Information Studies


INST0040 Oral History: from creation to curation

This course will run on Wednesdays in Term 2, the tutor will be Andrew Flinn and the teaching room: G31. 

This course provides an overview of the theory and practice of oral history from creation to curation for historians, social scientists, archivists, librarians, museum curators and all others interested in creating oral histories or tasked with looking after oral history materials. Thematically the course breaks down into six components:

1. the historiography, varieties and applications of oral history;

2. the ethics of oral history and similar qualitative research methods;

3. planning and managing an oral history project;

4. conducting successful interviews;

5. after the interview - analyzing and using oral history in public, academic and other spheres, including consideration of use in the digital space;

6. curation and the oral history archive - cataloguing and preserving oral history collections in digital environments.

By the end of the course students should:

· understand and be able to demonstrate the benefits and challenges of conducting oral history interviews;

· have a sound knowledge of the history of oral history and the variety of applications and techniques;

· be able to plan and accomplish a successful oral history project;

· understand the important role that oral history can play within wider history projects such as family, organisational, community or elite histories;

· be aware of ethical challenges faced by oral historians before, during, and after the interview, and the approaches by which these challenges can be met;

· have read widely and critically about oral history using journals, books and online materials;

· have arranged, prepared, recorded, documented, and archived at least three interviews (or one extended life history interview);

· be aware of the range of recording technologies and formats available to oral historians and some of challenges they pose;

· explore the range of possibilities for transcribing, analyzing and using oral history materials in digital environments;

· understand the importance of documentation within the oral history project for cataloguing and future use;

· have an understanding of the different challenges involved in the preservation of oral history materials;

· have explored the significant impact of the internet and digital formats for the use of and access to oral history;

· be aware of a range of international oral history projects, institutions and associations.

An indication of the structure and more detailed content of the module is given below (this is subject to change):

Week 1 - Introduction and course overview. An introduction to Oral History and interviewing

Week 2 - The historiography of oral history and what makes oral history different?

Week 3 - Planning an oral history project

Week 4 - Interviewing: theory & practice (1). Preparing for and carrying out an oral history interview and project

Week 5 - Interviewing: theory & practice (2). Class evaluation and reflections on practice interviews

Week 7 - After the interview (1) Preparing for use

Week 8 - After the interview (2) Ethics, Transcription & Preservation in digital environments 

Week 9 - After the interview (3) Using oral history in a digital age. Future directions and challenges for oral history.

Oral History is best understood through practice and doing. Although there will be elements of lecturing and more theoretical material, class discussions, collaborative working, visits and guest lecturers as well as actual interviewing experience and reflection will all contribute to the teaching and learning experience. The class will be expected to reflect critically and sensitively on each other's practice interviews so that all may learn and improve their interviewing technique. Students are strongly encouraged to integrate their interview practice with the more theoretical and methodological approaches found in their reading. The assessment exercise is focused on the planning, carrying out and management of a small, practical oral history project.

Taught by: Andrew Flinn

This module is optional for all postgraduate students in the Department of Information Studies as well as students from other departments (with the agreement of their Home Department and the module tutor). This module is also available for short course students

Prerequisites: There are no formal prerequisites for this module.

Preliminary reading: It is not essential for students to read these or other texts before starting the module, although a little preliminary reading before the module begins can often be beneficial. All the following books can be found in the UCL library.

Abrams, Lynn, Oral History Theory, Routledge (2010 or 2nd edition 2106) 

Perks, Robert and Alistair Thomson. The Oral History Reader 2nd edition. London: Routledge, 2006. (or 3rd edition, late 2015)

Ritchie, Donald B. Doing Oral History. Oxford, OUP, 2003 (or 3rd edition, 2014)

Thompson, Paul The Voice of the past: Oral History, Oxford, OUP 2000

Yow, Valerie Raleigh. Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences. 2nd ed. Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira, 2005 (or 3rd edition, 2014)

The following websites have a wealth of useful materials for anyone interested in oral history theory and practice:

Oral History Society

Oral History in the Digital Age

Further information for students currently taking this module