Hidden Histories: Oral History Interviews

Continuing our series on Hidden Histories in museums, oral history interviews are a great way to fill gaps in your collection and to bring stories to life for audiences, both in your museum and at home.

black smartphone and headphones on a desk

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

As previously discussed, histories of certain groups and communities are often “hidden” because we don’t have the objects in our collection to represent them or because curators lack the specialist knowledge to interpret them.

By conducting interviews with members of these communities, you not only broaden your collection to include new stories and be more representative, you can ask questions which help you to better understand the physical objects already in your collection.

There are lots of ways museums can use oral history recordings. You can include them in exhibitions, either through a fixed unit or a portable player. Essex Record Office’s recent “You Are Hear” project saw special benches being placed around the county played recordings to the people listening to them.

You use clips of recordings on your website. Websites like Soundcloud, you can share clips from your your recordings and embed them into your website or blog, enabling you to share them around the world.

However, it isn’t as simple as simply sitting down with a your interviewee and asking questions. You need to make sure you have their permission to record the interview, to keep it and to share it.  You need to know that the equipment you have is up to the job. You should have a plan about what you want to ask, know how to ask open questions and what to do if the subject becomes upset during the course of the interview.

If you haven’t previously had oral history training, or would like a refresher, I have organised a training day with Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, Sound Archivist at Essex Record Office on 27th November. Click here for more information.

Don’t forget that SHARE’s Hidden History grant scheme is now open for applications. The deadline is 28th January, 2019. There is also a Hidden Histories Study Day at the British Museum on 23rd October 2018.

Hidden Histories: We Are Colchester

Today’s blog post continues out theme of Hidden Histories and is written by Ben Paites from Colchester and Ipswich Museums.

We are Colchester 5Colchester Museums have recently been looking to engage with a wider range of audiences through a series of projects held predominantly at Hollytrees Museum. “We Are Colchester”, an exhibition running from July 2018 to January 2019, has been the launchpad for this work.

The concept of the exhibition began in 2017 when it had been suggested that we have an LGBTQ+ exhibition in Hollytrees Museum, as this is an audience that is currently underrepresented within our collections. I held a focus group in April 2017, where I invited representatives from a wide range of organisations to come and give their thoughts on this idea. It was unanimously agreed that an LGBTQ+ exhibition might not be suitable for Colchester, as there would be the potential for alienating the very audience we were trying to attract. The fear of visitors to such an exhibition having to “out” themselves was quite problematic for some attendees. However, the concept of identity more broadly was a much more favourable topic.

“We Are Colchester” therefore looks at an individual’s identity as expressed through a single object. We have items loaned to us by members of the public, as well as objects from the museums’ collections. The exhibition explores a wide range of characteristics, such as gender, race, religion and profession. Encouraging visitors to add their own stories to the exhibition, there is an engagement wall where visitors are able to add a label expressing their own identity.

Following on from this project, we are hoping to turn our attention to the permanent displays in Hollytrees by inviting individuals from various communities within Colchester to explore our galleries and see whether they feel they are reflected in the museum. We will then work with them to see if we are able to reinterpret objects, rewrite labels or even actively collect new items to be part of the museums’ collections.   As it is Black History Month, we are currently recruiting individuals with an interest in Black and African History to get in touch and to be part of this project. We will be doing the same in February 2019 for LGBT history month, with the hope of engaging more audiences in future.

Museums News – 3rd October 2018

Dear All,

There are still spaces on the free “Donation to Disposal” seminar being run by Collections Trust on 12th October at Rayleigh Weir Fire Station. The day will be a thorough look at the new SPECTRUM 5 guidelines and will be really useful to anyone working with collections or responsible for Accreditation. More information is available here.

On 23rd October, I have organised a free “Hidden Histories” study day at the British Museum. The day will include an “Uncomfortable Art Tour” with Alice Proctor, looking at the colonial past of the British Museum’s collections. In the afternoon, we will have free entry to the museum’s “I Object” exhibition, which looks at the history of dissent. For more information, click here.

There is also an oral history training day on 27th November at Essex Record Office in Chelmsford.

To book on any of these, email me at amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk with your museum name and a contact telephone number.

Best wishes,

Amy

What is a “Hidden History”?

person with body painting

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

SHARE Museums East have just launched a new grant scheme to support museums to interpret and share “hidden histories”, but what does it mean and why should you care?

Hidden histories are stories which are typically not told by museums. This could be because past curators haven’t collected relevant objects, or they have but museums lack the knowledge (or interest)to properly interpret them.

Often hidden histories are those belonging to minorities, such as people with disabilities, religious groups and BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) communities.

As homosexuality was illegal until the 1960s and continued to be deemed socially unacceptable for some time afterwards, LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual) stories are often under-represented.

However, “hidden” does not necessarily mean minority. Women are fifty percent of the population, but their stories are often not well recorded or shared. In many museums, women are only represented in the domestic galleries, or in relation to their husbands/fathers/sons. Collections are also often focussed on the wealthy or middle classes. Employers of the working class are well represented but the stories of the individuals are often sketchy or overlooked entirely.

Of course, I speak in generalities and there are many excellent examples of the above in museums but they are the exemption, not the rule.

 

How has this happened and why is this a problem? How would it benefit your museum to do more work highlighting these stories?

Many collections have come together through the work of a few private collectors and/or curators. They therefore reflect their particular interests, prejudices and opportunities. More recently, we have tended to rely on objects being offered to us rather than actively seeking to fill gaps. There is also frequently an awkwardness in tackling experiences outside of our own.

However, the world is changing. People no longer visit museums because it is considered “a good thing to do”. By tackling more diverse stories, museums are relevant to more people. They can increase not only their audiences, but their volunteers, donors and supporters, making them more resilient.

 

This is the first in a series of blogs around hidden histories, but I would like to draw your attention to a study day I have organised at the British Museum on 23rd October. This day will look at two different examples of hidden history interpretation.

Museum News – 18th September 2018

Dear All,

 

I am currently conducting a short survey to help shape the future of the Heritage Education Group (HEG). Please can you spare a few minutes to answer these questions: https://essexmdo.polldaddy.com/s/future-of-heg

 

I’d also like to take a moment to thank everyone who got their Benchmarking return in. I haven’t been given the exact figure yet, but we had around 80% of Accredited/WTA museums respond, which is an Essex record. Hopefully next year we can make it 100%!

 

Upcoming Essex Events

  • Museums Essex – Save the Date

The next Museums Essex meeting will be on Tuesday 4th October at Thurrock Museum. More details will be available soon.

  •  Donation to Disposal: Documentation Procedures and Guidance, Friday 12th October, 10am till 3:30pm, Rayleigh Weir Fire Station, FREE

This session, led by the Collections Trust, will explore the basics of museum documentation, its importance and how it is approached by different organisations.

By the end of the course, participants will:

  • Be familiar with the requirements of the Spectrum Primary Procedures and how they might be applied in different museums
  • Understand what is required by Accreditation
  • Be aware of where to go to for help and advice
  • Feel confident in what they need to do to meet the standard

For more information, and to book, please visit: https://essexmdo.com/events/donationtodisposal/

  • Essex Museums “Hidden Histories Study Day”, 23rd October, British Museum, FREE

“Hidden histories” is a term used to describe stories from the past that are overlooked or not generally known because they apply to a minority or oppressed group, including (but not limited to) LGBT, disability, mental health, BAME and women’s stories. For example, “Snapping the Stiletto” has been uncovering stories of women from the last 100 years that haven’t been researched and shared before.

Early in 2019, SHARE will be offering grants next year to support museums to explore “hidden histories”. In advance of this, I have arranged for a study in London. The agenda is still being finalised but will include an “Uncomfortable Art Tour”, looking at the Imperial past of the collections and how our Colonial past has shaped the collections: https://www.theexhibitionist.org/

I expect places at this event to be popular so I am initially limiting it to two per museum, with priority to Accredited/WTA museums. However, I will keep a waiting list for anyone else who is interested.

  • Heritage Education Group, Tuesday 18th December 2018, 10am for 10:30, Venue TBC, FREE

The Heritage Education Group (HEG) is open to anyone working or volunteering in heritage education in Essex, including museums, heritage centres, parks, libraries, churches etc. It meets quarterly, at different venues around the county. At our September meeting we’ll be looking at Community Co-Production and sharing updates from around the county. For more information, visit: https://essexmdo.com/events/heg/

  • SAVE THE DATE: Essex Police Safer Rural Communities Day, 14th November, Slamseys Farm, Blackley Lane, Great Notley, Braintree, CM77 7QW, 10am until 3pm, FREE

“Visit the many exhibitors showcasing crime prevention products, gain crime prevention advice & information from Essex Police and the exhibitors.

Includes relevant policing departments, partners, farming organisations, security products, CCTV, access control, equine advice, drones and much more!!

FREE ENTRY AND PARKING ON SITE

For further information dial 101 and ask for Essex Police, then ask for Essex Watch Liaison Officer”

  • Upcoming VisitEssex Training

17th October – Customer Care and Selling skills at Cressing Temple 9.15am – 2pm £49pp including lunch (£69pp for non-members)

15th November – Event Management at Wivenhoe House, 9.15 – 2pm £59pp including lunch (£79pp for non-members)

Email Lisa.Bone@essex.gov.uk for more information

 

SHARE Updates

  • SHARE Training Calendar

SHARE recently launched their 2018/19 calendar of training opportunities, which can be viewed here: http://www.sharemuseumseast.org.uk/

 

 

Vacancies

  • Vacancies at Essex Record Office

Customer Service Lead (19485): https://essexcc.taleo.net/careersection/ecc_external/jobdetail.ftl?job=19485&lang=en

Archive and Collections Lead (19486) https://essexcc.taleo.net/careersection/ecc_external/jobdetail.ftl?job=19486&lang=en