Oral history project sheds new light on the story of the Commonwealth

A new oral history project questions the role of the Commonwealth, asking if it is an obsolete relic and whether it has ever served a useful purpose.
The Commonwealth Oral History Project is the result a three-year programme of research, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). It was conducted by  scholars at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, part of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study (SAS), with Dr Sue Onslow acting as lead researcher and interviewer.
Since the project launched in 2013, Dr Onslow has talked to  65 leading players involved in the Commonwealth from 1965 to the present. They include the Commonwealth Secretaries General Sir ‘Sonny’ Ramphal, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, and Sir Don McKinnon; former prime ministers from across the Commonwealth; and two former British foreign secretaries, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Lord (Douglas) Hurd.
The interviews give an overview of  the changing nature of the organisation over the last 50 years. The interviewees are often frank about the Commonwealth’s problems, but also give surprisingly positive insights, as well as candid assessments of its likely survival and future. These Commonwealth Oral Histories are freely available on a dedicated website hosted by SAS. The interviews:
●     Throw new light on the Commonwealth’s attempts to end apartheid in South Africa
●     Give behind-the-scenes accounts of relations with Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe
●     Demonstrate  conflicting assessments of Margaret Thatcher’s policy towards South Africa
●     Provide rare insights into the Queen’s ‘hands-on’ role as Head of the Commonwealth
●     Investigate the extent to which the Commonwealth was an important policy incubator in cancelling the debt of the world’s least developed countries
●     Provide new details about challenging events for the Commonwealth such as Idi Amin’s brutal rule in Uganda, the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and the coups in Fiji in 1987, and 2000
●     Chart the troubled history of efforts to reform the Commonwealth
To find out more and listen to the interviews go to: www.commonwealthoralhistories.org/

OHS launches special interest groups for members

The OHS is pleased to announce the launch of special interest groups.

The groups are a response to increasing interest among OHS members for ways to develop networks and facilitate discussion and activities with others who share common interests and concerns.

We start with three special interest groups:

A group can elect its own officers and develop its own plan of work and activities: seminars, conferences, training, publications, online videos, for example. It can draw up to £250 from the funds of the society annually to support its work, and can apply to the trustees for more. With the agreement of trustees a special interest group can also establish a group membership fee and raise additional funds to support its work.

Any member or group of members of the OHS can create a special interest group by submitting a proposal to OHS secretary Rob Perks. If successful, one or more trustees will act as co-conveners and then as liaison officers linking the group and trustees. Any member of the society can join a group – simply contact the group’s conveners through the webpage on the website.

If you are interested in joining or setting up a group click here.



Significant local history collections to merge

Oral history charity Wild Rose Heritage and Arts, is to merge its multimedia archive with that of the Hebden Bridge-based charity Pennine Heritage.

Over 12 successful years, Wild Rose has captured the life stories of diverse communities living in the upper Calder Valley, including those who were born in other countries and people living alternative lifestyles, and brought together different generations through using techniques such as inter-generational interviewing.

It has created an important multimedia archive of local heritage, regularly copied by the British Library to their server, and made many creative uses of the materials generated. Schools have developed their own drama performances based on Wild Rose interviews and guided heritage walks combined healthy outdoor activity with fascinating and sometimes grizzly stories of residents past and present. A Wild Rose interview with Hebden Bridge musician Steve Tilston telling the story of a letter sent to him by John Lennon recently featured on the Hollywood film Danny Collins.

Pennine Heritage is a highly successful heritage charity, founded in 1979, that works to protect, promote and preserve the natural and built landscape of the South Pennines. Its current project, Pennine Horizons, aims to tell the 1000-year-old story of the interaction between the Pennine landscape and the move from an agrarian to an industrial society.

A major part of the project is the Pennine Horizons Digital Archive which consists of many photographic collections, including the Alice Longstaff Gallery Collection, Co-operative Heritage Trust, Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Society, Todmorden Antiquarian Society, Hebden Bridge Local History Society, Hebden Bridge Camera Club, Calderdale MBC. This community digital archive also contains many smaller, important collections.

The project has also developed a series of trails around the valleys and made them available through printed guides as well as offering them as e-Trails for download to portable devices.

The merger comes as Tony Wright, founder and manager of Wild Rose Heritage and Arts, steps down from his role after 12 successful years. Over this period, Tony has overseen the delivery of five major projects and secured £275,000 of funding to support the charity’s work.

Tony Wright said: “Together our volunteers, interviewees and the Wild Rose management committee have created an important new heritage collection that has already been put to innovative uses.

“My aim over the last 12 years has been to promote an understanding of the contribution that diversity and change make to heritage and community, involving others to enhance individual lives and community awareness.

“As the aims of the two charities are well aligned and the outputs sit so well together, we considered it a great opportunity to add out work to the impressive Pennine Heritage Collection.”

Tudor Gwynn, Chair of Wild Rose Heritage and Arts, said: “Our vision and hard work has made an important and unique contribution to understanding our past and present.

“Tony and the Wild Rose team have created an archive that enables people to enjoy with interest the personal life stories of older residents, as well as younger people’ lives and

perspectives. We have created an archive for now and for future generations and we are delighted that it is to find a new home.”

Judith Schofield, Chair of Pennine Heritage said: “We are delighted that the Wild Rose archive is finding a new home with us. Our work to tell the story of the industrial and social revolution in the area will be enriched through the addition of their innovative content”.

The merger of Wild Rose with Pennine Heritage will take place later this year and the Wild Rose website will continue to run so that its content can continue to be accessed.