Launch of Oral History Unit and Collective at Newcastle University

By Andy Clark, Research Associate in Oral History, Newcastle University

In this post for the Oral History in Higher Education Network Blog, I would like to introduce a new oral history group that has been established within the School of History, Archaeology and Classics at Newcastle University. The Oral History Unit and Collective represents a major investment in oral history at Newcastle. It has been created through an internal funding initiative designed to strengthen the quality of research and teaching, and represents a major commitment from university administrators to oral history work.

The name of the group is reflective of its aims; the ‘oral history unit’ consists of the academic staff working within the university. The collective extends this beyond the institution, and involves community-based oral historians doing excellent work across Newcastle and the North East. The Unit and Collective is therefore very much an umbrella organisation that brings together all researchers and teachers utilising oral history. This will allow for the development of stronger relationships, a higher standard of collaboration, and the sharing of skills and expertise.

The Unit has undergone a period of substantial growth since its inception in mid-2017. Within the University it comprises a new Chair in Oral History, two full-time Research Associates, a Research Assistant and an Associate Researcher.

Professor Graham Smith was appointed to lead and direct the group in September 2017. Smith served as Chair of the Oral History Society for twenty years and has a substantial research, teaching and publication record across disciplines and geographies utilising oral history methods. Following this, myself and Dr Alison Atkinson-Philips began our roles as Research Associates in November and January respectively. Joining this core full-time staff is Research Assistant Sue Bradley, who has worked on oral history projects for two decades, and Associate Researcher Rosie Bush, a secondary school teacher who will facilitate interaction with local schools.

We have established a close relationship with the Newcastle University Library, working together to develop an oral history archive that is fit-for-purpose and accessible to researchers. We are also in the process of developing an interactive website that will allow visitors to find out about our projects, events, collaborations, and access excerpts of archived interviews. Additionally, we have created a blog platform with posts, news, and podcasts recorded with oral historians.

The Unit and Collective aims to be international and interdisciplinary in its approach. We are currently developing three research projects involving scholars from English, Linguistics, Medical Science, Digital Humanities, Ageing and Demography. We have met with community-based oral historians, local film production companies and artists, looking to develop sustainable partnerships to conduct research throughout the region. We will be attending international conferences to engage with other researchers, present our work and contribute to new directions in oral history research.

The Unit and Collective was officially launched in January 2018 with a keynote lecture provided by Professor Alessandro Portelli, with over 100 attending to listen to his ‘Reflections on a Life in Progress’. If you were unable to attend the keynote, you can access the recording here. We are actively building upon the success of the launch event and will be hosting open meetings, seminars and other events to bring together academics and community groups using oral history. We hosted our first monthly drop-in session in March 2018. The aim of these sessions is to invite everyone in Newcastle and the North East using oral history to come into the university to discuss ideas and research projects over a cuppa, in an informal and friendly environment. The programme for our seminar series is currently being developed, as are plans for future keynote lectures and exhibitions. Information for all of these events will be announced on our blog, our Twitter account and – shortly – our own website.

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We would be delighted to hear from oral historians across Britain who wish to engage with the Oral History Unit and Collective at Newcastle. If you would like any further information, or would like to be added to our mailing list, please email us at oralhistory@newcastle.ac.uk.

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