Oral histories of migration, ethnicity and post-colonialism

Black and white photograph of people leaving a plane. Image courtesy of Daily Herald Archive.
Photograph courtesy of Daily Herald Archive/NMEM/SSPL

Our oral history interviews explore ethnicity and post-colonial experience in the UK. These include interviews with refugees and migrants.

About the collection

Our collections related to ethnicity and post-colonialism are particularly strong in relation to British rule in the Indian subcontinent.

Issues of ethnicity and migration feature in many life story recordings, particularly in those that offer surveys of British life such as the Millennium Memory Bank, which included over 90 interviews collected by the BBC Asian Network. For more information see major national oral history projects and surveys.

Topics of ethnicity and migration are also explored in oral histories of religion and beliefs. We also have material relating to experiences of Jews in Britain.

What is available online?

  • The Listening Project has many recordings of one-to-one conversations between friends or relatives on the subject of migration. Each conversation lasts up to an hour and was recorded by the BBC.
  • Inspiring Scientists records the life stories of ten British scientists with minority ethnic heritage and covers issues such as being a minority in science, influences in their childhoods and the fun and importance of science both to themselves and to the wider community. You can watch video clips of the interviews and read about the project findings at the Inspiring Scientists project page.
  • An additional package of clips and images focuses on four themes: Gender, Ethnicity (Jewish migrant scientists), Disability and Socio-economic background/varied routes into science.
  • The full audio interviews created for and used by Inspiring Scientists, which range from 6 to 10.5 hours per interviewee, are available on the British Library Sounds website.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Refugee experience

  • The Vietnamese Oral History project comprises 98 interviews with refugees from Vietnam to the United Kingdom recorded in 2003, 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; over 40 have summaries in English.
  • The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum Archive includes dubbed recordings charting Polish affairs and the work of Polish Government in Exile during World War Two.
  • The Central British Fund Kindertransport interviews looks at the efforts made to help Jewish children escape Nazi Germany and the experiences of children who came to Britain as part of the Kindertransport.

Ethnicity and migration

  • Moroccan Memories in Britain is a project conducted by the Migrant Community Refugee Forum (MRCF) in 2007-2008 which explores the experience of migrating to Britain and of growing up in the British Moroccan community.
  • The Chinese in Britain radio interviews 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 is a collection of life story interviews with women from the Irish Traveller community recorded in 2003. The recordings are part of an oral history research project undertaken by Sue Beck at South Bank University, which explores the health of these women across generations and across the life span.
  • Narratives of Exile and Return is a collection of interviews across three generations of Barbadian families, undertaken by Mary Chamberlain between 1992 and 1994 for the Barbados Migration Project. Her book Narratives of Exile and Return drew heavily on the interviews.
  • The Hallam Nursing Interviews documents the arrival of women that came from Barbados to Britain to train as nurses in the 1950s, recorded in 1993.
  • The Christie Davies interviews about East African Asians collection comprises a series of interviews with Asians and Africans in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in 1969. The interviews are supplemented with interviews with economists, members of the Welsh community in Tanzania, and a personnel officer in London.
  • The Overseas Trained South Asian Geriatricians interviews explore the experiences working and retired South Asian geriatricians and their contribution to the care of older people in the UK.
  • The Oral Histories of British Goans from Colonial East Africa  is a collection of over 30 audio and video interviews recorded between 2011 and 2012 by the Goan Association UK. The project aimed to record oral histories of the Goan Community living in the UK. Over 20 of the video interviews are available to watch in the Reading Rooms. You can watch selected video extracts at the Memories of Kenya website.

British rule in India