Events Calendar
Jun 7
10:00 - 16:00
An Introduction to Oral History
short courses

Study Day: Friday 7 June 2019

Study Day: 10.00 – 16.00

Course code: 18TON385

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Oral history interviews are widely used to portray the lived experience of community, family, work, leisure and wartime history. This study day will focus on oral history practice including preparation, designing questions, interviewing and recording technique, ethics, copyright, transcription and how to publish and archive interviews for history and writing projects.

We will begin with an overview of the development of oral history and its strengths and weaknesses as a historical source. We will then cover the practical stages of the interview process including finding interviewees, how to prepare for a recording session, how to use recording equipment effectively, how to design interview questions, interviewing and listening technique and what to do when things go wrong. We will then consider how oral history interviews can be used in publishing, public history projects, websites, artworks and archives, including issues of ethics, copyright, summary, transcription and archival issues. The day will include practical interviewing exercises and the use of digital recording equipment. I will provide equipment, but if you have a digital recorder you would like to practice with (this includes most mobile phones), do bring it along.

Recommended reading

No preparatory reading is required.

Further reading

Perks, R. and Thomson, A. (eds), The Oral History Reader, third edition (London: Routledge, 2016)

Ritchie, D.A., Doing Oral History, third edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015)

Thompson, P., with Bornat, J., The Voice of the Past: Oral History, fourth edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)

The Oral History Society has an excellent reading list that includes that is regularly updated:

Additional information

This course is suitable for all, no prior knowledge is required. It allows you to spend time exploring a subject for interest, among like-minded people, without formal assessment. 

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the course students should:

  • be able to identify the various stages necessary to record an oral history interview to a professional standard and understand the process by which oral history recordings are collected and stored in archives.
  • be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of oral evidence for history projects, and to have strategies to overcome the weaknesses.
  • be ready to prepare, conduct and process an oral history interview, meeting current ethical and legal standards.

    About the tutor

    Dr Toby Butler is a research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London with a particular interest in oral history, digital heritage and mapping memories. Toby has devised and led numerous oral history projects in London, Wales and India and is known internationally for his work exploring how history and memory can be mapped and used to interpret places and their pasts. Projects include Ports of Call, working with community groups and artists around the docks of East London to map and historically interpret the area (; the Bethnal Green Disaster Memorial Project ( and most recently he has been interviewing museum founders across the UK for Mapping Museums: The history and geography of the UK independent sector 1960-2020.


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