Professor Paul Thompson
Professor Paul Thompson, who is internationally recognised for his pioneering work in the field of life history, will be awarded Doctor of Letters for his contribution to oral history. (Thursday, 11th July 2013).
Now Emeritus Professor in Sociology at the University of Essex, he is founder-editor of
Oral History and Founder of National Life Stories (NLS) at the British Library, which is the world’s leading oral history archive.
The journal Oral History was founded in 1969 with Professor Thompson as editor and he was also formative in the establishment of the Oral History Society in the UK in 1973. He later co-founded, with Asa Briggs (former Professor of History and Vice-Chancellor at Sussex), the National Life Stories collection in 1987 at the British Library. He has also edited the journals Life Stories (1985–9), Memory and Narrative (1996–2004) and founded the International Yearbook of Oral History and Life Stories in 1992.
National Life Stories drew on a group of distinguished trustees to set up the first national archive for oral history in Britain, and through that created a national centre for oral history at the British Library.
In 1994 Professor Thompson established Qualidata, the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) action unit for archiving qualitative research fieldwork, based in the UK Data Archive at the University of Essex. Until 2001 he remained director of Qualidata, overseeing the development of this archival service that has influenced the ESRC and others’ policies to encourage the re-use of sociological data.
From the late 1960s he has used retrospective oral history interviews for social history. This began with The Edwardians (1975), based on a national survey of 450 life-story interviews on family life, work and the community in Britain before 1918, and then to his 1978 book The Voice of the Past, which is now internationally considered to be the classic text on the oral history method.
He has been equally concerned with contemporary social change. His 1993 work Listening for a Change has been widely used by development workers. In Living the Fishing, his study of Scottish fishing communities ten years earlier, he explored the links between family, community culture and economic adaptability, using a combination of archival research, oral history and anthropological fieldwork.
Most recently, his principal research interest has been complex families, and he is joint author of Growing Up in Stepfamilies (1997), and of Jamaican Hands Across the Atlantic (2006). He is now Professor Emeritus at Essex but still writing. Since retirement he has been principally active in community oral history projects. He combines the continuing pleasures of oral history research with cycling, walking, painting, family and friendship.