Oral history – opportunities to work with leading organisations

Our students have worked with organisations across South West England, nationally, and internationally, to develop innovative projects and acquire employability skills and professional contacts.

These have included:

Britannia Royal Naval College

“School Days” – Britannia Trust Oral History Project’ (Heritage Lottery Fund)


Second-year BA (Hons) History students (2016-17) participated in this £45,000 Heritage Lottery Fund sponsored oral history research project 

to gather and preserve first-hand accounts of life as a naval officer cadet between the 1930s and 1980s. 

The interviews they planned and conducted helped to grow this archive which explored the early life of future British Royal Navy Officers.

For some students, this experience grew into longer-term connections. For example, in his third year, Ciaran Bishop went on develop an oral history of submariner life. In interviews with Royal Navy Submarine Commanders, he tracked technological change from diesel to nuclear propulsion and Cold War to post-Cold War submariner roles. He also interviewed the first female officer to serve on a RN Submarine.  

Find out more about the Naval College oral history project

Stonehouse, Time Bank

‘The 100 Homes History’

In 2018, this Heritage Lottery Fund project to record stories of residents in the Stone House area of Plymouth won two major awards:

The Community Archives & Heritage Award and Best Community Archive and Heritage Group of 2018

Just one year prior, Donna Maughan, in her 2nd year BA (Hons) History, volunteered with the Project, conducing an oral history with its founder. Since then, she has gone on to play a central role in the leadership and organisation of this ground-breaking Project. 

Find out about the project 100 Homes Oral History Project

Royal Naval Museum – Devonport

Oral Histories with Submariners of the HMS Courageous, nuclear submarine


In 2019, second-year BA (Hons) History and BA (Hons) Anthropology were invited by the Royal Naval Museum (Devonport) to collect stories and memories of life of submariners who served on the Royal Navy nuclear submarine, HMS Courageous, now de-commissioned but whose fame comes from the instrumental role it played in the Falklands War and the sinking of the Belgrano.

In addition to preserving 'history at risk', interviews often generate a strong sense of connection.

According to Mr. Sid White, who was instrumental in arranging the interviews:

‘The making of the recordings were a mutually beneficial experience [for submariners and students]. I know that each of the ex-submariners taking part enjoyed the moment and were very complimentary about the students who guided them through the whole experience. Thank you for keeping the recordings safe for us. I know that it is a comfort to many of those who took part in the project that their interviews will be kept for posterity under the stewardship of the [Royal Navy Museum].’

Theatre Alibi, St. Thomas, Exeter

‘Discovering the Hidden Stories of St Thomas’ (Heritage Lottery Fund)

In 2019, a small pop-up exhibition to collect and preserve stories of St Thomas attracted unexpectedly enthusiastic attention of this changing community, so much so that it won £22,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. 

In formal partnership with University of Plymouth History Unit, a number of second and third-year BA (Hons) History students volunteered to help conduct oral history interviews. In the stories they collected, memories were narrated of the Second World War blitz of Exeter, social life with African American GIs based there, the speedway, market gardens, and a period of of the twentieth century just about to disappear.

Find out more about St Thomas Stories

Royal Air Force Museum

‘Big Stories Weekend’ (Heritage Lottery Fund)

On 26 November 2019, University of Plymouth students hosted the Royal Air Force Museum’s ‘Big Stories Weekend’. 

Using a specially designed app, they met with current and former members of the Royal Air Force, their family and friends to gather memories of life in the Royal Air Force.

Poignant, moving, funny, sometimes difficult, these interviews sparked powerful engagements with the past, motivating some individuals to conduct full length oral history interviews with upper-level (MA and BA Hons 3rd year) students.

Find out more about RAF Stories big weekend:

Commonwealth War Graves Memorial

‘Lest We Forget Plymouth Roadshow’

In February 2019, University of Plymouth History students took part in the CWGC Digital Collection Day in the Roland Levinsky Building. 

People from the Plymouth area brought in artefacts from World War I. Our students, using a method of oral called 'object-driven life story interviews' to develop a full digitised record of the artefact, its value, and especially memories surrounding it.

The objects ranged from collections of medals, documents and photos, to uniform caps and trench art.

You can find out more about the project and the WWI artefacts digitised by Plymouth students on the Lest We Forget website.

University of Plymouth and University of Lethbridge (Centre for Oral History and Tradition)

The Transnational Oral History Masterclass

The Transnational Oral History Symposium and Masterclass is an international research event started in 2016 that live-streams in real-time research papers given by leading scholars and postgraduate students situated on opposite sides of the Atlantic, including the University of Plymouth and the University of Lethbridge's Centre for Oral History and Tradition (COHT) in Canada. 

The event aims to generate transnational dialogue and shared scholarly focus by overcoming distance through web technology. 

Speakers and topics have included:

2019–2020 – 4th Annual Masterclass: Postgraduate Oral History Research, ‘Race, Colonialism, Gender’

  • Emily Hough (MA History, University of Plymouth) – ‘The Effects of Settler Colonialism in Hawai’i, 1941-2000’
  • Darcy Tamayose (MA History, University of Lethbridge, Canada) – ‘There is an island between China and Japan known as Okinawa’
  • Elaine Toth (MA History, University of Lethbridge, Canada) – ‘Go Between: Oral History and the Navigation of Japanese-White Cross-Cultural Experience in Inter-Racial Marriages’

2018–2019 – 3rd Annual Masterclass: Remembering the Spanish Flu Pandemic in Oral History

  • Dr Ida Milne (Carlow College, Ireland) – ‘Memory and change: the 1918-19 influenza pandemic in Ireland’
  • Professor Esyllt Jones (University of Manitoba, Canada) – ‘What Is an Epidemic? Influenza, Memory and Oral History’

 2017–2018 – 2nd Annual Masterclass: Intergenerational Inheritance

  • Dr Alan Butler (University of Plymouth) – ‘Different to what’s come before?: Archiving and sharing ephemeral LGBT histories with the next generation’
  • Dr Suzanne Lenon (University of Lethbridge, Canada) – ‘Inheritance as Active Practice: Meaning Making and Social Intimacies in Southern Alberta’

2016–2017 – 1st Annual Masterclass: Silence

  • Dr Jane Harrold (Britannia Royal Naval College, UK) – ‘Silence’
  • Dr J D Mackintosh (University of Plymouth, UK) – ‘Nikkei History’

Journal of the Pandemic Year: An Archive of COVID-19

University of Plymouth History – ‘The Corona Files’

The word ‘unprecedented’ has become a by-word for the Corona-Virus pandemic of 2020. Fast-evolving, it has up-ended lives around the world. 

To capture this experience in words, images, and all manner of expressions for future researchers, as well as generate discussion now on how to process this event, University of Plymouth History students are collecting a diverse range of stories from their own communities: care homes, the NHS, mobile hair-dressers, family members, tattoo artists, to mention a few. 

Once processed, we will add these to the innovative international digital archive, the ‘Journal of the Pandemic Year: An Archive of COVID-19’, where together, we can help to narrate our shared global experience of the Pandemic.

Share your story with the Journal of the Pandemic Year and hear other people's pandemic stories.

University of Plymouth, Britannia Royal Naval College

PTSD – DSTP

(Post-traumatic stress disorder – Digital story-telling project)

This pilot project explores the use of social media in the military, and brings together Dr Jane Harrold and Dr Richard Porter at the Britannia Royal Naval College and Dr Darren J Aoki, Lecturer in World History at the University of Plymouth. 

The project has opened opportunities for students to conduct preliminary data-analysis on the use and evolution of different public platforms in the virtual (self-) representation of military life more generally and PTSD specifically.