Brooks, Margaret (1 of 8). Oral History of Oral History
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2013-02-12, 2013-04-09, 2013-05-15, 2013-07-16, 2013-09-05
The British Library
Brooks, Margaret (speaker, female)
Wilkinson, Robert (speaker, male)
Part 1: [Session one: 12 February 2013] Born in 1947 in New York City. Mother American, father English. Father was in the Royal Navy. He had been seconded to a Unit in the USA during the War and met her mother and married after the War. Mothers family was in Connecticut. Has a brother, William. Mother Anne and father Robin. Parents divorced; subsequently each found someone else. She used to go backwards and forwards between parents. Did her secondary education in the USA. Father's mother lived in Tunbridge Wells and he worked in advertising. He travelled internationally from time to time. Difficulty with keeping friendships as a result of moving. [10:00] Went to a state secondary school in Massachusetts. At school had dreams of working in a museum collecting things and writing lists. Used to visit father and family during the holidays. Talks about friendships. Lived in Lincoln, Massachusetts during secondary school days. [18:30] During weekends and after school she worked in the local library in Lincoln. Describes its content. Did well at school. Then went to an American college, Bryn Mawr outside Philadelphia. Quaker roots they founded three colleges Bryn Mawr for girls, Haverford for boys and Swarthmore which was mixed. Mentions that her secondary school English teacher had been to Oxford and had organised tutorials which helped her at university, where she majored in English Literature. [31:00] Whilst at university did work on housing projects as part of a social involvement programme through the Society of Friends. Era of Vietnam protests. Joined the Drama Society. The course was four years long, no burning vocation but applied to work in a library. She got a job as a cataloguer at Brandeis University Library, in Waltham, a suburb of Boston. After a while became tedious describes the work. Mentions buying food from a supermarket cheaply on a Saturday. Used to see her mother and grandparents quite regularly. [45:35] Mother did not work after marriage. Her husband was a neurologist. Margaret's brother went to Williams College in western Massachusetts. Then took a masters degree at Brandeis. Majored in English then a Master in Fine Arts Drama. He ended up as an arts fundraiser. [50:17] Went back to college accepted for postgraduate study at the University of Leeds Dept. of Folklife Studies. She was aged 24 then in 1972. Initially stayed in a guesthouse overlooking Headingly Cricket Ground. Enjoyed the course. They offered an option to do recording. Her father had given her a reel to reel tape recorder a decade before and she had done some recording. Her project was the design and construction of dry stone walls. She went round with a Uher open-reel recorder interviewing people in Yorkshire and also whilst on holiday in Cornwall did a couple more interviews. First contact with recording peoples memories. Help from staff with the equipment, reading list included George Ewart Evans and Ronald Blythe. [1:04:20] Describes the process of dry stone walling. Talks about throughs, stones which go right through the wall. In the 1970s they were mostly repairing 200 year old walls. She put adverts in local papers for interviewees, then word of mouth. Took b/w pictures of the walls. Recordings hopefully still in the library. Dialect words did get recorded but not her main interest. There were about 12 people on the MA course. Some were studying written sources. Tutor was AE (Tony) Green. He was recording variations of On Ilkley Moor Baht Hat at the time. Mentions a module on palaeography. She wrote down items to ask the dry stone wallers before interview. Regional and local variations came through. Dissertation, written exams and a viva led to a distinction. [1:26:00] In Autumn 1973 she saw an advert for a job as a librarian in the Printed Books Dept. in the Imperial War Museum and got a different job in the newly-established Dept. of Sound Records as they had seen her experience with the dry stone wallers. [1:31:00] Went to stay with her cousin in London. Found a flat in Archway. First day the director of the Dept., David Lance, was not there. Mentions other staff, another interviewer Martin Brice and a transcription typist, June. First project they had started was military and naval aviation of pre-war and First World War period. Margarets first project was on the First World War anti-war movement. The Museum was always concerned with collecting all aspects of war. Her next project was on munition workers. Talks about the difference between written and oral accounts. [1:45:30] There had been earlier recordings accessioned via the Special Collections Officer, some spoken word, some historic but no oral history. No audio technician employed then, a man came across from the nearby Central Office of Information. Describes office accommodation. Opened to the public in 1977. Conscientious objectors project she found interviewees via the Press, then word of mouth. Usually interviews took place in peoples homes. Recording studio was later built in the museum.
Life story interview with Margaret Brooks, former archivist and head of the Imperial War Museum’s Sound Archive.