Why ‘hearing it’ is so important by Julia Letts

December 12, 2012

Over the past few weeks I have been listening back to the ‘Black Country Stories’ that I’ve recorded during the last six months. The stories are the personal memories and experiences of a wide range of people, who were photographed by Martin Parr earlier this year. And these people are as diverse as they are fascinating. My knowledge of looking after ferrets, the work of Wolverhampton’s Inter Faith Group, how to run a food bank and where to find vintage clothes has increased amazingly!

These stories will create an archive which will be kept safe by the local councils, be accessible to the public and preserved for future generations. One of my interviewees described the archive as a ‘time stamp’ and I rather like this phrase. It sums up what we’re trying to do – provide a snap shot of Black Country life in 2012. But instead of burying this time capsule of stories, we want to share it with you – both now and in the future. For that reason, I’ve been listening back to the interviews and picking out a few extracts for our website.

As an oral historian, I firmly believe that you need to hear the recordings… not just read transcripts of them. There’s something very important about the way people say things… the words they use, the pace of their delivery, the emphasis they put on things, and their silences; what they don’t say, the pauses, the sighs, the hesitations. And of course there’s the accents too. Listening back to more than 20 hours of recordings has reinforced my passion in the ‘orality’ of oral history.

So if you find Martin Parr’s gallery of photos, you will also see an audio symbol on some of pictures. Click on them. You’ll be taken to a world of hairdressing, brewing, school life, pubs and partying, churches, dancehalls, factories, fashion and adventure. Enjoy listening to the voices. They reveal as much as the photographs do about Black Country life.