Oral historians

Howkins, Alun (10 of 17).  Oral History of Oral History

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  • Recording date

    2008-03-03, 2009-04-21, 2009-06-11, 2009-07-30, 2009-10-08, 2009-10-29, 2009-12-10, 2010-04-22, 2010-11-17, 2011-08-15

  • Interviewees

    Howkins, Alun, 1947- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Wilkinson, Robert (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 10: [Session nine: 29 October 2009 John Howson Vintage Tapes in Suffolk published some of Aluns work. Essex University. Lived in London for the first year, Autumn 1973 to July 1974 when he went up to Norfolk. Went to Buckie, back to Essex. Moved to Lawford, nr Manningtree in December 1974.  Much of his first year was spent at Colindale.  Worked in Norfolk on interviewing. Used to go to the Record Office at Norwich as well. Based in Colchester from Spring 1975. From  Autumn 1976 came to Sussex. [05:20] Mentions his first day at Essex and Howard Newby came up to greet him.  Mentions difference between history and sociology.  New subject and many people had done something else and had transferred in. Shocked how people savaged each other verbally.  Enjoyed the atmosphere there.   Got to know Joanna Bornat, Di Gittins, Eve Hostettler. Group around Paul did have a sense of identity.  After seminars they went back to Paul and Theas house in Great Bentley. [11:20] Had a house in Colchester with Eve. Says Paul really did believe in a new way of learning and opening it up.  Would have a stayed at Essex if there was a job. [13:20] Describes the Norfolk interviews. In early 1975 Eve was starting her PhD on women fieldworkers in Norfolk and Northumberland. She wanted some interviews in Norfolk and put a letter in Eastern Daily Press. Alun also put a letter in about the 1923 strike. Got a good interviewee Jack Sadler from Titchwell as well as Miss Groom whose father was a farmer, Jack Moy from Yapton. Another six more interviews in 1975. [18:21] East Anglian History Workshop set up in Autumn of 1974 by Alun, Eve, John Archer, Gerald Crompton from UEA and in International Socialists, Steve Cherry. First proper meetings in UEA. [21:00] Mentions and describes Arthur Brown a classics teacher in Colchester Grammar School. Worked for the WEA.  Very involved in East Anglian Workshop like other non-university people.  Arthur Brown was brought into the Sociology Dept by Paul. Moved across to the History Dept only then being formed. [26:56] John Walter was appointed early on and he played a role in the Workshop after Alun left. Mentions Brenda Corti. she did a lot by duplicating letters etc for the Workshop. [29:14] Professor Roy Church supported them and gave an official stamp to the organisation. School of East Anglian Studies were more interested in 18th century history. [31:22] Maintained his links with History Workshop.  Was on the editorial collective for the Journal in summer 1975.  He moved over from oral history to History Workshop. Their meeting used to go on for 11 -12 hours mostly in London. Sue Bullock first business manager. [35:11] Asks the question what is oral history?  Is it a movement? Raises the problem of going beyond living memory.  Oral history is an important source but only one source.  What about second hand memories? No way of knowing what the status of these stories. [37:50] Mentions a riot in Fakenham. He has three accounts of it in three different towns.  Mentions Reg Groves account in Sharpen the Sickle.  He began to query the method. He thinks it is very good at describing work. Mentions George Ewart Evans describing it as folk life studies. [41:47] Not so interested in certain areas of oral history e.g. the family. Issues around some of the psychological aspects of oral history, therapeutic side of things.  Mentions a story by Thea Thompson of possibly the Earl of Albermarle and separation of upper class children from their parents. Mentions a book by Mark Girouard  The English Country House.  [46:22] Not sure of the direction of academic oral history.  Issues of cross gender interviewing. Mentions The Edwardians and Pauls advocacy of oral history and his potential as the major European oral historian.  Paul possibly felt that if you are not with us you are against us.  By 1976 Alun was beginning to have doubts. Growing theorisation of it.  Oral history is a method. [53:00] Mentions big confrontation in 1979 between Edward Thompson, Stuart Hall and Richard Johnson. Theory verses peoples history. Mentions Ken Worpole and a crusading type of oral history in this context. [55:19] Intellectually he felt more at home with History Workshop. No doubts about oral history as a method. Always adopted a life history approach.  Based in Dennis Marsdens work. Is oral history a method or more than that?  Mentions James Hinton and his work on Mass Observation. [1:02:20] Never bought into oral history movement totally.  Left Essex in the summer of 1977. Eve was still doing her PhD at Essex. Relationship was cooling. They shared a house with Sally Alexander and Gareth Steadman Jones in Pimlico. They separated soon after. He moved to Brighton to share a house with Ian Duncan. [1:05:42] Oral history was growing in strength and importance. Mentions the fishing project.  Did a couple of papers on the fishing but didnt contribute to the book. At the time he was very angry about that. Difference of view about status of the fisherman.  An idol has one foot of clay.  [1:12:10] Probably didnt recognise the split as such at the time. The move to Sussex created more than physical distance. Came into a more conventional department at Sussex.  John Harrison was in the Dept labour historian worked on Chartism and Owenism.  Alun got interested in the history of non-conformity. [01:16:30] Mentions the shortcomings of the Edwardian interviewees because of age very young at the time of study.  Interviewing in 1970 the oldest would be 21 in the 1910s. Paul did recognise that.  The fishing project wasnt time specific.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Alun Howkins, Emeritus Professor of History at University of Sussex and agricultural historian and folklorist.

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