THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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93 posts categorized "Oral history"

23 February 2017

Behind the candy-striped jackets – oral history uncovers the unspoken

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David Kynaston is perhaps best-known for his prize-winning studies of Britain in the later twentieth century, most tellingly his Tales of a New Jerusalem series, including Austerity Britain, Family Britain, and Modernity Britain.  We can now hear David Kynaston reflect upon how he weaves personal memories through his studies of this dramatic period, as he gives the National Life Stories Lecture, ‘Uncovering the unspoken: memory and post-war Britain’, to be held in the Knowledge Centre at the British Library on 13 March 2017.

Austerity Britain book cover

Austerity Britain by David Kynaston

To inform the themes of his lecture Kynaston welcomed four eminent guests to the purpose-built recording studio in the Library: Clare Short (former British politician), David Warren (former British diplomat), Anne Sebba (writer, presenter and lecturer) and Sarah Dunant (novelist, journalist, broadcaster and critic). This wide-ranging and lengthy discussion – which will also be archived and made available at the British Library – covered the speakers’ reflections on some key themes including class, sexuality, education, gender, the influence of family background and the mechanics of how we remember.  If, like me, you are intrigued to know how Kynaston will intertwine these themes with his wider reflections on post-war Britain then book a ticket to attend the lecture.  Tickets are available via the British Library Box Office.

Of course, Kynaston is no stranger to oral history. National Life Stories is the oral history fieldwork charity based in the British Library Sound Archive that has been collecting and commissioning oral history interviews for the last thirty years.  David Kynaston deposited the interviews from two of his key works on the City of London, which are available for anyone to listen via the Listening and Viewing Service at the Library; one on the City investment group, Phillips & Drew (now incorporated into UBS Global Asset Management) and the second on LIFFE.  The Kynaston London International Financial Futures & Options Exchange (LIFFE) Interviews is a series of over 65 recordings with employees and former employees of LIFFE conducted in 1996 as part of the research for his book LIFFE: A Market and its Makers (Granta, 1997).

  Floor traders cropped
Floor traders © Power Stock Photo Library

When Kynaston conducted his interviews in 1996 LIFFE was at its zenith, as one of the largest futures, commodities and equity exchanges in Europe. The exchange floor was a hive of activity, noise and colour where each trader - kitted in a distinctive coloured blazer - would use a mix of hand-signals and shouts from ‘the pit’ to conduct the exchanges.  In this clip from the City Lives project, we hear about the events at the opening of LIFFE in 1982 and then a description how the exchange functioned in the mid 1990s. The first speaker is David Burton, Chairman 1988-1992 (this recording is from 1993), and the second is his successor Nick Durlacher (interviewed in 1995).

Burton & Durlacher (LIFFE)

David Burton interviewed by Cathy Courtney, 1992-1994, and Nicholas Durlacher interviewed by Cathy Courtney 1995. Both of these interviews from City Lives are available to listen online, British Library Sound Archive refs C409/077 and C409/127.

Within only four years of these interviews LIFFE changed beyond recognition. The last open outcry trading pits were closed in 2000 as trading shifted to electronic platforms.  Gone were the coloured jackets, the shouts and the practical jokes of the brokers.  Both City Lives and the Kynaston London International Financial Futures & Options Exchange (LIFFE) Interviews capture personal descriptions of these moments in the life of the City of London from the perspectives of those who worked there and experienced the intense life on the trading floor.

If you are not able to attend the lecture, we plan to film the event and make it available online. More news will follow on this in later March.

Mary Stewart, Curator of Oral History

31 January 2017

When politics meets science: Tam Dalyell, Labour MP (1932-2017)

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The many tributes to Tam Dalyell, who died last Thursday, paid little attention to his unswerving interest in scientific affairs throughout a 43-year career as an MP.

Tam

Tam Dalvell, Labour MP (1932-2017), courtesy of Douglas Robertson and the University of Edinburgh

Dalyell read history and economics at Cambridge in the 1950s, yet acknowledged in his 2012 interview for the History of Parliament oral history project “it’s important that there were particularly others from the sciences that I got to know very well”.

While at university he was friends with Ron Peierls, son of nuclear physicist Sir Rudolf Peierls, and attended lectures given by physicists Sir James Chadwick and Otto Frisch.

Dalyell on attending lectures given by Otto Frisch (British Library Reference: C1503/38)

Dalyell knew many world-famous scientists through his friendship with David Schoenberg, head of the Mond Laboratory in Cambridge. In 1964 he was the only MP on a high-level science/political delegation to the Soviet Union, witnessing how personal relationships within the international science community could transcend Cold War politics.

However it was through writing a weekly column for New Scientist for 37 years that Dalyell “provided a conduit for researchers to speak to Parliament and vice versa”.

Dalyell’s support for the public understanding of science demonstrates that parliamentarians who are actively involved in debates about science do not necessarily come to Westminster with a scientific background, as interviews with other former MPs confirm.

Patrick Jenkin (MP for Wanstead and Woodford, 1964-1987), who died in December 2016, spoke about having never been taught science at school, yet he became president of both the Foundation for Science and Technology and the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. He was chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee during its 2000 inquiry into Science and Society.

David Price (MP for Eastleigh, 1955-92) read history at university but in Parliament became a vigorous campaigner for British industry and space research.

David Price on his involvement in space research (British Library Reference: C1503/19)

The interviews also reveal that MPs with a technical or scientific background were not always comfortable adopting a visible position on science. “I really didn’t feel sufficiently technically qualified in order to become, as it were, a technical guru in Parliament, so in the end I concentrated on foreign affairs,” said Ben Ford (MP for Bradford North, 1964-83), despite a thorough knowledge of aviation electronics and experience of lecturing on productivity at INSEAD and the University of Cambridge.

From accounts such as these, it seems that there was little correlation between these MPs’ scientific credentials and an inclination to be actively involved in Westminster’s consideration of science.

The interview clips featured in this blog are sourced from the ongoing  History of Parliament Oral History Project (deposited at the British Library). For further interviews in this collection, search 'C1503' in the Sound and Moving Image catalogue. Further oral history interviews relating to Science and British Scientist can be found via the Sound and Moving Image, online via BL Sounds and the Voices of Science webpage, the website of the Oral History of British Science programme, led by National Life Stories in association with the Science Museum, and with support from the Arcadia Fund.

Emmeline Ledgerwood, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, University of Leicester and The British Library

27 January 2017

Denying Denial - Holocaust Testimonies Online

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Today marks the release of the film Denial in British cinemas. Coinciding with Holocaust Memorial Day, UK, the film focuses on the 1996 Irving v Penguin Books Ltd case when both American historian, Deborah Lipstadt, and Penguin books were sued by author David Irving for libel in Lipstadt’s book Denying the Holocaust (1993), in which she names Irving as a Holocaust denier. After a four-year legal battle, the English court concluded that Irving was an active Holocaust denier, antisemite, and racist, who ‘for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence’ to promote Holocaust denial.

Deborah Lipstadt at 2016-10-06 premiere of the movie Denial at Landmark Theater in Bethesda

Deborah Lipstadt at the premiere of Denial at the Landmark Theatre, Maryland, 2016. © Edward Kimmel

But what do we mean by Holocaust denial? In its simplest form it is an act of denying the genocide of Jews and other groups in the Holocaust during the Second World War. It is now illegal in 14 European nations, including France, Germany, Italy and Portugal. Because of its ease of access, dissemination and anonymity, the internet is now one of the main forums in expressing disbelief in the Holocaust. Fortunately, the internet can also serve as a powerful medium of education and in the context of the Holocaust has been used to combat intolerance and promote an understanding of the dangers of racial discrimination and persecution. One of the ways The British Library has contributed to the mission of Holocaust education is through the inclusion of 283 digitised oral history interviews with concentration camp survivors, refugees and children of Holocaust survivors on the BL Sounds website. Some of these testimonies also feature in an online educational resource– Voices of the Holocaust—which is available through The British Library’s learning website.

Oral histories such as these are important to both Holocaust studies and education for several reasons. First, they personalise the Holocaust, giving us a voice to the varied experiences of hardship, ordeal, suffering and terror on behalf of the murdered six million Jews and others who are unable to do so. Second, oral histories enrich our understanding of events during the Holocaust, offering both historical information and emotions not found in official documentation. For example, reports from extermination camps may provide us with facts and figures on how camps were officially run and organised, but these sources provide us with little, if any, information on the personal experiences and ordeals of survivors and victims themselves. The interview of survivor Josef Perl, for instance, highlights what it was like to witness the shooting of family members in a Jewish ghetto at the age of ten.

Josef Pearl on witnessing his mother and sisters being shot

Equally as emotional and graphic is Arek Hersh’s interview, where he details his experience of being forced to walk on a death march in 1945 from Auschwitz to Buchenwald (approximately 427 miles).

Arek Hersh on his experiences of walking on a death march

Other personal testimonies highlight the good in humanity, discussing how some people risked their own lives to save others. Magda Balogh’s interview, for instance, mentions her encounter with the Swedish diplomat and humanitarian, Raoul Wallenberg, in Budapest and how he and his helpers saved her life and thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Second World War.

Magda Balogh on Raoul Wallenberg

Photograph of prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau during liberation

Prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau during its liberation in January 1945

As well as offering a personal insight into Holocaust experiences, oral histories allow us to examine how memory and emotions work. How do individuals recall past events? What facts are missing and why? How do we remember traumatic events? Lawrence Langer, a scholar of Holocaust literature and education, has suggested that Holocaust survivors carry two forms of memory—their ‘common memory’, whereby they describe ‘their experiences in a chronological and ordered way, providing detached pictures of what it was like then, as seen by their present selves’, and a ‘deep memory’, which emerges when they relive ‘the horrible experiences with a full charge of pain, chaos and irreversible loss’. Like many Holocaust survivors, Hungarian-born Heidi Fischer suppressed her ‘deep memory’ for decades and it was only in the 1990s that she began to address and revisit some of the painful and traumatic events that she endured.

Heidi Fischer on revisiting traumatic memories

The most meaningful way of paying tribute to the legacy of the Holocaust is to ‘never forget’ and by including personal accounts online it is hoped that knowledge about the Holocaust will reach wider audiences and that listeners both now and in the future will be able to reflect upon the moral questions raised by this unprecedented tragedy. Many of the Holocaust interviews on BL Sounds were digitised and made available online thanks to the generous support of both the Brian and Jill Moss Charitable Trust and the Pears Foundation. Other Holocaust oral history interviews are available at the British Library, collected through collaborative projects or deposited by other organisations and projects. Further details can be found on the Oral Histories of Jewish Experience and Holocaust Testimonies webpage.

Dr Cai Parry-Jones. Curator, Oral History

23 January 2017

Recording of the week: Exotic food? Exotic through whose perspective?

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This week's selection comes from Niamh Dillon, National Life Stories Project Interviewer.

Rosamund Grant was born in Guyana and moved to London as a young woman in the 1960s.  Here she discusses challenging European stereotypes of Caribbean food and how she defines herself through her cooking.

Rosamund Grant_Not just Caribbean Stew

Spice-370114_1920

The recording is part of the Food: from Source to Salespoint collection which documents changes in the production, manufacture, retail and consumption of food in Britain in the twentieth and twenty first century. 

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

16 January 2017

Recording of the week: Mr Seagalman calls his animals in

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This week's selection comes from Emme Ledgerwood, Collaborative Doctoral Award student with the British Library's Oral History department and Leicester University.

In this recording, made more than 100 years ago on a wax cylinder, the different calls a farmer, Mr Seagalman, uses to communicate with his animals conjure up a picture of his daily life on the farm.

Animal calls_ Mr Seagalman (EFDSS cylinder 105)

Drove of sheep and cows_EFDSS_YaleDrove of Sheep and Cows (Robert Hills 1769-1844). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

This recording was made in 1910 and is part of the library's English Folk Dance and Song Society collection of ethnographic wax cylinders.

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

22 December 2016

Christmas and everyday making

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Michael Brennand Wood
‘Burst’, 2009 by Michael Brennand-Wood (Machine embroidered blooms, wire, toy soldiers, fabric and acrylic on wood base). Photograph by Peter Mennim.

National Life Stories’ long life history interviews all ask questions about the interviewee’s childhood, seeking to capture something of their family history, their early memories, and the interests, influences and accidents that led them to take up their chosen careers. In interviewing for Crafts Lives we ask particularly about family members who made things and a childhood interest in making. The 1940s and 50s, when most of our interviewees grew up, provide rich material. The interviews are full of grandfathers with workshops, fathers bodging up greenhouses and garden gates, go-cart making and sewing, knitting and cooking. It was an age of make do and mend when ingenuity was required even though the results were sometimes surprising. Here textile artist Michael Brennand-Wood recalls seeing his treasured green teddy bear return from being mended by his grandmother.

Michael Brennand-Wood

It is difficult, as the person being interviewed, to recall the detail of everyday life and the making that went into feeding, clothing and homemaking that was so habitual that it formed part of the unexamined texture of childhood. One way to help the interviewee is to ask questions about the details. In this clip textile artist Michele Walker initially says that no one in her family made anything but careful questioning reveals interesting nuggets of information about the jumpers that were always knitted as Christmas presents with wool from a yarn club and leads on to her talking about the things she made herself as a child.

Michele Walker 

Questions about Christmas in general are often fruitful as people tend to have clearer memories of the heightened atmosphere of high days and holidays. In addition it is a time when people particularly invest time in making: - in cooking special food, making presents and creating decorations. Here jeweller Andrew Logan describes the Christmas tree fairy made by his mother, which is still a prized family possession.

Andrew Logan

The making that characterised many interviewees’ childhoods in the 1940s and 50s was on an everyday, almost unconsidered, level. Much of it was borne of necessity but listening to the interviews also reveals the care, skill, creativity and talent for improvisation that went into everyday making. It was from this landscape of practical intelligence that the studio craftspeople and designer makers of the 1960s and 70s emerged to take craft in new and unexpected directions. Even if making is not as universal as it once was, Christmas is still the highpoint of the calendar.  Whether it’s Christmas cakes or cards with glue gun and glitter, happy making and Happy Christmas.

By Frances Cornford

NLS Project Interviewer

19 December 2016

Recording of the week: Bad cough? Try a fried mouse

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This week's selection comes from Dr Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History.

In this 1967 recording oral history pioneer George Ewart Evans interviews Susan Mullenger (b.1878) about some old Suffolk remedies for children's illnesses, including inhaling fumes from a gas-works or eating fried mice to cure whooping cough. 

Susan Mullenger interviewed by George Ewart Evans

Mouse-1733265_1280

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

13 December 2016

Artists’ Lives Exhibition at Tate Britain

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From now until Autumn 2017, selected audio recordings from National Life Stories’ Artists’ Lives project (C466) will be on display at Tate Britain, London, as part of the free exhibition, ARTISTS’ LIVES: SPEAKING OF THE KASMIN GALLERY.

  172 kasmin on phone 118Kasmin in his gallery at 118 New Bond Street, c.1966. Photograph courtesy Kasmin.

Celebrating the history of the Kasmin Gallery, a Mayfair gallery that played a key role in the art scene of 1960s London, the exhibition brings together artwork originally shown in the gallery (subsequently acquired by Tate), including the works of Jules Olitski (1922-2007) and Robyn Denny (1930-2014), together with related audio extracts from Artists’ Lives (available via touch-screens in the exhibition’s seating area) that allow visitors to explore the history of the Kasmin Gallery and developing art market through the voices of those directly involved, including artists, curators and Kasmin himself.

To mark the launch of the exhibition, a conversation event was held at Tate Britain on Friday 9 December 2016, which saw gallerist Kasmin, Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate, and biographer and cultural historian Fiona MacCarthy reflect on their own personal experiences of life story interviews, as well as the content of the exhibition itself. A one-day conference entitled The Voice of the Artist was also held at the Courtauld Institute of Art on Saturday 10 December 2016, which brought together artists, curators, art historians and oral history experts to explore the importance, relevance and complications of life story interviews in the context of art studies and art education. Novelist William Boyd gave the conference’s keynote lecture, which discussed his 1998 fictitious biography Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928–1960 and the centrality and importance of life stories in his work.

 

74390004Kamsin gallery exteriorKasmin outside the Kasmin Gallery on New Bond Street, 1960s. Photograph courtesy Kasmin.

Over 200 Artists’ Lives life story recordings are now freely available on BL Sounds, the British Library’s online sound resource. To explore Artists’ Lives interviews not online please search the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image catalogue.

Artists’ Lives is run by National Life Stories at the British Library in association with Tate. The Henry Moore Foundation, The Henry Moore Institute and the Yale Center for British Art have supported the project since its inception in 1990. National Life Stories is grateful to all its sponsors in relation to the exhibition ARTISTS’ LIVES: SPEAKING OF THE KASMIN GALLERY, particularly the Gubenkian Foundation UK and the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation.

Dr Cai Parry-Jones

Curator, Oral History