Voices from the past by Sarah GudginJune 5, 2012 Blogs
On the 14th of June Craig Taylor, author of Londoners, will be at the Museum of London Docklands to talk about his book. Londoners ingeniously recounts first-hand testimonies of the capital from the people who know it best, resulting in a remarkable snapshot of the city that is both insightful and amusing. The Museum of London is proud to own an extensive collection of oral histories. In this blog Curator of Oral History and Contemporary Collecting, Sarah Gudgin, reveals more about this unique collection…
Most of us grow up listening to stories of some kind. These stories might be about people, places, personal experiences or even historical events. Recollections of the past can help us to learn, to understand and to make sense of our world. They can help to inform us about our family history, roots, culture and identity. Whether it is through firsthand accounts talking about the old days from our parents, grandparents or other family members, or whether it is having a good natter with old friends, sharing our memories is a familiar pastime in many people’s lives.
It has been my role as Curator of Oral History and Contemporary Collecting to ask people to share their memories, personal stories or oral histories for the Museum’s collection. Oral history can be defined as ‘the recording of life story interviews to capture people’s memories, unique life experiences and first-hand accounts of the past and preserving them for the future.’
At the Museum of London we have been documenting the memories of Londoners since 1985, and now have around 3,000 hours of audio recordings. These life story interviews reflect the lives and experiences of Londoners from all walks of life, some whom have been born in the capital and lived here all their lives, others have settled from outside of London, or came from overseas and have made London their home or workplace. The breadth and depth of the themes explored, and the range of people interviewed, make our collection an unparalleled resource, capturing aspects of the lives and perspectives of Londoners over more than a century. The accounts reveal the beliefs, attitudes, achievements, challenges and even the sorrows of Londoners and how these have changed or stayed the same.
Over the years we have worked on various projects with the particular aim of collecting material relating to specific events or groups of people, including the Jewish East End, refugees and immigrants, and the impact of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, to name but a few.
The ‘London Liberationists’ is a video touch screen interactive on display in the Galleries of Modern London. It focuses on the memories of six individuals who were actively involved in the women’s liberation movement and/or the campaigns for LGBT Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender rights from the 1960s to the present day. This material offers real insight into LGBT history and demonstrates the lasting impact of this campaign.
The Museum’s war exhibit is an immersive audio-visual display exploring the Blitz. This exhibit is exceptional in that oral history sits at its heart making it a particularly emotive exploration of the topic. It uses direct eyewitness accounts of war time experiences and succeeds in making the past come to life in a way that an object, book or text may not. The space is atmospheric, dark and intimate, combining historic and personal photographs with film footage. Listeners can hear the voices and sounds of the Blitz whilst viewing images and footage depicting the everyday realities and devastation of the war. The emphasis is on personal experiences and perceptions. A conscious decision was made not to shy away from the more traumatic aspects of war.
The oral history collection continues to grow and enrich the Museum’s work, helping us to understand how people lived in the past, their reasons and motivations, and allowing us to represent the diversity of people’s stories in their own words. Beyond statistics, these recordings can show reality at its most descriptive, helping us to understand reasons and motivations. It reminds us that people are amazing!
Thu 14 Jun, 7-8.30pm