I learn from the Heritage Council that Waterways Ireland is seeking tenders for a pilot oral history project. The winner is to
Undertake a minimum of 3 interviews per waterway under our jurisdiction (see list above in Introduction). Any interviews relating to the Ulster Canal will be included as part of the Lough Erne Collection for the purposes of this pilot project. […] The interview questionnaire (to be agreed with Waterways Ireland) should endeavour to elicit material that adds to our existing archive, would be beneficial in our schools education programme and used in a broader promotion capacity.
Devise an oral history handbook for Waterways Ireland so staff members and community groups can advance this project in years to come.
Deliver training on best practices and guidelines in oral history interview skills and techniques. All training to be delivered in Waterways Ireland offices.
This is very interesting for several reasons. Let me get two quibbles out of the way first:
- Why is the Clones Sheugh treated as part of the Erne? And why mention that specifically? What sensitivity is being addressed here?
- Why is this tender not mentioned on WI’s Tenders page or the Current tenders page to which it links or anywhere else that the WI search engine can find?
I think there are four important points about this.
First, it is good that WI is devoting resources to the collection of oral history.
Second, it is good that it has applications in mind for the material: it may be used both in WI educational programmes and in marketing.
Third, the requirement for a training programme and a handbook is yet more evidence [on top of Éanna Rowe’s appointment to manage the Shannon] that the balance of skills required within Waterways Ireland nowadays is different from that of the past. While engineering will always be important, given the extent of the waterways infrastructure that has to be maintained, WI needs a higher proportion of people engaging with users, potential users and communities or devising product variants to attract such users. The marketing department can’t do all the work by itself.
Fourth, it is good that “community groups” as well as “staff members” will be able to use the oral history handbook. I hope that the term “community groups” won’t be interpreted too strictly — that individual amateur historians, for example, will be able to use the handbook — so that all waterways oral history can follow a common format, that the records are conserved properly and that the appropriate consents to the use of the material are collected at the time of the interview.
I should perhaps make a declaration of non-interest: I am much occupied with the waterways of the early nineteenth century but have not, so far, found any survivors from that time whom I could interview. But I might, perhaps, be allowed to express the hope that WI won’t altogether neglect such earlier history, about which there is much yet to be learned.