Seminar 12 - Dr Jon Pengelly (standing in for Dr Andrea Peach) - Oral Histories and Archives as Primary Research Methods  

Description 
What is oral history? 
How can oral history interviews be used to gather research material for art and design? 
Who to interview, question approaches, general dos and don’ts. 
Summarising and transcription of interviews, copyright and ethics, archiving material. 
Setting up and identifying who you want to interview, the content for the interview, and then producing the recording. The recording can then be seen as an entity in itself, and is subject to interpretation or analysis in itself.  
“Oral history is a catch-all term applied to two things. It refers to the process of conducting and recording interviews with people in order to elicit information from them about the past. But an oral history is also the product of that interview, the narrative account of past events”. (Abrams 2010 p.2). 
As soon as interview is finished, have created a ‘live’ archive.  
Exhibitions/Gallery are a very narrow representation of our visual culture. We would have to take in a wide range of galleries to take in a diverse view of our history.  
Oral histories are also a source for new social/cultural/political insights, in adopting or using this approach, that would be to challenge our own understanding of our cultural landscape. 
A methodological tool in the larger repertoire of history, anthropology, and folklore.  
It collects information about the past/present from observers and participants in that domain.  
It gathers data not available or held in written records about events, people, decisions, and processes. 
Oral history as a method to give visibility to voices that haven't been represented or are not seen as stakeholders within a certain cultural context or situation. This hidden history is what we are looking to bring some visibility to.  
Increased importance upon practice-based research, practitioners that may reflect on and seek to share the deconstructed actual process as a research method, has increased the interest within Oral Histories as a method to engage with this practice-based research method. 
Problems with Oral History 
Oral history interviews are grounded in memory, and memory is a subjective instrument for recording the past, always shaped by the present moment and the individual psyche.  
* The act of questioning / engaging in oral history research, changes and alters contexts environments * 
Fragility of memory can impact upon the process of engaging with oral history methods. As well as this, memory can be filtered or edited to suit the interviewee’s standpoint or how they wish to present themselves, this doesn’t have to be a conscious act. There is a lack of reliability due to this.  
Interpreting Oral History 
An oral history interview is an entry point / window from the present into the culture of the past.  
In order to gain access to that culture we must take notice of and interpret not just the words said but also the language employed, the ways of telling and the structures of explanation.  
Oral historians become intuitive and imaginative interpreters of their materials  
(with the results needing to be ‘read’ or ‘unpacked’). (Abrams 2010 p.16) 
Due to the fact that often the discussion is with two experts in a field, that the language used, and the level of information provided, makes it difficult to understand out with those circles of knowledge. This will also impact on how we analyse that material. 
In undertaking in something that we are talking about, we need to be clear with our understanding and scope of what we are undertaking, are absolutely key. Must be clearly set out prior to undertaking this kind of work.  
Intention.  
Sets of questions. 
This will create a fixed point to which the interviews can be then undertaken, allowing you to make observations against this. 

Practical points for conducting an interview 
Before the Interview: 
Decide what your research goal is 
What information exists about your topic and in what form  
Who will you need to interview to learn about your topic? 
Make list of potential interviewees 
(do your homework..) 
Preparing for the Interview: 
Find out about the person you are interviewing 
Design a list of questions (don’t be too rigid) 
Set up appointment a place/time most comfortable to interviewee  
Do this in writing and send an information sheet about your research 
Prepare your recording equipment 
Know your ethical responsibilities 
During the Interview: 
One-to-one is best 
Test equipment before starting – use equipment you are comfortable with  
(have a ‘plan B’…. don’t forget your tape recorder…) 
Use your questions as a loose guide but let interview ‘go’ where it takes you. 
Interview Techniques: 
Say as little as possible and speak slowly  
– remember you're not the subject but your setting the framework 
Don’t ask ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions 
Don’t ask leading questions - you're not the subject  
Don’t worry about silences 
Be sensitive to your interviewee – interviews are tiring! 
After the Interview: 
Make sure they sign consent form before you leave 
Write a thank you letter 
Decide about transcription and archiving 
Must discuss before the interview any boundaries that may be involved with the interview, as there could be ethical, contractual or data protection concerns that will impact upon the interview. 

Personal Reflection 
I found this incredibly helpful, mainly I feel due to the practical nature of how it was laid out. With the breakdown of what oral histories were, why they were beneficial in an art and design context, and then a fairly comprehensive ‘how to’ which gave me some great food for thought for conducting my own interviews. 
I feel that this is particularly beneficial for myself, as I have come to realise that one of the areas, I may need to push my project is into the human element. I have been concentrating on the landscape and nature, however a lot of the relevance of the areas that I am looking at is through a human lens. With this in mind I need to start building in more people’s perspective of these areas, and how they use them. It may not be enough just to concentrate on my own practice and experiences within these spaces, and to this end I should look to others with ties to the land. 
My first area to delve into I feel, is the estate workers, game keepers and ghillies who are based within the area, will have a deep knowledge of it, in different weather, times of year and potentially going back many years. They may be able to tell me changes to landscape, its use, and possibly the direction that the estates have for the land, both past, present and into the future.  
Due to this requirement, I need to look at ways to reach out to the estates and see if I can establish a list of potential interviewees, and then put together a set of questions that I wish to cover. I will do some further research prior to commencing this, as I will want to make sure I have the theme or idea that I am pursuing nailed down, and fully formed to ensure I get the most out of the opportunities. Once I have conducted interviews with the estate's workers, I can look to see if I can add different perspectives into the research, with residents, visitors and people connected with the national park. 
On a separate note to the actual information on the slides and in the lecture, I found the activity to be of help too, as this added a practical element to the content of the seminar, which I feel always increases my retention of information. Going forward this could be of benefit to bake into further topics within the seminar programme. 
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