On arrival on Thursday I was pleased to discover that it was being chaired and led by Graham Smith, the author of the booklet we encourage undergraduate helpers on the archive to read. He also wrote the guidance pages of the Oral History Society web pages; his writing on this topic has always struck me as clear, concise and extremely helpful, both to newcomers and to the experienced, as a useful background to the discipline of oral history.
The other members of the OHS team who lead the training course were Joanna Bornat, Jenny Harding and Joel Morley. Each chaired a session or two during the course, providing their own individual take on topics like memory, emotions, secondary analysis, outcomes and impact, and many other aspects of the practice.
Each delegate (there were around 20 of us) provided a detailed poster of their research areas and challenges, and during the course of the three days, we were invited to share aspects of our research areas and present the challenges at a round table discussion. Certain issues were common to several people, and others unique to the delegate's specific area. Shared issues included those of relevant analysis, practical problems around time and relevant data gathering, and how many respondents should be interviewed. My own challenge was presented first, which allowed me to test some ideas and develop my current thinking.
It struck me that this chance to meet with and discuss topics alongside others engaged in similar work, was the most useful element of the three days. It also occurred to me how much I have grown in confidence over the last year or so.
Last July, I attended the IHR Summer School, and although it was useful (see previous entry) I was quite reticent about speaking up and sharing ideas. This time, I felt on secure ground in my topic area and happy to explore the issues around my PhD without fear of being dismissed or feeling belittled. This was partly to do with an atmosphere of encouragement, but largely to do with how I feel myself.
Yes, I acknowledge that I know more now, and having carried out a literature review, feel broadly capable of discussing a number of areas with some level of experience, but it's more than that.
I feel much more able to engage with other academics and feel part of the conversation, knowing that I have something to add.
I know this has come about through all my experience of study and university life over the past 6 years. This morning, the delegates talked about their varied backgrounds, and how they became involved in oral history to begin with. As not everyone was involved in academia, the range was wide indeed. Those involved with university departments reported on how their own setting addresses the topic and discipline of oral history. It seems that BSU has begun (through history, heritage, Bobby, the Humanities at Work module, and myself - first as guinea pig, now as archivist) to develop a strong thread of oral history practice which can only be strengthened. The act of simply writing an outline of my involvement in the topic (for group discussion) made me realise just what has been achieved. I first learned about it as part of my first year Heritage module. During the second year core module we had one seminar which examined oral history, whereas this year I lectured the second years myself. I have contributed to module writing, teaching, lecturing and student's experience. The act of writing down my varied involvement was illuminating in itself.
The extra exposure of oral history to students means that several in each year use the skill as part of their dissertations, and a quick tot up of students tells me that over the past three or so years I've helped around a dozen undergraduates do this.
It's been a good three days. Eye-opening, constructive, and very enlightening. And it's made me realise how far I've come.