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Oral history: social policy and social movements

The oral history collections at the British Library include recordings focusing on specific movements, such as the trade union movement and the women's movement, as well as collections recording the lives of key figures in social policy work and social movements.

Social policy

  • Pioneers in Charity and Social Welfare (C1155), a National Life Stories project, records the memories and experiences of key figures in welfare and charitable work. Interviewees include Joel Joffe, Janet Newman, Olive Stevenson, Mary Barnes, Bill Utting and Ken Leech.
  • An interview with Baroness Lucy Faithfull, director of Social Services for Oxford City Council between 1970 and 1974, and founder of the Lucy Faithful Society, a child protection agency helping sexually abused children and their families, is included in the National Life Stories project Leaders of National Life (C408).
  • Interviews with Priscilla Young, social workers since the 1940s and founding member of the Association of Social Work Teachers, and with Peter Townsend, social scientist at the forefront of poverty studies since the 1950s, are included in the NSA: General (catalogue no: C465) collection.
  • Care Leavers' Stories Project (catalogue no: C1597) is a collection of video interviews of people whose lives have been affected by their experiences in care, including residential and foster care. This project was coordinated by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Four volunteer interviewers, themselves formerly in care, were trained in oral history interviewing techniques and conducted the interviews.

Social issues and social movements

  • The Fire Brigades Union (catalogue no: C518) project consists of 28 interviews and was conducted as part of an Essex University PhD on Fire Brigade Unions.
  • An interview with trade union leader Jack Jones is also included in the National Life Stories project Leaders of National Life (catalogue no: C408).
  • The National Co-operative Society Oral History Project (catalogue no: C739) is a series of life story interviews with active members of the Co-operative movement from all over Britain, administered by the Co-operative College, Stanford Hall, Loughborough. Interviews cover many aspects of the Co-operative movement and Co-operative societies, including the retail and wholesale businesses, the Co-op Bank and Building Society, CIS (Co-operative Insurance Society), the Co-operative Party, the Labour Party and the Labour League of Youth, Socialist Sunday Schools, the Communist Party, Co-operative Youth, St Mary's Guild, Woodcraft Folk and the Co-operative Women's Guild.
  • Interviews with Animal Welfare activists (catalogue no: C894) is a collection of oral history interviews with people active in the animal welfare and animal rights movement in Britain, including the Hunt Saboteurs Association, Chickens Lib, RSPCA Reform Group, League Against Cruel Sports, Animal Liberation Front, Compassion in World Farming and other organisations campaigning against animal experimentation and maltreatment.
  • The Women's Liberation Movement collection (catalogue no: C546) is comprised of 4 interviews with activists in the women's movement in Britain and overseas, covering a wide range of topics in the field of women's liberation activism. Interviewees include Oonagh Marron and Mandana Hendessi.
  • The Ronald Fraser Interviews: 1968 – A Student Generation in Revolt (catalogue no: C896) collection includes interviews with student activists about the events of 1968 in Britain and the United States, carried out for Fraser's book entitled 1968: A Student Generation in Revolt' (London: Chatto & Windus, 1988). The collection includes interviews with lecturers and students, including: Sally Alexander, Tariq Ali, Anna Davin, Jeffrey Dudgeon, David Fernbach, Paul Ginsborg, Fred Halliday, Geoffrey Hawthorn, Paul Hirst, Kim Howells, Martin Jacques, Bernadette McAliskey (Devlin), Sheila Rowbotham, David Triesman and Hilary Wainwright.
  • The Hornsey College of Art Oral History Project (catalogue no: C1374) is a collection of 15 interviews conducted by staff at Middlesex University centring on the events of 1968 student sit-in.

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
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)