Interview: reflective piece
Witness was a valuable experience for all three of us, because it gave us an opportunity to engage with a type of history that was outside the library, in the ‘real world.’ Through Oral History, we could engage with the subjective experiences of individuals like Edward Patnick, but also how he chose to tell us about his history. Listening to individuals talk about their own history is valuable because it gives us insight into what individuals see as ‘history,’ i.e important to remember. There were many instances in the interview when Edward asked ‘what do you want to know about me?’ or expressed surprise at questions we asked, because he did not see his answers as important to our historical research. Interestingly, when we asked Edward’s wife if she would like to be interviewed, she told us she did not think she had anything interesting to say! These little pieces of information about nostalgic memories of everyday life have been largely excluded from dominant historical narratives. Oral History is particularly important because it emphasises memories and experiences that are important to individuals, but are somehow absent from much historical discourse. The project this year, ‘Jewish Sheffield’ is also important because it aims to investigate a side of Sheffield’s history that has been previously overlooked. Not only this, it brings accounts of human experience to an area of history that seems to be dominated by quantitative data, like in the Jewish Sheffield directories.
One of the most challenging parts of the project was coming up with suitable (and interesting) questions to ask Edward. We found that it would be better to plan discussion around a few key topics, rather than to list specific questions we would like to ask Edward. As a group of three, we decided to use this opportunity to explore with Edward three interlinking topics; Religious Belief, Relationships within the Jewish Community, and Relationships between the Jewish Community and other communities within Sheffield. We based our questions loosely around these topics. We explored the many different relationships within the Jewish Community, like the circumstantial insights into gender roles Edward described while he was talking about the socials he used to attend regularly. The topics religious belief and relationships within communities were very interesting to explore, and often overlapped. Edward shined a light on his expressions of religious belief through eating Kosher and the lack of Kosher butchers in Sheffield. Edward also described some of his experiences of interacting with non-Jewish communities, like his first experience of smelling pork cooking. Preserving memories like these are particularly important because of how personal they are, and how they make history ‘come alive.’
We discovered, while interviewing Edward, that flexibility with the interview’s direction was key! Edward revealed to us many little gems of information that we would never had known if we had stuck to our planned questions. In this sense, we found that the informal nature of the interview was the reason why it was so fruitful. It is an advantage of Oral History that we found so much information about Edward’s life and memories that we did not set out to get. In conclusion, the Witness Project was an invaluable experience that has inspired us to think differently about our current studies, but it was also an amazing opportunity to be involved with preserving precious memories and histories from Sheffield’s Jewish Community.
Interviewers: Matt Ashby, Phoebe Cahill and Catherine Kennedy.