I have always been fascinated by people’s stories. When we are very young we listen to the words of our grandparents and people of their generation telling us stories about a world we didn’t know.
These stories were the things that helped us understand our own personal history. Where our forebears had come from and how they had lived. But as soon as these people died off we had vague memories of their stories and your own memory fades and you forget some of the things that you were told.
As a student many years ago I remember feeling really excited that someone had made use of the technology of recording to interview people and get their words onto tape (as it was then) so that we could have their testimony for ourselves and for future generations.
Sometimes the interviewees had lived through amazing and possibly horrific times like the Holocaust or World Wars 1 and 2. Sometimes though they were interviewed about their everyday lives, how their mother used to do the weekly shopping, what washday was like.
What was important in all this was not necessarily the mazing insights into great world events but that this was the authentic voice of people telling us how it was.
Many of these oral history recordings were kept in libraries or owned by a group or privately by an individual. They were difficult to pin down and were certainly not widely available. Also, it was not easy to contribute your own stories to a collection unless you had been contacted by someone asking you to do so.
The web has changed all of that. There are now thousands of sites which act as repositories for the literally millions of stories, some old and some which are being added on a daily basis because it is possible to do so. This is what I find so exciting about the web, that it has provided a platform for these recordings to be collected and most of all researched and hopefully learned from.
I thought that today I would let you know about three brilliant oral history sites that I have come across… these are just three of the thousands of sites out there and I would be interested for any feedback on sites that you may have that you think others would learn from and most importantly enjoy…. because I really do enjoy listening to these talks and often I find them incredibly moving in the way that real life and real individuals, talking about life and love and loss is really much more moving than the Hollywood dramas that pluck the heartstrings artificially.
This is an amazing oral history project in the United States. I first heard about them from a Twitter hyperlink (I get a lot of leads that way!) and went on their site. I listened to a few stories, cried at some of them and thought that this was truly what oral history and people having a voice on the net was all about… I will let Storycorps introduce themselves as they put it far better than I can:
“StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit project whose mission is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening. Since 2003, over 50,000 everyday people have interviewed family and friends through StoryCorps. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, and millions listen to our weekly broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition and on our Listen pages.
The heart of StoryCorps is the conversation between two people who are important to each other: a son asking his mother about her childhood, an immigrant telling his friend about coming to America, or a couple reminiscing on their 50th wedding anniversary. By helping people to connect, and to talk about the questions that matter, the StoryCorps experience is powerful and sometimes even life-changing.
Pittsburgh and Beyond: http://digital.library.pitt.edu/n/ncjw/
My brother (a librarian at Nottingham University) gave me the link to this site. It is literally thousands of hours of an oral history project that was done by the National Council Of Jewish Women in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania over a span of 32 years.
The volunteers used old technology tape recorders to get the testimonies of all sorts of people about all aspects of their life and their memories of their parents and grandparents.
I found the whole thing amazing and yet somewhat overwhelming. Here I was in the midst (so to speak) of a sea of recordings, some good quality and some not so good. Some of these recordings covered many hours of taping and therefore were not easy to keep with.
But, as in all the recordings that I have listened to on the net, they do add to your ideas and as the Storycorps site said, they can change your point of view and make you get a different perspective on life.
If you get the chance go to this site and just listen to a few recordings. There are some really amazing stories in there.
The Museum of London.. London’s Voices
My last site is returning home for me. It is a Project done by the Museum of London, the city where I was born and grew up. This is an excellent collection of different media representing the lives of ordinary Londoners growing up, coming into or living in the great city during the twentieth century.
There are some excellent resources here for getting a real feel for what it means to be a Londoner.
I would point you in the direction of the “Women Talk” section:
Here you will hear the voices of different London women talking about their lives.
As in all the sites I have mentioned in this posting there are is so much to be learnt from these internet resources. They have added to my learning and most importantly, to my life.
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