“Something important has happened over the past two days…”


Feedback on “Starting a conversation: ‘Where I’m Coming From/Where I am’ “, the inaugural conference of the Psycho-Social Therapies and Care Environments Special Interest Group, which took place on April 27th, 2016.

“Something important has happened over the past two days…”
was an observation by presenter and participant Dr. Tom Harrison in an email to the OHS PST&CE email group after the conference.


Participant Sam Martin:

‘A reflection from a participant of the first conference of the Oral History Society’s new “Psycho-Social Therapies and Care Environments” Special Interest Group’

I came to this Oral History Society conference pursuing a growing interest in the relationship between oral history and therapy. For me, the question is whether it is ok to be a ‘good enough’ oral history interviewer?

Last year I volunteered on a project interviewing anti-nuclear peace protesters from the 1950s and 1960s and was trained as an interviewer by the OHS. I am now setting up a project on a council estate in south-east London to speak to people affected by regeneration and gentrification. My concern is to mark out space where I and other volunteers (a broad spectrum of experience) can responsibly carry out oral history interviews without doing harm.

The day featured a number of interesting and moving presentations. I was taken with the story of the Pestalozzi children and their efforts to reclaim the memory of an extraordinary childhood via a process of historical reconstruction. It was a privilege to hear Carolyn Mears, parent of a Columbine survivor, speak about the importance of sharing stories for treating trauma, a powerful session to end the day. In-between informal conversations were often intense as in this field, only attentive listeners need apply.

At times there was a tension between the focus on oral history and general questions about therapy and care environments. The focus rarely strayed as the distinction was ably upheld by facilitators.

Suggestions for a future conference? The session of introductions could have gone on much longer, as the diversity of backgrounds from those in my breakout group made for an absorbing exchange. I would have liked to have heard from other groups with individual stories flowing into a subsequent whole group discussion.

Another participant commented that a political dimension was neglected and I agree this might also be worth thinking about for the future (as much as I myself found it a welcome respite). There is a heritage industry which treats oral history naively, sometimes cynically, as safe and unproblematic. My own project was conceived as a partnership with the local property developer until their lack of commitment to critical inquiry made it untenable. An additional strand of political context could be valuable.

I drew the conclusions that oral history can be therapeutic without necessarily being therapy; the listening process can itself be therapeutic though is better pursued indirectly; and oral historians need to be better informed about to whom they can and should refer vulnerable, trauma-affected interviewees. Overall the conference was a fascinating reminder of the complexities of oral history with teasing glimpses of still-untapped potential.

Sam Martin, May 2016

Len Clarke and Will Eiduks:

“A very successful experience”

We are finally back down to earth after a fulfilling time at the PST-CE conference at Toddington last week!

The presentations that we attended were varied, engaging and stimulating. We were both delighted by how much we got out of them.

The reception of our paper was especially gratifying and we feel that we have made some valuable connections within this research community.

Carolyn Mears’ presentation in the afternoon was articulate and profound – the only thing to top that was our chance to talk with Carolyn the following morning. That was truly an unexpected pleasure and filled with inspiration.

Len Clarke and Will Eiduks,
Project Co-organisers, The Early Pestalozzi Children Project

[For further feedback from the Early Pestalozzi Children Project, see “Project Addresses New oral History Society Group Conference” on the EPCP website].

More information on the conference, and conference recordings: CLICK HERE