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National Life Stories: Oral History of British Science

An Oral History of British Science is a national collection of in-depth, life story audio interviews with scientists and engineers accessible to everyone interested in the recent history of science and technology in Britain.  

The programme is an initiative of National Life Stories in association with the Science Museum, and with support from the Arcadia Fund.

An Oral History of British Science is a national collection of interviews with over 100 leading UK scientists and engineers, telling the stories of some of the most remarkable scientific and engineering discoveries of the past century as well as the personal stories of each individual.  Remarkably few scientists have previously been interviewed at length about their life and work, and this archive remedies that absence while preserving their memories for posterity to be used by researchers now and in the future.

Interviews, which last 10-15 hours, have been recorded under the project strands Made in Britain and A Changing Planet, and range across a variety of disciplines, which already include aeronautical and civil engineering, atmospheric and climate change science, computer hardware and software, electronics, geology, geophysics, glaciology, instrumentation, materials, meteorology, molecular biology and oceanography.  A number of shorter, on-location video interviews have also been filmed.

Over 1000 hours of unedited interviews are being made available in full on the British Library’s Sounds website, while the Voices of Science web resource offers curated access to audio and video highlights from the interviews organised by theme, discipline and interviewee.  It also provides links to the full unedited interviews and transcripts available to all worldwide via BL Sounds.  Personal biographies, photographs and links to other resources provide context for each scientist’s life and work. 

Further information about An Oral History of British Science, including the case for the programme, interview methodology and outputs, can be found on the British Library 'about us' pages, via the History of Science blog and through the National Life Stories Annual Reports.

Partners and sponsors

We are extremely grateful to the Arcadia Fund, who have generously funded two strands: Made in Britain and A Changing Planet.  We continue to fundraise to extend the programme of interviews.

Accessing the collection

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