Oral historians

Harrison, Brian (21 of 25).  Oral History of Oral History

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  • Recording date

    2012-01-24, 2012-02-24, 2012-03-27, 2012-04-24, 2012-05-18, 2012-06-27

  • Interviewees

    Harrison, Brian, 1937- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Wilkinson, Robert (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 21: [Session five: 18 May 2012] Interest in Corpus Christi. New Common room and article in the college magazine as to how that happened. Also an article there bout computerisation in the college. Led to Corpuscles, a volume which he edited in 1994 for the college. Interview with Isaiah Berlin contributed to that. Writing the volume in the New Oxford History of England (NOH) role for the historian in writing about current events. Editing the Dictionary stemmed directly from the death of Colin Matthew. Valuable in that was the ability to write letters and how to do it to get results. 6 box files in the college archive containing the letters used for Corpuscles. [07:05-09:48 closed until 1st September 2032] [09:44] NOH did contain some information from letters. Clippings integral to the pub-lication. Mentions the influence of Peter Burke, graduate student at St Antonys, on keeping horizons wide. Issues about oral history is that there is a tendency to put in all the data without analysis. Mentions the history of sport as an example of how the lack of analysis can creep in. Hates the pretentiousness of post modernism. Does not go for fashion, though Keith Thomas once asked him if there was anything in the 20th century he did NOT like. Does not aim to write entertaining history for its own sake. Mentions Nigel Williams, a school friend, who suggested useful changes to NOH that were incorporated in the paperback edition. [20:00] NOH he was asked by the Press to write the two volumes (post 1951) They had already approached Peter Clarke of Cambridge University without success. Then asked Brian. They commissioned 250,000 words and got 450,000, two vol-umes rather than one. Started work around 1995. Describes the process of writing. Interrupted by Colin Mathews death in 1999. Goes into college about 7.30 and reads the newspapers before people arrive. By 2002 he started writing. Retirement helped enormously. Finished in 2008 and gave his typescript to Christopher Wheeler at the Press. [28:17-30:43 closed until 1st September 2012] [30:43] Discusses approach to Margaret Thatcher. Talks about indexing and decid-ing upon and writing chapters. Started by interviewing for the volumes a dentist Martin Downer, and the hospice campaigner Cicely Saunders but interviewing too time-consuming to do many more. Used published diaries like Harold Nicolson, Tony Benn etc. [40:20] Had to dismiss someone from DNB for not keeping to deadlines. [41:07-43:36 closed until 1st September 2032] Brians Article about the history of the Dictionary is referred to in its introduc-tion. Articles were sent to Brian for approval. Liz Baigent was helpful and fun. ODNBs personnel had been decided by Colin. Discussion about Jill Foot, proposed for inclusion but not taken up. Article on Peter Eaton, a bookseller, was included due to Brian example of widening out the Dictionarys categories for inclusion. Brian had had a disagreement with Colin about Margaret Thatcher. Mentions Simon Heffer whom he helped to write objectively in his article on Enoch Powell. Brian wrote a long article for the ODNB on Keith Joseph. Some of the research editors were tough with in-house articles Alex May for example. Research editors short-term contracts were not being renewed as the project was finishing there were around 40 of them at its peak. Mentions seeing all the staff looking over the bannisters when he arrived to address them when he was appointed. Suffers from prosopagnosia so explained that to them. Huge archive used to take the article files home with him thank you notes to contributors. Kept his distance from the DNB when Colin was alive. Brian only wrote 29 articles, Colin wrote or revised over 400. In the Sisman biography of Trevor-Roper Brians thank-you postcard to him is mentioned. [1:01:10-01:06:03 closed until 1st September 2032] [1:06:10] Advisory editors midway in the hierarchy between the contributor and Brian and research editors - 10,000 contributors and 50,000 articles. Had to deal with personnel and contributor disputes [1:14:56-01:17:22 closed until 1st September 2032] [1:15:17] Emailed monthly newsletter that Brian produced. Reports had to be written for the Supervisory Committee. More about Colin Matthew. Last time Brian met with him formally and somewhat warily was at the National Portrait Gallery for the launch of a CD ROM containing Margaret Thatchers speeches. [1:26:30] Relished the idea of working in a commercial environment like the OUP. [1:27:18-01:28:05 closed until 1st September 2032] Used to eat in the OUP canteen and not the College. Had to buy present house to move the books which could no longer be housed in College, hence called the Book House. Working hours on the DNB. [1:30:02] Brian has the capacity to be interested in anything he does. Describes some recent work and how he moves between projects. [1:32:15-01:33:45 closed until 1st September 2032] [1:33:47] Launch of the DNB. Letter by David Starkey in The Guardian saying there are too many women in the DNB, but theyd gone up from 5% to 11%, though will never get to 50%. Speeches to launch and publicise the publication including at the National Portrait Gallery. [1:37:01] [01:36:58-01:48:31 closed until 1st September 2032]

  • Description

    Life story interview with Brian Harrison, original committee members of the Oral History Society and Emeritus Professor of history at University of Oxford.

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