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4.4 Oral History Recording and Transcription

 

"Thanks to everyone in the team for a strange but fascinating and thought-provoking week-middle. It's amazing what you can remember together. I hope everyone got as much out of it as I did and perhaps laid some ghosts to rest."

 

During the course of "Therapeutic Living With Other People's Children" each member of the four-person project team and another 29 individuals recorded 259 hours - 15,540 minutes - of interviews, groups and events, in 282 recordings. 127 former children, 20 former staff, 12 family members, and one friend of a Community member were recorded, as well as 18 current young people and six adults. 38 selections and 5 digital stories were uploaded to the Internet. More were gathered, but 19 written personal narratives were also uploaded to the Internet.

 

In the original project design it was assumed that a significant number of interviewees would either not want to take part in an Archive "Weekend" or would be unable to travel, but in the event, despite three extended field trips by the project oral historian, several by the project director, and work in the field by volunteers, 222 of the 282 recordings took place at the Trust, almost all of those during Archive "Weekends". In Section 8.3 below the project oral historian discusses some of the implications of this, of the influence and impact of recording memories in the context of an Archive "Weekend" temporary community. Some of this is explicit in participant feedback, as in "It's amazing what you can remember together". Subtler effects can be observed in the Wennington Digital Story, recorded during Wennington's first Archive "Weekend", which focuses the issues, interests and concerns which entered in to their mid-week "Place, Participation and Landscape ATA Event (see 4.2.1).

 

Recordings were made individually with Community members of 11 residential homes or schools, five of them the focal communities of the project, and six 'opportune' communities. Of the five focal communities, 50 recordings related to the Caldecott Community; 39 to Wennington; 36 to Westhope Manor/Shotton Hall; 21 to Red Hill School; and another 21 to Bodenham Manor School. Other recordings relating to them all were made in groups. Of the 'opportune' communities, 7 recordings were made with individuals related to Barns Hostel and School in Scotland; six to the Mulberry Bush School; four to the Cotswold Community; four to Finchden Manor; two to Hartfield House; and two to New Barns School.

 

Although not intentionally therapeutic, and intentionally not-therapeutic (see 2.3), it is clear that the approach to oral history taken by the project, perhaps especially within the supportive environment of an Archive "Weekend", enabled a level of communication for at least some people which was new, safe, and valued. Two separate responses following the final Archive "Weekend" with members of the Caldecott Community, when it could be argued that many pieces of the Archive "Weekend" model fell into place (see 4.1.12), give an indication:

 

"I have never before had the chance to talk about my childhood, when asked I would just say that I went to a boarding school because I have felt for some time that there is a rising tide of dislike and mis-understanding by the public for people who have been in care."

 

and

 

"Chris did my Oral History interview, and she was both sensitive and supportive, allowing me to ramble on and be myself. I felt completely at ease with her and told her things I had NEVER told anyone before. (I guess that was the purpose of it eh?)"

 

The project gave the opportunity to trial at a relatively large scale an approach to transcription, copyright and consent which focuses on process and relationship-building rather than product-acquisition. Oral historians generally are encouraged to have an interviewee complete copyright forms at the end of the interview, with a presumption that the interviewee will assign/give/transfer their ownership of the copyright to the interviewer or the interviewer's organisation. The implications of the time-demanding and labour-intensive process employed by the project are discussed in more detail by the project oral historian in 8.3, below, but with 58 transcripts having gone through the complete process from recording to signed consent by the end of the project, two questions often asked can be answered, at least provisionally: Given such control over their own interviews, do people generally hold back their material from public access, radically reducing its public value? The evidence from the project is, largely, "No". Of the 58 which had made it through the entire process by the end of the project, only two were "closed" entirely, and these, interestingly, were interviews with partners rather than with Community members themselves. Of interviews with Community members, 36 had no restrictions placed on them by the interviewees; another 20 had either restricted access or conditions on their use, based on the sensitivity of the material. The second frequently asked question is: "If you do not take copyright at the end of the interview, isn't there a danger that the interviewee will decide to keep ownership, with all of the problems that then creates for the organisation?" The answer again appears to be "No". Of the 58 recordings for which there was completed documentation by the end of the project, only two retained copyright, and these were the two that were closed. Copyright in the other 56 recordings was transferred to the Trust.