2015 Conference: The Oral History of Science

The 2015 Annual Conference of the Oral History Society in conjunction with Royal Holloway University of London and the Oral History of British Science at the British Library, with support from the Wellcome Trust

Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX, UK

From: 10th July 2015
To: 11th July 2015

Conference Scope

What can oral history and life story methodologies bring to the study of the history of science, technology and medicine? How have historians of science, technology and medicine made use of personal memory and narratives in their research?
This conference will explore the theoretical and practical challenges of using oral history-based techniques in the broad areas of the histories of science, mathematics, engineering, technology and medicine, and welcomes contributions which use oral history to:

  • Understand change in medicine and science
  • Consider the links between organisational history and memory
  • Juxtapose oral history with other historical sources
  • Review the cultural interface between history, memory and technology
  • Uncover personal reflections on technological and medical innovation and change
  • Examine ways in which memory can be used to interpret and engage with wider public audiences about current scientific issues in, for example, biomedicine, the environment and lifestyle choices

The conference will bring into dialogue oral historians, historians of science, technology and medicine, medical sociologists, technologists, archivists, the scientific humanities, and heritage professionals working in museums, higher education, broadcasting and other media.


Papers, panels, presentations, workshops, posters and displays are planned on the following topics:

Personal voices:

  • What scientists, engineers, mathematicians and clinicians do
  • Interviewee perspectives
  • The methodological challenges of interviewing practitioners and theorists
  • Myth and story in the workplace
  • Hidden and unheard voices from the science and medicine workplace

Institutional voices:

  • Health Service perspectives
  • Government science and industrial science
  • Companies, research laboratories and corporations in science and engineering
  • Place, space and communities of identity
  • Private medical institutions
  • Oral histories of professional organisations

Community voices:

  • Amateur science
  • Traditional medicine
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Local communities and scientific workplaces
  • Understanding technologies in everyday life
  • User perspectives on science and technology

Issues-led oral history:

  • Global warming and environmental change
  • Gender and ethnicity in the scientific workplace
  • Informal communities
  • Science and the media: the role of history and personal stories

Science policy and politics:

  • The role of government
  • The privatisation of science and technology
  • Professionalisation and professional politics
  • The management and administration of science and medicine

Innovation and invention:

  • Oral history and understanding the process of invention and maintaining existing beliefs

Creating, archiving and re-using oral histories of science, technology and medicine:

  • Funding and ethics
  • Using video in documenting science practice
  • Re-using and reinterpreting archived oral history data
  • Archivist perspectives
  • Juxtaposing oral and traditional sources
  • Public engagement, display and exhibition which uses oral history

Organising Group

OHS: Dvora Liberman, Rob Perks, Mary Stewart

Oral History of British Science (BL): Sally Horrocks, Tom Lean, Paul Merchant

Royal Holloway: Laura Neff, Graham Smith

Society for the Social History of Medicine: Rich McKay

European Association for the History of Medicine and Health: Jonathan Reinarz