, and I hope to catch up with you all in 2013
As a new member of the network, I am still gathering information about the oral history projects in Sussex this year. Here are some that I have been told about, although I am sure there were many more which I look forward to being able to let you know about next year.
Speaking up for Disability
This is a two year HLF project based in Worthing with the Independent Living Association. The project has been collecting recordings by disabled people living in West Sussex and extracts will soon be uploaded to their website at www.speakingupfordisability.org.uk/. They are also planning an exhibition ‘Re-framing Disability’ for next summer.
Sussex Deaf History
Sussex Deaf History launched a new ‘Hidden Histories’ exhibition on their website this September entitled ‘Deaf Education in the Seventies’. These interviews are an excellent example of the diversity and the possibilities of oral history. See www.sussexdeafhistory.org.uk.
Screen Archive South East
SASE are now a third of the way through an HLF project to collect memories of some of the seaside towns in West Sussex. Interviews are currently being recorded and extracts will be used as commentary for the archive film compilations.
And finally, I have recorded interviews for the exhibition ‘Barbara Hulanicki: Biba and Beyond’. These interviews with shoppers and staff reflected different aspects of the Biba experience in the 60s and 70s.