Oral History Project
The History of Parliament's Oral History project is working with the British Library to create a sound archive of British poltiics since 1945, and will provide a unique record of post-2nd World War British political history. It is inspired by the 1930s project of the History of Parliament's founder, Colonel Josiah Wedgwood, which used a questionnaire to capture from MPs who sat in Parliament from 1885 to 1918 impressions of their political careers. These formed the basis for biographical sketches of each Member.
The project goes well beyond Wedgwood's, however. Initially focussing on parliamentarians, it is intended to interview as many former Members of the House of Commons as possible. A series of questions, based loosely on Wedgwood's questionnaire, will form the basis for the interviews. The questionnaire has been drawn up in collaboration with academic partners to provide insights into the development of political careers in the second half of the twentieth century, and to illuminate the changing patterns of parliamentary politics, in particular: the professionalization of politics; the history of the constituency surgery and the development of constituency pressures; the changes in parliamentary lobbying; the relationship with constituency parties, and with councillors and other local activists; the increase in parliamentary activity, particularly select committees, all-party groups and other activities at Westminster; the history of election campaigns.
While it will draw out unique information possessed by Members about their activities within Parliament and their impressions of it, the project will also make a particular point of collecting information about Members' constituency links and other extra-parliamentary activities: campaigns and contacts with lobby groups; local links to newspapers and local campaigns and so on. Our 'life story' interviews collect a great deal of rich and detailed material from the individuals we have spoken to that goes far beyond parliament.
The History of Parliament Trust was supported generously by Dods Parliamentary Companion on setting up the initial project. We also work with the Association of Former Members of Parliament on contacting former Members, and obtaining further publicity for the project. We rely on a brilliant team of volunteers to undertake our interviews, with support throughout from the British Library.
The project has now been up and running since November 2011 and our volunteers have already interviewed over 200 former Members. 176 interviews have now been deposited at the British Library. The Sound Archive is now making many of these interviews available to listen online, which you can access here. For other interviews, you can read summaries of the interviews online and listen to the full recordings onsite at the British Library. To search the collection, visit the British Library Sound Archive Catalogue and search for ‘The History of Parliament’. For more information on some of interviewees, please see our research pages.
In 2020 Emma Peplow and Priscila Pivatto published an introduction to the archive, The Political Lives of Postwar British MPs: An Oral History of Parliament. This is now available in paperback and hardback via Bloomsbury Academic.
The History is keen to attract people with interest in and knowledge of British postwar political history to act as interviewers. If you would like to become part of the team, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.