Oral historians

Howkins, Alun (17 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 17: [Session thirteen 15 August 2010] EP Thompson met him through the 1968 Penguin edition of the Making of the English Working Class. Bought it in Harlow. Discusses the chapter of the field labourer. First met him while he was at Ruskin in 1968. Thompson spoke about enclosure. Using John Clares writing. Also spoke at a Workshop in Brighton. His relationship with Raphael Samuel was tense. Mentions his The Life of William Morris. Alun sang at his memorial event in London. [07:30] Mentions Sally Alexander and a recent collaboration for History Workshop Journal. First article that was published was the History Workshop pamphlet on Whitsun in 19th century Oxfordshire.  After that was a piece on traditional song and oral history.  Discusses the value of words in the music countering Cecil Sharpe.  Talks about Headington Quarry and Quarry Roughs. Mentions an exhibition at Diss on Albion Fairs and the Waveney Clarion.  Poor Labouring Men was his thesis about the time he went to Sussex. Rewrote it in 1982.  Evaluates it.  Hutchinson asked him to do a general book in a series. 1850-1914. Alun pushed the date to 1925. Hutchinsons went bankrupt and Collins Harvill published it. They sold their list to Routledge who republished it. In mid 1980s published his most cited piece of work The Rediscovery of Rural England 1880-1914.  In a volume called Englishness Mentions other authors, including Phil Dodd, who were published in it Croom Helm David Croom. [22:39] Led to first television work. Phil Dodd went and worked for the New Statesman and commissioned him to write a couple of pieces including on the decline of the English pub. Other work until the Blairites took over. Did a Timewatch programme called The Land of Lost Content. Also did something on William Morris with Peter ? (lived in East Anglia). Graduate student of his Mick Reed looked at the small farmer and their importance. Alun was then going to write a book on that, but Routledge asked him to do a book on the countryside in the 20th century. Had edited and written 2/3rds of the Cambridge agrarian history volume on culture and community. [26:16] Became a bit of a wheel out pundit on recent history of rural England on TV and journalism. 20th century became more important. Did work with Nichola Verdon on the Agricultural Wages Board.  Mentions a piece in History Workshop by Lisa Passerini about memory. Talks about oral history of ones own life and time. Alun did not want to do that 19th and early 20th centuries. Mentions research on specific riots and common lands. Interest  possibly about his own ageing. Giving Colin Matthew Memorial Lecture in November 2011 which does go up to present day A Lark Arising.  New relationship with UEA. [33:33] Used to do Radio 3 on traditions. Radio 4 Making Histories produced by Nick Patrick. Alun taught him at Sussex.  Talks about the programmes. Did a radio series called The Village.  Aluns programme was about Old and New Buckenham. [39:00] Talks about future ideas. Mentions Commons and work he would like to do on this topic - Blackheath Common, Hackney Marshes and Walthamstow. Enjoying retirement. Fulfilling academic life and reflections on it. Taught the editor of Vogue, Alex Shulman. [48:00] 20th century work did use oral history. Poor Labouring Men was the only monographic book he wrote, others  were general surveys. Oral history is much more difficult to use in those kinds of surveys except as illustrative material. Used a lot in 1850-1920 book. Talks about Essex oral history work. Paul Thompson became less prescriptive towards the end. Alun used Mass Observation sources more later on. Mentions one interview of a woman in Suffolk. Not keen on present day oral history. Prefers life history approach.  Did not want to be an oral historian as it could exclude too much material. Critical of Al Thomsons approach. Mentions Headington Quarry and reviewed what he did 20 years later. Quarry Roughs has stood the test of time, but Raph Samuels work on enclosure was poor. [1:04:30] Describes his research methods and use of sources. Relates back to work on Commons and sources.  Mentions Rougham and common lands. Use of computers in research good and bad. [1:19:00] Believes in economic determinism also is a Marxist of the 50s and 60s. Mentions Hampstead Heath and encroachment. Interested in odd people at the edges e.g. servants living in the house but working on the land. Position of agricultural labourers. Describes two farms in this village. [1:28:00] Mentions Vic Gammon winning the EFDSS Gold Badge. Concert to mark this. [1:31:21] Reflections. Personal life lost two sons - but generally good life. Importance of History Workshop. Not ambitious in terms of academic management. Has worked to live, never lived to work. Most proud of getting into Ruskin.

  • Description

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

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