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Oral history: ethnicity and post-colonialism

The British Library Sound Archive holds a number of collections that record ethnic diversity in Britain today through migration, immigration and exile.

Refugee experience

  • The Vietnamese Oral History project (catalogue no: C1055), a Refugee Action oral history project comprises 98 interviews with refugees from Vietnam to the United Kingdom, together with some of their children and refugee support workers. Topics covered include interviewees' early lives and family circumstances in Vietnam, education and careers, their reasons for leaving, their journeys from Vietnam, life in refugee or transit camps, establishing new lives in the UK, feelings about being refugees, and hopes for the future. A number of these recordings were conducted in Vietnamese.
  • Other collections exploring issues of exile include The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum Archive (catalogue no: C499) which includes dubbed recordings charting Polish affairs and the work of Polish Government in Exile during World War Two.
  • The British Library Sound Archive holds a number of collections relating to the experiences of Jewish refugees in Britain, including Living Memories of the Jewish Community (C410), which collects the personal testimonies of the Jewish Holocaust recorded with Jewish survivors now living in Britain and from the children of survivors, and the Central British Fund Kindertransport interviews (C526), a collection looks at the efforts to help Jewish children escape Nazi Germany and the experiences of children who came to Britain as part of Kindertransport.

Ethnicity and migration

  • Moroccan Memories in Britain (catalogue no: C1237) is a project conducted by the Migrant Community Refugee Forum (MRCF) which explores the experience of migrating to Britain and of growing up in the British Moroccan community.
  • The Chinese in Britain radio interviews (catalogue no: C1353) is a collection comprised of the uncut interviews from a radio series produced by Culture Wise for Radio 4 in 2007, which explored the lives of the Chinese that came to Britain before the 1960s and also interviewed second-generation  British-born Chinese.
  • The Irish Women Travellers (catalogue no: C1106) is a collection of life story interviews with women from the Irish Traveller community. The recordings are part of an oral history research project undertaken by Sue Beck for an MSc in Public Health and Health Promotion at South Bank University, which explores the health of these women across generations and across the life span.
  • Narratives of Exile and Return (catalogue no: C825) is a collection of interviews across three generations of Barbadian families, undertaken by Mary Chamberlain and originally for the Barbados Migration Project. A book Narratives of Exile and Return by Mary Chamberlain (Oxford: Macmillan/ New York: St. Martin 's Press, 1997) drew heavily on the interviews.
  • The Hallam Nursing Interviews (catalogue no: C768) documents the arrival of women that came from Barbados to Britain to train as nurses in the 1950s.
  • The Christie Davies interviews about East African Asians (catalogue no: C1067) collection comprises a series of interviews undertaken in East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) in the summer of 1969 by Christie Davies. The interviews are predominately with members of the East African Asian community and Africans, and supplemented with interviews with economists, members of the Welsh community in Tanzania, and a personnel officer in London. The recordings were made for a BBC radio programme, broadcast on 18 December 1969, BBC archive ref: 32759 (2) about the present condition and future prospects of the Asian community in East Africa as a result of their non-citizen status following Independence.
  • The Overseas Trained South Asian Geriatricians interviews (catalogue no: C1356) is a collection comprising the interviews from an ESRC funded research project 'Overseas Trained South Asian Doctors and the Development of Geriatric Medicine', which interviewed working and retired South Asian geriatricians in order to explore their experiences and contribution to the development of the care of older people in the UK. The research project reanalysed the 'Oral History of Geriatrics as a Medical Speciality' collection (see Oral History: medicine and health professionals collections page).

Post-colonialism

  • The British in India Oral Archive (catalogue no: C5) comprises the original tapes of two series of interviews carried out in September 1975-October 1976 (recorded in the UK), and December 1975-February 1976 (recorded in India and Pakistan), the result of a joint project between the NSA, IOLR and SOAS, under the auspices of the British in India Oral Archive Committee, in which a wide cross-section of people were interviewed including Earl Mountbatten, B. K. Nehru, and civil servants. The interviews cover the role of the Viceroy, the royal family, missionary work, the police force, the Indian Civil Service in Burma, trade and shipping in Calcutta, the Japanese invasion, the Nehru family. The interview series was conceived of as supplementing the BBC 's  'Plain Tales of the Raj ' radio series.
  • The India Office Library & Recorded Interviews (catalogue no: C63) collection comprises 125 interviews recorded for the India Office Library and Records (subsequently the Oriental and India Office Collection, British Library), mainly with British civil servants officers of the Indian Army, business, religious, legal and medical professionals, and their families, who worked in India before independence. There are also 14 interviews with Indians focusing on the same period, purchased by the British Library from Trevor Royle, and 10 interviews, donated by BBC Radio Scotland, recorded for its 1987 programme  'Going Home '.

Related recordings

Accessing the collections

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)
E oralhistory@bl.uk