Monday, 11 March 2013

Oral History Training

Gathered on the steps leading up to Birmingham's Central Library on a (rare) sunny afternoon in February, our 'Digbeth Speaks' volunteers caught a few precious sun rays before attending an oral history training workshop. We received a warm welcome from Izzy Mohammad (Community Outreach Officer, Central Library) and were led through rooms lined with rows of depleted shelving as the Library is in the midst of its relocation and transformation. There was a common sense of nostalgia among us, for all those period bookcases, now only displaying the very last resources to be moved to a brand new home. After entering a precarious, stomach-jolting lift, a few of us began to look slightly worried as to where this workshop might be taking place...But lo and behold, a lovely conference room was set up for our arrival! Now, this was a bit more familiar to us.

Izzy's enthusiasm and passion for capturing the oral histories of Birmingham's diverse communities really came through in the workshop. Not only did his expert knowledge in the correct use of techniques when dealing with demanding contributors equip us with the confidence to apply our training in real-terms, but Izzy's probing questions on the pros and cons of oral history helped us to get to grips with our projects very own objectives. It allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of the dangers of careless interviewing methods. We were also provided with past examples of Birmingham's oral history projects which made for light entertainment! Listening back to audio excerpts from 2, 10 or even 40 years ago got us all very excited about our own project and the material that we may uncover when speaking to our contributors. We finished off the afternoon with an entertaining recorded interview from two of our volunteers for us to pull apart and examine. For a first attempt, the interview was executed beautifully. Our interviewer's time at the BBC as a Cultural Intern may have had something to do with this!

Over the next few weeks, our volunteers will be mastering the art of capturing oral histories through vox pops at live events, pop-up festivals, AGMs and interviews in and around the Digbeth area. Look out for our HLF badges!

Marie Giraud, Team Leader

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