Author: Sam Brady, 25th February 2021

As my research continues, I was keen to write more about oral history and share how it’s been going so far. But instead of another wall of text, I figured it might be more interesting to actually talk about this type of data collection with someone who has been involved with the National Paralympic Heritage Trust’s oral history project as a volunteer. Hopefully, this recorded conversation is a more interesting way to discuss some of the advantages and challenges of conducting oral history and will serve as a useful resource for those who are interesting in doing interviews. 

The adventure of it, and the  [...] humanity of it is amazing. [SB(1] 

In this conversation, recorded in early February 2021, I’m joined by the lovely Rosemary Hall, National Paralympic Heritage Trust (NPHT) volunteer. Rosy started volunteering for the NPHT last year, helping to lay the groundwork for the Trust’s oral history project and conducting some of the first interviews. She carried out over 80 interviews for her PhD in Sociolinguistics at the University of Oxford and is now working as Research Assistant for the Dialect and Heritage Project at the University of Leeds. 

Over this roughly 35-minute conversation, we discuss various topics, including: the challenges and advantages of conducting interviews over Zoom during lockdown, the practicalities of transcription and the role of the researcher in this process, and the popularity of oral history as a methodology for research projects today. At the end, we discuss about how easy it is to be star struck interviewing the famous Paralympic athletes with the NPHT and share advice for those looking to be involved with oral history-based projects.

Oral History appealed to me [...] because looking at disability, there's so much stuff that just isn't recorded, isn't in a document, and [to] actually [be] able to just go to the person and say, 'Oh, can you tell me about this thing you did?' There's all this wonderful information that just isn't down [...] in a book or a document. [SB(2] 

You also hear these stories that [...] you would never get in a history book, you get the... personal [and] lived experience that [go] along with landmark moments in a person's life. And it's such a privilege to hear those. [SB(3] 

This was a very useful exercise for myself, as conducting interviews and grappling with the challenges of oral history are new skills I have developed over the course of this project. This conversation gave me a chance to reflect on this, and also consider the different ways interviewing can be used in research. As well, it’s much easier to reflect on these things while in conversation with another person – which is one of the key ideas of oral history methodology, after all.

I think the effect of these interviews often, is that you realise even though these people are, in a way, superhuman, they're also just very normal and down to earth. [The process has been] meeting superstars, realising how superhuman they are - but also realising that they're just like us as well. [SB(4] 

You can listen to the full conversation below. Enjoy! 

Thank you for listening!

As Rosy mentioned, a great way to get involved with interview work, if you are interested, is to volunteer with an organisation like the National Paralympic Heritage Trust. Oral History work is a great way to develop skills around active listening, communication and project management – and overall is a fantastic way to speak to some really interesting people. The NPHT is always looking for volunteers, so if this is something you may be interested in, please get in touch.

Volunteering is absolutely the best thing you can do [...] and you learn by doing. Interviewing people is really fun [...] That's the best thing about oral history, you know, having these amazing, really life-giving conversations with people. [SB(5]  

You can find out more about the Oral History interviews that Rosy has been doing here 
To follow updates from the Dialect and Heritage Project at the University of Leeds, visit their Twitter page.

 [SB(1] Rosy, 03:41-03:45
 [SB(2] Sam, 03:08-03:25
 [SB(3] Rosy, 04:15-04:31
 [SB(4] Rosy, 32:04-32:33
 [SB(5] Rosy, 32:52-33:15