Oral history of British science

Bundy, Colin (3 of 4).  Oral History of Oral History

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  • Interviewees

    Bundy, Colin, 1944- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Wilkinson, Robert (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 3: Had used secondary sources in terms of oral history at Manchester. At the time would have described oral history in terms of Africanism. Particularly important for two reasons in the South African context; restoring history for those who had effectively been written out of the record, and secondly finding out something about people whod left few documentary traces. Describes Van Onselens enormous study of a sharecropper he had four pieces of paper that documented the mans life, a dog licence, a police infringement, birth certificate and something else. Van Onselen wrote a 770 page book based on an exhaustive interviewing schedule. That came later but the seeds, the promise of that approach, were already there and was personally aware of this promise by the mid 1970s through South African background and what others were doing with oral sources. Probably Bill Williams introduced Colin to Paul Thompson and oral history source work in Britain; this is where the two things came together, Manchester. [02:15] Cant remember who asked him to take over the secretaryship of the oral history society from Christopher Storm Clark, presumably Bill. Bill was organised within the polytechnic, he was already doing it by then. Was very enthused, had been involved with the Oral History Society for a year and was recommending it to colleagues. Somebody mentioned others who did interviews, decided to pull everyone together and organised an oral history meeting, 2 dentists turned up. So became involved in Manchester Studies and thereby involved in Oral History Society going to conferences and things. [04:10] First project was domestic workers. Was interested in the broad sense of the first word war having dramatically shrunk the numbers of women in domestic service, thought it was important to talk to them while they were still alive. They had wonderfully vivid and detailed interviews. Dermot Healy and Colin undertook it. Two things grew out of it, early on they were interested in the importance of visual records alongside the spoken ones, Manchester Studies collected photographs, diaries and snapshots. Dermot and Colin did some interviews in which people spoke about pawn broking, realised the importance of pawnbrokers in Manchester at the time. This set in train a process which led to quite a big ESRC funded project on the history of pawn broking, done by Manchester studies. Somebody had the nous to say, these firms are disappearing, whats happened to their records. Manchester Studies then hovered up a lot of pawn broking firms records. [06:30] Has always seen other source material as equally valid to oral sources. Feels oral history has and certainly had then is a certain kind of over-privileging of oral sources as more authentic when they are not, they must be scrutinised critically in the same way as other kinds of evidence. If two or three lots of evidence come together your research is so much the richer. [07:21] Guesses 70-80 were interviewed for the project, he and Dermot did about 25 each and by that stage a couple of others were doing some. The interviews were done on reel to reels and set up properly. When he and Dermot subsequently wrote about poverty and about service and Manchester, there are long transcripts in both. Found the interviewees largely by word of mouth, it was unsystematic. There were no censuses or random sampling, just 70-80 year old women who were willing to speak to them. [10:10] They were absolutely clear that they were collecting life stories but were also focused on the experience of domestic service. One of the reasons they wound up with a female colleague was that they realised early on that Dermot and Colin would not be told about sexual encounters and so on. Did get extraordinarily detailed and deeply felt strategies of dealing with poverty. [11:10] This led to the later study. Many of the women came from outside Manchester to work as servants, married or settled afterwards and stayed their whole lives. Some became relatively respectable and some married other servants or manual workers and had a pretty tough life. It was consistently not an easy life. There was the opportunity for women to do other work during the First World War which came up. [12:44] The oral history society was important in terms of support, hearing people talk about methodology. Met Raph Samuel and Anna Davin. Went to Leeds and met the language people who brought out the dialect atlas. Met folklorists in Edinburgh. They were very intellectually exciting encounters. The movement was relatively youthful and had all of the innocence and energy of youthfulness. Made lots of connections, met Elizabeth Roberts from Lancashire. Then started connecting back the other way, while at Manchester Polytechnic got involved with people from Manchester University who ran an African history seminar, attended once a week. More and more people there were using oral history too; Terry Ranger became the leading historian on Zimbabwe, he had students interviewing diviners and later ex guerrillas. He worked in parallel with British oral historians.  [15:25] There were individuals working in South African universities by then directly influenced by the history workshop movement. Witwatersrand History Workshop was set up Charles Van Onselen and his wife Belinda Bozzoli It had its 30th anniversary meeting last year and it became a very significant source of alternative histories in South Africa. The intelligentsia in the country at this time were fragmenting and going off in all directions. This included the repatriating of this critical, leftist social science and history. In 1985 became part of this. [16:35] It was a very dramatic time to go back, July 1985, a state of emergency was declared troops were in the township. There was a ferment of resistance too, became very involved in political education. Was driven under blankets into townships and schools, they anted to hear about history.  This was being done under UDF, meaning ANC, aligned structures in Cape Town and greater Cape Town. In 1987 moved from the posh  university of Cape Town and within the same town went to The University of Western Cape, a coloured university. Made a splash, leaving a professorship at Cape Town to do this. Was enthused by the Vice Chancellor of Western Cape, he later became Mandelas director General. In his inaugural address for Western Cape said he wanted to make it an intellectual home for the left. Saw themselves as a left intelligentsia. It was a more structured form, they ran a peoples history programme. Upon moving to the University of Cape Town, in January 1985 got money for an embryonic oral history project, its still going strong now. Had two pilot projects one looking at life histories of people whose families had been removed during apartheid social engineering. Cant remember what the other one was. Was not interviewing, was team leader, wrote grants, got funds and made appointments.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Colin Bundy, South African oral historian, former Head of SOAS and retired Principal of Green Templeton College, Oxford.

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