As part of the Echoes of Holloway Prison project volunteers were trained to record oral histories with people linked to the prison. Jessie Goodison Burgess wrote about her experience:
On the last day of February, a group of nine women braved the cold snowy weather and gathered together in the Islington Museum education room, ready to learn about oral history.
The group varied in ages and professions, from historians and students, to artists and a member of the justice network. All had an interest in oral history, with different levels of experience in the field, and were excited to apply this form of documentation to the Echoes of Holloway Prison project.
The seminar, led by Jen Kavanagh, was a whistle-stop tour of the basics of oral history: how to conduct an interview, both ethically and technically, and how oral histories can be used as a form of historical documentation. The difficulties of using memory as a historical record were stressed. Oral History as a field relies completely on memory, and so can’t be treated as factual evidence. However, it can express a new level of emotion and personal experience that other historical documentation cannot achieve, which is exactly what we wanted to accomplish through the study into life around Holloway Prison.
The seminar summed up with a practice between ourselves, using open questions to find out small details about each other’s lives. This practice was a success, each interviewer satisfied with the detailed accounts that could be achieved through an open conversation. We all came out assured that together we could contribute a narrative to Echoes of Holloway Prison by leading interviews with those who had been involved with the prison.
Echoes of Holloway Prison aims to look beyond the stone walls of the prison building, and focus on the lives that were affected by the correctional facility over the 20th century. Oral history allows for this more humanising approach. In one-on-one conversational interview settings, our oral history volunteers will aim to document personal stories of life around London’s last women’s prison.
Holloway Prison affected many lives during its 164-year lifetime, from the inside and the outside, and undoubtedly has many stories to tell through those connected to it. These stories can become part of a valuable historical record of histories from below, as the importance of personal stories and remembrances will be emphasised and subsequently preserved for future generations.