AAH Oral Histories

The Association of Art Historians was formed in 1974, born out of a need to professionalize a rapidly growing subject. Within a year of its existence, the AAH counted over 500 members.

AAH Oral Histories began by questioning the origins of the AAH. As the project evolved it became clear that the accounts being recorded could offer a much wider commentary on the changing nature of higher education, and the arts and cultural fields in Britain since World War II. As a result, the recordings grew in length and widened in scope. Beginning with the history of the AAH they went on to pose broader questions about the context from which the Association was formed. The interviews are semi-structured and incorporate biographical elements, addressing the interviewees’ educational background and professional lives, while reflecting on scholarly influences, debates and practical concerns which continue to impact the networks of academic art historians, educators and museum professionals.

Sixteen people were interviewed as part of the project, including art historians specializing in a variety of subject areas, former members of the AAH Executive Committee, editors of its journal Art History, a former administrator, and a publicity and marketing professional – each of whom played a role in the development of the AAH. The interviews complement the written archive of the Association of Art Historians located at the Archive of Art and Design, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and were undertaken by Liz Bruchet between 2009 and 2011.

Why Oral History?

Oral history testimonials offer new perspectives on past events not otherwise accessible through written records. They consider individual life events and motivations that shape decision-making, the dynamics of personalities in relation to collective activities, as well as the controversies and debates within the broader social context of past events. Like any historical source however, oral history presents interpretive challenges. The testimonials are by their nature subjective and open-ended, and shaped by the particular setting and the qualities of the encounter between the interviewer and interviewee. As such they should be considered as primary source material. More information about oral history and its methods can be found here.

Creating the Voices in Art History podcast

The aim of creating a podcast is to bring the story of the foundation of the AAH to the widest possible audience, both researchers and non-specialists alike. Excerpts were selected from oral history interviews which range from 2-5 hours long and contained biographical accounts spanning a much wider range of topics than those addressed through the Voices in Art History podcast. The interviews were semi-structured and applied the specific methodologies of oral history, and did not focus on collecting broadcast-ready content. Reducing these recordings down to short clips appropriate for the podcast programmes has produced a tightly focused narrative from otherwise complex individual accounts.

The interview highlights compliment the podcast but contain less editorial intervention and cover a wider range of topics and perspectives. Finally, the complete recordings and the paper archives of the AAH are available through the Archive of Art and Design, Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s our hope that by applying a variety narratives models, the project allows researchers to cross-reference the sources as they see fit.

The Voices in Art History programmes benefited from the generous advice of Fiona Dennison, Alex Hannay, David Kennedy, Tom Barbor-Might and Connie St Louis, as well as from the supportive staff members of the AAH. Recording studio: Stationhouse Studio Post Production.