The Oral History Project

Official written records can only tell you so much. To get the full story about events in the past personal experiences need to be recorded.

Sadly, as time goes on, the number of people who were around to experience events (directly or indirectly) get fewer and fewer, until we lose the last of them. A good example is the Second World War (1939 to 1945). Even people who were children at the time are now in (or rapidly approaching) their 80s, and their number falls every year. Even those still with us start to suffer from failing memories. Once someone has died, we lose their knowledge, unless it has been recorded for posterity. That is where the Oral History project will come in.

The idea first came to me several years ago when re-reading two chapters in the 2006 book “Maltese Buses of Yesteryear”. One was an account by Mac Head, who served in the Royal Navy in the late 1950s and the 1960s. For a time, he was based in Malta, and he wrote a very interesting account of life at the time and how he used the local bus network to get around. The other account was by Steve Chandler, whose father served in the RAF in Malta in the early 1950s. Steve wrote about what it was like to be a child using buses to get to/from school, and also his friendship with the owner-driver of White bus 3314, used on the Mellieha route, and how for a while he would ride into Valletta every Saturday morning on the bus. In both cases the written accounts provide a very interesting record of the bus scene at the time. Whilst getting someone to write about their experiences is a useful thing to do, many people find it difficult to do, and you end up with a distilled version of events, as the writers feel they should not “waffle” on. A recording of a discussion about their experiences though is much more in their own words, allows for more detail to be recorded, and also allows the discussion to go off at a tangent if interesting memories resurface.

The intention is to try and start a programme of Oral History interviews. Anyone can take part – either those who directly worked in the operational side of the industry (owners, drivers, conductors, route managers, ticket checkers), the regulation side of the industry (those who worked for the Government, the Police, Malta Customs) the construction side of the industry (bodywork builders, vehicle importers, painters), or those who have a more indirect story to tell (passengers, descendants / family of those of worked with buses, those who worked in the docks and remember vehicles being imported (or even exported !), visitors to the island, or those who worked for the British armed forces). Also it would be good to talk to people with knowledge of former buses that were used for non-passenger carrying activities – an example being the recent discovery that a former bus was used around 1953 as a “restaurant” for a while.
One technicality that needs to be overcome is that those carrying out the recordings and asking the questions ideally need to speak and be fluent in Maltese. Whilst many people in Malta speak some English, a more relaxed conversation is likely to happen if they are using their native tongue. The correct phraseology is likely to be used to. A translation into English can always be made when the interview is transcribed.
There is no fixed time period that needs to be recorded. The memories and experiences could be from 10 years ago, or from 50+ years ago. With a dwindling number of people still with us from the 1940s, my feeling is it is this age group who we need to tackle first, before it is too late.
Whilst the primary method of recording will be audio, video can also be used, especially if the person being interviewed has some interesting memorabilia or photographs to show. A search for photographs in family albums etc will also be encouraged – even if the subject matter just appears in the background of the photo.
It is hoped that buy in to the project will be forthcoming from various Maltese bodies, such as Heritage Malta, the Public Memory Archive at the University Malta, and the Maltese press (print, broadcast or digital).
If you would like to be involved in this very important project, either as part of the team recording people’s memories, or as someone who would like to be recorded, then please get in touch by clicking on the “contact us” button below. This is a project very much in its infancy, but I hope it will grow to become a key part of the Archive, and a valuable source of historical information in the future.
For more information about Oral Histories, take a look the Oral History Society’s “Getting Started” page – click on this button to visit the website.

For more about the University of Malta’s Public Memory Archive project, click on this button.


A useful short PDF about how to carry out Oral History recordings can be found by clicking on this button.
Getting Started
UoM Public Memory Archive
How to ...