In a cavernous cellar, with radical undertones, off a bustling Liverpool street earlier this week a group of Coventrians and Liverpudlians met to celebrate their postwar histories and memories.
It was with great pleasure that Selina Todd and myself welcomed everyone to the News From Nowhere radical bookshop to celebrate the completion of the oral history projects, Coventry and Liverpool Lives, following two years of interviewing in both cities: twenty-two people interviewed; thousands of words spoken and a wealth of memories sparked. As the oral historian on this project I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone involved and it was a great privilege to be invited to listen to everyone’s personal life histories.
People have lots of questions when you approach them to take part in an oral history project:”Why do you want to speak to me? What can I tell you? What will you ask me? What is it going to be used for? Who else are you talking to?” And as the interviewing is underway people often ask “What have the other interviewees said?”
These questions are important. The key to being an oral historian is that you must answer these questions honestly and provide as much information as possible to put the narrator at ease. At the same time you must encourage and create a comfortable atmosphere for the narrator to continue to tell the story they want to tell. Although the oral historian is the person with the questions, the person who turns the recorder on and makes sure it is working, the person who is most important is the narrator. Without the oral history narrators’ enthusiasm, time and memories this project would not have been the success it is. The collection is a rich source of material which will be a valuable resource for future researchers. At the Liverpool gathering answers to these questions will hopefully have become more apparent. The interviewees were able to meet each other and through this website they can finally hear segments of what the other narrators said.
Together this collection contributes significantly to our understanding and knowledge of post-war everyday life. It fills a gap in sources of the period by focusing on Coventry and Liverpool, two cities that were integral to British post-war reconstruction. Historians’ attention is shifting from the London centric image of the swinging sixties to consider more regional and local experiences. This collection will make a significant contribution to this new direction in British history. As a collective archive they cover people’s experiences of growing up, working, married and later life from the 1920s, through the 1980s to the time of interviewing in 2008.
Although a collective experience of a period or event is crucial what is important about this collection of oral histories is that they are full individual life histories. No two life histories are the same. Each is unique. Personal accounts and memories of often not spoken about topics are detailed. You may have lived on a street with fifteen other families and some of those families may have been related to you but your memories of the support networks, family get togethers, births and deaths belong to you and are shaped by your perspective of the events. Well told stories sit alongside those that had been forgotten and are slowly pieced back together.
This collection is a rich resource. Thank you to all oral history narrators for your time, enthusiasm, encouragement and memories.