The Life Story in Oral History Practice: A Two-Day International Symposium

Brian Wall in profile against a blue background, wearing headphones and speaking into a microphone.

For more information

  • Tel: +44 (0)1937 546546
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  • From £10 – £45 Sold out

A ground-breaking international two-day symposium hosted by National Life Stories at the British Library, re-examining the role of life story recording in oral history interview practice: fieldwork, access and archiving, analysis and future technologies, re-use and public outputs.

This event takes place at the British Library.

Full Symposium and Single Day Passes allow access to all sessions on relevant days. All the sessions take place in the Pigott Theatre of the British Library Knowledge Centre.

  • Book for the Full Symposium Pass £45 (Friday sessions including lunch, Friday evening reception and public event and Saturday sessions including lunch)
  • Book for the Friday Pass £25 (Friday sessions including lunch, Friday evening reception and public event)
  • Book for the Friday Evening Pass £10 (Friday evening reception and public event)
  • Book for the Saturday Pass £25 (Saturday sessions including lunch)

Lunch is provided as part of the ticket price on both Friday and the Saturday. All food provided will be vegetarian. 10 days prior to the event the National Life Stories team will contact all those who have booked a ticket to request information about additional dietary requirements.  

This event will not be live-streamed.

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Friday 30 June 2023

Friday daytime sessions

09.45      Doors open

10.05     Welcome from Mary Stewart (NLS Director)

10.1511.30       Inclusion or imposition? The life history interview between democratising impulses and data-grab ambitions

Alexander Freund (Professor of History and Chair in German-Canadian Studies at the University of Winnipeg, Canada) chaired by Rob Perks (Former NLS Director)

11.4513.00       Life stories in practice

Wendy Rickard (Oral historian and health researcher) – ‘The longitudinal approach and life stories with younger people’

Madeline White (NLS Deputy Director) – ‘Why the life story is different: a case study researching Holocaust testimonies’

Liz Wright (National Life Stories Interviewer) – ‘Tacit knowledge and creativity in the life stories of craftspeople and designers’

Chair – Alan Dein (journalist and oral historian)

13.0014.00       Lunch (provided)

14.0015.15       Life stories in an inhospitable landscape: Doing oral history interviews for institutional archives

Indira Chowdhury (Founder-Director of the Centre for Public History, Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru, India) in conversation with Niamh Dillon (NLS Project Director)

15.3017.00       Democratising access? The interface of new technologies and archived life stories

Panel session on archiving, ethics, preservation and access to life story recordings including new discovery technologies such as voice recognition and auto indexing/tagging

Chaired by Andrew Flinn (Reader in Archival Studies and Oral History, University College London) with Doug Boyd (Director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky, USA), Charlie Morgan (NLS Archivist) and Julianne Nyhan (Professor of Humanities Data Science and Methodology, TU Darmstadt, Germany and Professor of Digital Humanities (part-time) University College London)


Friday evening reception and public event

17.15   Doors open for people attending only the Friday evening event

17.4519.00      Drinks reception

19.00–21.00      The value of life stories of the environment

Evening event to mark the launch of the new ‘Discovering Science’ website encompassing the celebration of the end of the National Life Stories project, ‘An Oral History of Farming, Land Management and Conservation in Post-War Britain’. 

Sally Horrocks (Senior Academic Advisor for Science, NLS, and Associate Professor in Contemporary British History, University of Leicester) – welcome and brief overview of the NLS science and environment programme

Jon Agar (Professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies, University College London) in discussion with Paul Merchant (NLS Oral Historian), Sally Horrocks and Fiona Harvey (leading journalist and environment editor at The Guardian)

We are grateful for the support of Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.


Saturday 1 July 2023

09.45   Doors open

10.1511.15      The artist’s life story

Hew Locke OBE RA (British sculptor) in conversation with Hester Westley (NLS Project Director) about making his longitudinal life story recording for 'Artists' Lives'. Hew will discuss why the life story is the ideal vehicle for artists to explore the autobiographical contexts of production and reception of their artwork.

11.30–12.45       Using oral history archives and interpreting life story interviews: The researcher experience

Al Thomson (Professor of History at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia and President of Oral History Australia) chaired by Mary Stewart (NLS Director)

12.45–13.45       Lunch (provided)


13.4515.00       Life stories: Looking forward

Panel discussion chaired by Donald Ritchie (Historian Emeritus of the United States Senate and author of Doing Oral History


Image: Brian Wall in a remote recording. Photo © Pat Mazzera.


Name: The Life Story in Oral History Practice: A Two-Day International Symposium
Where: Pigott Theatre
The Knowledge Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Show Map      How to get to the Library
When: -
Price: From £10 – £45
Sold out
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546