The voice in the museum: Personal oral narratives and social identities in public history (with particular reference to work and workplace cultures)

Project: Research

Project Details


This proposed Fellowship is designed to expand existing collaborations and enable the transfer of knowledge on oral history methodology, theory and practice, with particular reference to the cultural history and meaning of work in the twentieth century from HE (Professor McIvor) to Glasgow Museums. Within the workplan of forward-looking heritage agencies such as Glasgow Museums, simply providing access to oral history collections is no longer considered sufficient; instead the over-arching aim is to use oral testimonies to achieve cultural participation. This project aims to develop the effective use of 'voice' in Glasgow Museums by unlocking the potential of its considerable collection of interviews. In particular, the application of analyses of changing work and social identities by the Knowledge Transfer Fellow (KTF) and the named Research Assistant (RA) to the oral history collection will encourage new interpretations of Glasgow's recent history, expand the use of interviews within Glasgow Museums, its associated exhibitions, and educational outreach programmes and make the collection more accessible. Glasgow Museums is dedicated to improving the care, audit and access of their 'nationally significant collections'. It recognises the fundamental role of oral history in future collecting, however it lacks guidance on what topics and social groups should be targeted to help consolidate and develop the existing oral history resource. The KTF/RA would identify 'gaps' in the Museums collections and formulate an oral history collecting policy, based on their academic expertise and knowledge of current oral history collecting methods and practices, making Glasgow Museums interview archive invaluable to researchers. This Knowledge Transfer Fellowship will produce an educational resource for schools (focusing on social identity at work and the meaning of work from oral testimonies), develop Glasgow Museum's web pages cataloguing the oral history collection and access information, work within the Open Museum's outreach programme and develop HE teaching materials, thus widening access to Glasgow Museum's oral history collection to researchers and students in HE, and to the wider Glasgow Museum audience. The proposed new Work Placement in Oral History undergraduate class will continue the knowledge exchange relationship, facilitating a new round of oral history interviewing targeting the identified 'gaps' in coverage. Drawing upon almost three decades of experience researching the meaning of work / social identities at work as a professional historian and more than a decade of working explicitly with oral testimonies (including several innovative interviewing projects exploring diverse aspects of work culture from shipbuilders, to miners and to the oral history of higher education in Glasgow) this project will utilise the knowledge and expertise of the KTF within the public history domain. Using work-life histories, the KTF/RA will show how narrative analysis of oral testimonies can reveal much about wider society. Intersubjectivity and the relationship between collective memory and individual memory will be a particular focus, an issue that has lain at the heart of much of the most recent innovative research using oral history and personal testimonies (including over the past five years by the KTF - see publications). Our vision of the lasting legacy of this project will be a fundamental transition in the use of the voice in public history, both in terms of breadth across Glasgow Museums and in terms of depth - with more critical reflection on the ways in which memories are manufactured and history reconstructed. This has the potential to make the past more interesting, meaningful and engaging, and thus to attract new audiences to the museums.

Key findings

This KTF project has fulfilled its aim to significantly develop oral history resources within Glasgow Museums (GM), make such chronically under-utilised resources more accessible, increase oral history capacity and provide the basis for sustainable integration of oral history heritage in the city.

Digitising and expanding access to oral history collections
Most of the original 300 analogue tapes belonging to the 2000 Glasgow Lives oral history archive collection have been digitised and saved to the Glasgow Museums database together with 212 time-coded searchable summaries. Collection Level Descriptions (CLDs) and Object Level Descriptions (OLDs) have been created for Glasgow Museums ‘Collections Navigator’ database.

Extending the collection and filling the gaps
Gaps in the GM oral history collection were identified and a new oral history project ‘Working Lives’ initiated. 21 interviews have been completed and saved to GM database.

Pilot video, sound clips and memoryscape
Using oral interview material a pilot memoryscape (sound trail) was created (focusing on a Clydeside waterfront community) and video designed and created about the 2000 Glasgow Lives project and posted on SOHC website. MP3 sound clips (with transcriptions) have been created for use on Glasgow Museums’ web pages and as part of a ‘toolkit’ for use in school and community outreach projects.

Developing oral history capacity
Oral history training seminars – followed by tailored advice and support - were delivered to GM museum staff providing them with advanced oral history skills and knowledge. 7 GM volunteers were trained in the processes of digitisation and summarisation.

New innovative work placement course
To sustain the partnership and grow oral history resources we have developed a new undergraduate honours course, Work and Community Placement in Oral History. This has successfully run through Sept-Dec 2012 with student placements at Glasgow Museums and other partners, including Edinburgh Museums, Summeree Museum, Coatbridge and the Scottish Jewish Archives.

Disseminating the findings
Material from the project has been utilised in a book, A. McIvor, Working Lives (Palgrave, April 2013), two articles in 2011-12 and two forthcoming in 2013.
Presentations were also delivered to a wide range of audiences, including museums, local community groups and school teachers, whilst a wide range of researchers have accessed the data, includingfor PhDs, for a Leverhulme funded linguistics research project, for community projects and for an art installation at the Southern General Hospital, Glasgow.

The project has been fundamentally important in demonstrating the long-term benefits of meaningful knowledge exchange and engagement between academics in the Scottish Oral History Centre and curators and researchers in Glasgow Museums working in public heritage. It has contributed towards a refocused public history in the city, infused much more systematically with the voice and drawing more effectively upon memory sources. This engages and empowers the community actively and directly in constructing their own history as a shared and more democratic experience.

Effective start/end date1/11/0931/12/11


  • AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council): £182,559.00


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