Regional Heritage Centre, Department of History Lancaster University
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Elizabeth Roberts’ Working Class Oral History Archive Digitisation Project - Funding Success!

The Regional Heritage Centre has been fundraising over the past eighteen months to support the digitisation of the Elizabeth Roberts’ Working Class Oral History Archive and an associated community project to be delivered in conjunction with Lancashire and Cumbria Archives.

This Oral History Archive was created during two pioneering research projects undertaken at Lancaster University in the 1970s and 1980s, which sought to capture the history of working class communities in north-west England, focusing particularly on the experience of people in Barrow-in-Furness, Lancaster and Preston between 1890 and 1970. This is one of the most important twentieth-century oral history archives in the UK, allowing us to hear the voices of people born in the late nineteenth century. Thanks to the degree of skill and sensitivity shown by the two interviewers, Elizabeth Roberts and Lucinda McCray Beier, the veracity and impact of the material are unusually high. Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History at the British Library, has said:

'Its significance as a pioneering oral history collection cannot be over-estimated'.

The impact of the Archive will be transformed once it is digitised and made accessible worldwide.

The Archive comprises 548 reel-to-reel interviews; in total, the Archive contains the oral testimony of over 260 respondents. Long-term preservation of the original reel-to-reel tapes is assured as they are now held in the sound collections of Lancashire Archives; audio CD copies of the interviews are held by Lancaster University Library. The Archive contains typed transcripts of the interviews, subject indexes and biographical details of each respondent. Many of the transcripts are now poorly legible and require re-typing, not scanning, in order to create digital copies.

Thanks to the succes of of fundraising campaign we will be able to run a project with the following key goals:

  • To digitise the transcripts of the interviews, enabling the long term preservation of their content
  • To incorporate the transcripts into a fully searchable, largely open access, on-line resource;
  • To design and create a dedicated website, with full search functionality;
  • To make extracts from the original audio recordings available online.

We will also enable a community history project with archive offices at Barrow and Preston. This will involve volunteers interviewing family members of the original interviewees, asking about their reactions to hearing the interview(s) given by their forebear, and gathering historic photographs, and perhaps photographing relevant artefacts, to form an online exhibition for presentation alongside the transcripts and sound clips of the Archive.

We are very pleased to acknowledge the support of the Sir John Fisher Foundation of Ulverston, who generously offered a challenge grant to kickstart our fundraising. We have subsequently been fortunate to receive funding from the following organisations:

The Aurelius Charitable Trust (Surrey); the Cumbrian Railways Association; the Elspeth J. Thompson Charitable Trust (Lancaster); the Friends of Cumbria Archives; the Friends of Lancashire Archives; the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire; the Kirkby Archives Trust (Carlisle); the Lancashire Local History Federation; the Mercers' Charitable Foundation (London); the Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire. We have also been generously supported by donations from a range of individual supporters and a legacy.

All funders will be kept informed of progress as the project develops.

For further discussion please contact:

Dr Sam Riches
Regional Heritage Centre
Department of History
Lancaster University

Direct line: 01524 594841


Thank you for helping us to meet our funding target!

We have now raised the £21,741 needed to enable the long-term preservation of the archive, and the associated community project.




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