National Life Stories: An Oral History of British Science

Fossil beetle remains viewed through Russell Coope's microscrope, image courtesy of Hamish Nicholson
Fossil beetle remains viewed through Russell Coope's microscrope. Image courtesy of Hamish Nicholson

Life story audio interviews with scientists and engineers

Published date:

An Oral History of British Science (collection number: C1379) 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, Royal Society, 1851 Royal Commission, and Templeton Religious Trust. Over one hundred interviews are now available online at British Library Sounds.

Initiated in 2009, 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. Before this project few British scientists had been interviewed at length about their life and work.  The collection includes a set of recordings with ethnic minority British scientists conducted for a collaborative project with the Royal Society, Inspiring Scientists: Diversity in British Science.  These are available here and an STEM teaching resource using the material is here.

National Life Stories is a partner in the Science and Religion: exploring the spectrum project, funded by the Templeton Religion Trust, with researchers involved based at Newman University, York University (Canada), the University of Kent and NLS.  The 30 life stories recorded by NLS are with scientists, theologians, philosophers, journalists, film-makers and others who have contributed to public debates on relations between science and religion, and are catalogued in the collection Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum Life Story Interviews, (collection number: C1672) and many are now available in full at British Library Sounds

This programme of life stories preserves the memories of the interviewees for use by researchers of all kinds, now and in the future. Interviews, typically lasting 10-15 hours, range across a great variety of fields, from aeronautical engineering and computer science, to climate change, materials and physics. Interviewees range from Nobel Prize winners to lab technicians, computer programmers to field scientists, and design engineers to oceanographers, from a range of different social, educational, religious and ethnic backgrounds. The collection also includes a number of shorter, on-location video interviews.

Further information on the background to the project and its methodology can be found on Voices of Science, alongside biographies and extracts from interviews. A more detailed guide to the collection can be found on the oral histories of science and technology page. 

Access the recordings

Read more about the programme via An Oral History of British Science project proposal and a list of UK oral history of science collections and projects. There are also several articles in the National Life Stories Annual Reviews: Introducing An Oral History of British Science; Gendered cultures of science; Video oral history; Part of the Scientist’s Toolkit and  Moving and being: the life stories of ethnic minority British scientists.

An Oral History of British Science Advisory Committee

  • Professor Jon Agar
  • Dr Tilly Blyth
  • Lord Alec Broers
  • Georgina Ferry (chair)
  • Professor Dame Julia Higgins
  • Dr Maja Kominko
  • John Lynch OBE
  • Professor Chris Rapley CBE
  • Dr Simone Turchetti

National Life Stories gratefully acknowledges the support of the following funders for An Oral History of British Science

The Arcadia Fund

The Science Museum

The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851

The Royal Society

Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers

Contact us

If you have any queries regarding the Oral History of British Science programme please contact us at: 

National Life Stories
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel +44 (0)20 7412 7404





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