Methodology

Oral history is widely recognised as an important methodology for such a history, as recorded oral histories provide access to social groups that areunder-represented in documentary archives and illuminates intimate lives and subjectivity (Thompson 2000).

Australian Generations builds upon the work of previous national oral history projects, including the BritishMillennium Memory Bank and Australia’s first national oral history project, the 1938 ‘slice’ of the Bicentennial History Project. By using a life history approach to explore the meanings of the remembered past in the present, and the relationship between individual experience and generational memory, we will extend oral history in new directions.

Recent oral history experience (Hammerton and Thomson 2005; Perks 2001) suggests that a total of 300, five hour interviews is sufficient for ‘theoretical saturation’ of historical patterns and will be manageable within the scale and resources of the project. Strategies employed to ensure interviews comprise a representative sample of Australia’s population include making the number of interviews in each state proportional to state population, and targeting selected areas to reach different demographic groups and to cover metropolitan, regional, and remote Australia. Local OHAA representatives will advise on target areas and support effective promotion in each state. Features on ABC regional radio and in local and regional newspapers will recruit potential interviewees. A biographical database based on written life summaries by each respondent will be used by the project Management Committee to select interviewees according to regional range, social diversity and age spread, and to then target under-represented groups through community organizations. To ensure inclusiveness of the 3% of the population that speaks English ‘not well or not at all’ (Australian Census 2006), up to 20 interviews with people who are not confident English-language speakers will be conducted in the most appropriate language and then transcribed and translated for archiving and analysis.

Each interview will comprise two sessions averaging five hours in total. The life history interview will be structured around life stages (background and beginnings, growing up and coming of age, building a life, making families, late life transitions), though interviewers will avoid normative expectations and support accounts that chart alternative life courses. Each interviewee will be photographed in a place, and/or with an object, that evokes the personal significance of the past in the present.