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University oral history project searching for students and staff to take part

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A university project is now looking for student participants to take part in an oral history project about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The oral history project, which received funding from the Vice Chancellor’s fund last year, comprises of a team of three staff: Dr Stephen Bowman, a lecturer in History; Sarah Bromage, Head of the University Art Collection and Rosie Al-Mulla, Assistant Archivist & Archivist for the Scottish Political Archive.

To be eligible to participate, staff must have been working at the university for at least three months between January 2020 and January 2021.

The project team are particularly interested in talking to cleaning and catering staff as this is a group which is currently underrepresented in their sample.

The project is now recruiting student participants for interview as part of the project . To be eligible to participate in the project they must fit one of the following requirements:

  • Students must have been commencing their first year of study at the University on or before 1st October 2020.
  • Students must have been studying at the University for at least one academic year during the period 2019-2022.

Eligible students will then participate in a video call via Microsoft Teams with a fellow student or recent graduate of the university who has been trained in conducting oral history interviews.

If students don’t meet the criteria to participate in the oral history project interviews they can submit images, diaries or writing to the Pandemic Archive which is currently open to submissions.

Details of what the archive is collecting are available here. The deposit form can be found here.

After participating in the project , participants are sent an aftercare email which details organisations that can offer support if they are struggling with anything that arose during the interview.

Some of those involved as interviewers in the project spoke to Brig about their involvement.

Explaining why the pandemic oral history project was devised Sarah Bromage, Head of the University Art Collection said: “I was very conscious of this, just such a big thing in all our lives that actually the university’s collections had to represent that, whether it was the art collection or the archives.

“I think it was [Dr Stephen Bowan] who perhaps talked about doing oral history and I had worked previously in an oral history archive so I liked the idea of collecting personal reminiscences alongside the pandemic diaries, photographs and physical publications and leaflets and the art that we were collecting to represent personal experiences of COVID.”

Dr Bowman then explained why oral history was chosen as the particular method of capturing the personal experiences of the pandemic. The project aimed to record “people’s experiences of how that (the pandemic) felt at the time, and trying to really capture that evidence whilst people remembered” and therefore oral history “made sense”.

Dr Bowman then explained that: “The university was open for some people during the pandemic, some people remained on campus and some folk travelled back to other countries.”

He added: “We have a diverse community at the university and oral history can capture that diverse experience of the pandemic.”

Reflecting on the decision that students at the university would be interviewing other students about their experiences of the pandemic, rather than staff conducting all interviews, Bromage highlighted a few reasons for that decision.

“We (the staff team) felt that you would be more relatable, you would understand each others experience more.” He continued, believing that students “would shape the interview in a different way than we (the staff) would because we don’t have the same experience as [the students].

“We felt it was really important that it wasn’t just a staff project, that it was really involving and being shaped by the student body as well.”

Image Credit: Rosie Al-Mulla

Rosie Al-Mulla, who is an Assistant Archivist & Archivist for the Scottish Political Archive, explained more: “I think we didn’t want students to think they were getting a grilling from staff members either” because there may be that “slight change in dynamic where if you are staff and somebody is a student or a recent graduate […] I didn’t want it to feel like they had to watch what they are saying because I’m employed by the university or something.”

Al-Mulla described it as “wonderful to get students involved in the almost administrative side of the project as well.”

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Image Credit: Harry Cunningham @harry.digital on Pexels.com

The team involved in the project are hopeful that they will be able to co-author a journal article between staff and the students which will “bring together various aspects of the project,” according to Dr Bowman.

Why did the students get involved?

Brig also spoke to some of the students who were involved in the project to understand why they got involved.

Callum Paul, who studies Heritage and Tourism, is one of the students at the university who has been involved in the project. He thought it would “be a great experience to do something outside of my comfort zone, and is something that I’ve always had an interest in but never really had the opportunity before.”

Paul also says that they got involved with the project because it was a “great chance to document” the pandemic, which they describe as a “massive event”.

Kat Pruente, who studying for an MSc in Historical Research at the university, says that one of the interesting things is the “reaction of other students if you tell them about the project and how keen people are to get involved and how positive that reaction is every time.”

“My main reason for getting involved was the challenge.” Pruente describes the project as “essentially history in the making, I thought that was really interesting”

Duncan Amstrong is a History and Politics undergraduate, who says he “liked the idea of contributing to a project which will have, hopefully lasting benefit for generations to come,” and describes the project as a “good opportunity to try and build up those kind of (interview) skills as well.”

Nicky Foley, a Film and Media student, explained that she “really loved interviewing people and hearing their stories,” and describes the project as “so important for the future”.

Tomaz Wojcik-Leese studies History as an undergraduate student and said: “I chose to do this project because most of the time I interest myself in ancient history.

“I can’t really interview Lucius Cassius Dio, but I can interview people and have a personal connection with people through this project.

“My hope is that with this I can gain some experience for going into other projects of the type, and also just help people work through anything that they may need to.”

women sitting on table with cups of coffee and laptop
Photo by Edmond Dantès on Pexels.com

Commenting on the project undertaken by staff and students, Professor Neville Wylie, Deputy Principal (Internationalisation) at the University of Stirling said: “The pandemic marks one of the most important events in the University’s brief history, having a profound effect on not just those who lived through it but also on the way the University operates.

“This very important project documents the experiences of our staff and students during the pandemic and will ensure a permanent record of this time in our archives.”

If individuals wish to take part in an interview, they can email Rosie Al-Mulla at: rosie.al-mulla@stir.ac.uk detailing:

  • your name,
  • your course title and dates of study,
  • any dates/periods of time when you know you are unavailable for an interview. 

Featured Image Credit: Nicky Foley

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