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Listening to London

Listening to London is a community-led research project, making space for new voices and interpretations of our Oral History collection.

The Museum of London is preparing to move to a new home in 2024 at West Smithfield market. This gives us a rare and exciting opportunity to rethink what we do and how we do it.

As part of the move, we are under-going a deep review of our collections, our galleries, mission, content and our role in the lives of Londoners. One of the key collections we are reviewing in light of this is our Oral History collection.

Listening to London oral history participants

Oral history participants

Faces of a few of the Londoners whose life stories form part of our Oral History collection

Listening to London oral history three female participants

Three participants share their stories as part of a community history project in Lewisham in 2002

Our museum has been collecting the life stories of Londoners since the 1980s. Our Oral History collection contains some 5,000 hours of recorded interviews with a wide variety of people - containing 21 different languages and covering topics from Windrush and refugees to taxi drivers’ tales and 1950s teenage wisdom. Londoners’ memories are important to us, and some of our most powerful are held within this collection - it holds stories of people otherwise underrepresented in historical record, in their own words.

Right now, only a fraction of this rich collection is publically accessible in our galleries and online; there is a huge amount of material waiting to be discovered. The collection is mainly accessed by curators and academic researchers at present. These researchers’ training and life experience means they often tend to listen out for particular historical themes rather than necessarily listening with personal ears. This is why we want to make the most of the knowledge and life experience of the vast range of Londoners who aren’t typically involved in research, listening with a fresh pair of ears to interpret what they hear and decide how we can make better use of these stories.

Listening to London oral history five female participants

Members of the public listening to Oral History as part of our ‘Belonging’ exhibition in 2006 which told the stories of refugees from all over the world who now live in London.

Listening to London is a two-year project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, in which the museum is supporting teams of community researchers to lead their own research projects, delving into the hidden gems of our Oral History collection to form new interpretations and surface stories which might otherwise have been overlooked. These researchers will decide how they want to share what they find, and recommend how curators should respond to it. Their research findings and outputs will help shape the way Oral History is used within our New Museum.

So that this can happen, our team are undergoing work to review and update the usage permissions and improve records of the interviews we hold in this collection. Whilst all of our recordings are fully digitised, many of the permissions from interviewees were collected prior to current data protection legislation, which has prevented us being able to share them more widely until now. This work is laying the ground for our community researchers to make full use of the collection to amplify the stories of Londoners.

Esmé Fairbairn Collections Fund logo Listening to London is supported by The Esmé Fairbairn Collections Fund - delivered by the Museums Association