Transcripts from the Nuffield College Oral History Project, 1961-1962

Scope and Content

Early in 1961, Nuffield College authorised an exploration of the possibilities of collecting Oral History records on the lines of the Columbia Oral History Project. Eight individuals were interviewed in the twelve months of the project; Anthony Wedgewood Benn, Caroline Wedgewood Benn, Sir Herbert Hutchinson, Dr Sheila Jones, Saul Rose, G.R. Strauss, Sir Douglas Veale and Kenneth Younger. This collection consists of the transcripts of those interviews.

Administrative / Biographical History

The experience obtained made it plain that this was a valuable, though very uneven, way of adding to the knowledge of events. It also made clear that there was a considerable amount of 'know-how' involved in planning and conducting interviews. (A leaflet on this was prepared, 'Staff and administration'). The systematic organisation of Oral History interviews was surprisingly time-consuming. Merely looking after the equipment and briefing interviewers presented problems. Typing, even with expert typists and a lucid, clearly spoken interview, took five to six times the duration of the interview (this meant that the typing cost for a two hour interview was well over £2 and ranged to £4). Long bouts of typing from tape could also be rather demoralising for the typist and arranging for typing was difficult in view of the irregular flow of material – and the availability of the tape recorder.

Subjects: There was no shortage of contributors to Oral History. The opportunity to reminisce was usually much enjoyed. Arranging times for interviews could be difficult, however, and, despite every guarantee of secrecy, some people were incurably reticent. Interviews were almost all with friends of the College, but there was no doubt that if the project had been taken further afield, plenty of cooperation would have been found. Interviewers: The supply of competent interviewers with available time was the greatest bottleneck. It was quite plain that the value of the interview turned greatly on the knowledge and expertise of the interviewers. However, the number of suitable people who knew (or had the skill and time to learn) the background to a projected interview was very limited.

Future policy: There perhaps was, and still is, a need for a large scale project on the Columbia model to be launched in Britain. However, this would have involved an outlay of resources (mainly human resources) which seemed to be beyond the personnel of the College at the time. At the very least it would have involved a full time secretary and administrator who was prepared to devote a third of his/her time to the project. The alternative to going ahead full scale was either to abandon the project or to regard it merely as a useful aid to any member of the College who was/is involved in research when the techniques of Oral History can usefully be applied. The lessons learnt were set down and the experience and the equipment accumulated put at the disposal of anyone in College. The experience was also intended to be available to anyone outside College.


By hanging files as follows: Record book, Description and correspondence, Anthony Wedgewood Benn, Caroline Wedgewood Benn, Anthony Wedgewood Benn, Sir Herbert Hutchinson, Dr Sheila Jones, Saul Rose, G.R. Strauss, Sir Douglas Veale, Kenneth Younger.

Access Information

By prior appointment only. Application in writing (letter or email) to the Assistant Librarian (Archives). See Nuffield College Archives location page for more details.

Other Finding Aids

The handlist for the Oral History Project collection can be found [online] Link:

Custodial History

The Oral History Project transcripts were deposited after the completion of the project in 1962.


Personal Names