Oral histories – an invitation

This is an invitation to create an online collection of personal histories here together, and link to those already available to make them more accessible.

Talk with people on doorsteps, as we have done for local projects, and you find Moss Side is full of fascinating personal and community histories.

Talk to older people, and you hear accounts of what Moss Side was like in the past, how they managed, what they were up against, and what people achieved together.

Whether it’s recent or long ago, it’s the real history that somehow never gets written down, and then gets forgotten. As the saying goes, if we don’t learn from our history, then the problems just get repeated.

The oral history movement is trying to change that. There is inspiration, guidance and support out there – see below.

In 2013, while I was working on an HLF project called Rasta Roots, I filmed some footage of my father who was visiting from Ethiopia. He shared stories about his life in Manchester, some of which I’d never heard before. Sadly my father passed away as the project was running. Had I not captured those stories, I would never have heard them.

It occurred to me that, with each passing year, the stories of how elders in my community settled in Manchester were being lost, slowly seeping into folk law with very little known about who, what, when and why. 

Marcus Hercules, Artistic Director, Hercules Productions
“Remembering the stories of the Windrush generation”

Marcus Hercules has run several funded community projects, and in the link above he describes how running a funded oral history-based project, with the famous phrase ‘Each One, Teach One‘ as its title, encouraged elders from the Manchester Windrush generation to share their stories.

Here and now in 2001, Legacy 90.1FM has a 16 week project called Let’s Talk. It started in August with the aim to host weekly talk shows discussing how the pandemic has affected local people. It functions as good community radio, but also as a research project, sending insights to the council to try to inform their decisions in the future.

An invitation

If researching local histories and personal stories appeals to you, then have a go at finding out and sharing how Moss Side life is remembered. If you already do so, or have a collection, then consider hosting or linking them here. The MossSideStory site is a good place to post the stories. We would like to encourage and help you where we can.

If we build a selection of posts, even with just a few quotes and photos in each, that could be a fascinating collection.

What struck me was that he had so much to say. He was energetic and enthusiastic about telling stories of the UK in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Some stories sounded like they were from a Hollywood script, but no… these were real-life stories that happened in Cheetham Hill in 1949 or Didsbury in 1951.

Gbolahan Peter Macjob, Director Afristar Foundation
“Johnny Just Come”: telling the stories of Nigerian immigrants

Tips: Interviewing for oral histories

Ask others, but my own experience of interviewing people is that whenever I worry about whether they will mind the intrusion, or be willing to give up their time, I find that people actually enjoy talking about life.

There can be a real pleasure for all of us in talking about our lives, and making sense of the past, with someone we trust and respect.

That last bit is important. You need to be genuinely interested, respectful, clear about what you are doing and why, keep recordings and notes safe and secure, and always respect your interviewee’s wishes and their privacy. There are links to useful guides below.

If you are new to it, practice first with someone who already trusts you, so that you can work out together how to present it.

Tips: Presenting oral histories

Look at the ways oral histories are presented online, so you can decide what you think works.

It’s good to hear the person’s voice, but a long recording needs time to listen to. It is easy to embed an audio recording in a post, even just a short clip.

Including some photos can make a huge difference. As an example, see the photos on the “Johnny just come” project description.

Think about how you would react as the audience. Personally, I find I want to see some photos and read some extracts and quotes before I am interested to listen to a recording. So transcribing some well-chosen quotes and extracts enables us all to see what they said, and can give an interesting flavour of what the person talked about. For some people that may be all they want to read. For others it may inspire them to read and listen more.

An interviewee may of course agree only to presenting a few quotes and photos online, not a recording. But even that can be interesting to create, and interesting for others to see and read. It can also make the project more doable.

It can also be interesting to read your own thoughts and reaction as the interviewer. (Your interviewee can be named or anonymous, as they prefer.)

Guides & links

Here are a few guides and links, but the inspiration will come from genuinely wanting to ask and find out. If your initial experiences inspire you, the UK Heritage Fund funds oral history projects, including the two above.

If you know of projects we should add, put them in the comments.

Legacy 90.1FM has a 16 week project called Let’s Talk. It started in August 2021, with the aim to host weekly talk shows discussing how the pandemic has affected local people. It is a kind of research project, sending insights to the council to try to inform their decisions in the future.

Oral history resources from the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre:

  • Oral history transcription style guide
  • Project websites
  • Oral history online resources
  • Oral history inventory
  • Oral history index
  • Interviewee consent form
  • Oral History Toolkit

Other organisations with useful ideas and resources include:

We could together use this website to assemble a collection of personal stories, and link to others already available to make them more accessible. Contact us if you are keen.

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