Tom Lean, interviewer for Made in Britain writes:
“How do you decide who to interview?” Is one of the questions I frequently get asked. Really, it breaks down to two separate issues. Who could we interview? And, out of these possibles, who shall we interview?
Who could we interview?
An Oral History of British Science started off with a scoping study, researched and written by Dr Simone Turchetti at the University of Manchester's Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. As well as outlining the subject area and possible approaches to it, Simone also included a list of possible interviewees across the various fields of science and engineering, giving us a good starting list of people to potentially interview.
As we approach each new topic of the project Paul and myself will carry out our own research to give us a feel for the area and its issues. We'll go down into more detail to identify subjects, projects and places of interest and the people connected to them. We'll also consult others who already know the area, such as heritage groups, museum curators and historians who are willing to lend us their expertise and experience. Interviewees themselves are often good at suggesting other people, such as former colleagues and others in the field.
At the end of all this, we're left with a lot of people we could interview and some hard choices to make.
Who shall we interview?
In an ideal world we'd record everybody, but time and resources mean we have to be a bit more selective. There isn't really a hard and fast answer to choosing people, more a range of guiding concerns. Even with this, it's still a hard choice between a lot of interesting looking people and I'm quite glad the decision isn't mine. Rather, the decisions are made by the science project team as a whole, with the guidance of the project's advisory council, made up of historians of science, science writers and scientists.
As I've touched on before there are always particular individual reasons why we'll ask someone to take part in An Oral History of British Science but we have overarching concerns too. Obviously in any area there are certain 'key' people who leap out for inclusion. However, our aim isn't just to record key players, but to get a deeper collection of viewpoints including everyone from professors to lab technicians. As well as thinking about depth we're also distributing interviews around the various fields of science and engineering to try and get some representation of the breadth of scientific activity in Britain.
There are other ways of breaking down interviews, apart from by the fields that people worked in too. For example, within Made in Britain I sometimes find myself thinking of a triangle of private industry/ commercial science, university academic science, and government research establishment science – three different but interlocking spheres of activity with their own salient issues. This cuts across field divisions and so it's important to make sure we've got representatives from all three.
There's rarely one reason why we'll choose to interview anybody. Ultimately it comes down to a combination of individual merits and representation of a part of the bigger picture.