In the last two weeks I have carried out my first ever interviews as a historian. I have read many books on oral history theory but no amount of reading could have prepared me for how I felt when I sat face-to-face with the people who had trusted me to write the history of their life.
As I am researching the 1995-98 dock dispute in Liverpool, my interviews took place in the CASA- it was only right. Prior to meeting my first interviewee, I had carefully chosen what to wear to ensure I looked professional enough to convince people that I had some sort of right to be involved in a project like this. My fears melted away as I greeted a lovely gentleman who had already got a pot of tea ready for me. I know he could tell I was terrified and I had already told him on the phone that he would be my first ever interviewee. After a little small talk, I shakily took my Dictaphone out of my bag and asked if it was okay if I started recording. This caused some unease as it really is a reminder that this is not just a chat for both parties involved. Anyway, after a couple of minutes the Dictaphone faded into the background- unfortunately the sound of seagulls did not- and I was thrown into a world full of amazing characters, story lines and life mottos.
Sometimes- and by sometimes, I mean often- I question myself and why I’m going into academia. Who am I to try to write the past? But, sitting in the CASA surrounded by such a rich history, talking to lovely, patient and extremely impressive people reminded me that they are the reason I want to do this. How can we let life pass us by without recording the importance of daily life?
Besides learning a lot about my general interviewing technique and Dictaphones, I have five key reflections I want to outline from these early experiences:
- Constantly considering what I want to ask about next whilst having a conservation was exhausting.
- Being in awe of the interviewee and listening to their achievements through their humble viewpoint made me feel wholly inadequate.
- Asking what seemed like an obvious or stupid question provoked some of the best answers. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
- People are kind. When I showed an interest, nodded my head and let them try to work out/recall/finish their story, they appreciated it and told me more.
- Post-interview elation is a thing. As my interviewees said their goodbyes and walked away. I had to sit for a while and think about the gold mine I now had stored in my Dictaphone.