Oral Histories of Sensory Memories

18th January 2024

Lead institution:
Maynooth University

Professor Roisin Higgins

Funded Project:
Methods for Change Phase 2

This ‘How-To’ Guide outlines the Oral Histories of Sensory Memories method used by Associate Professor Roisin Higgins from Maynooth University, Republic of Ireland. The poster was created in collaboration with Maddy Vian, Maddy Vian Illustrations.

Twitter: Maynooth University: @MaynoothUni

Social scientists from the Methods for Change project came together to discuss the research methods they use and how methods create change in society. Drawing from the expertise in the Aspect network, they collaborated on a series of ‘how to’ guides which are step-by-step instructions and top-tips for adopting these methods in a range of sectors. Visual and multisensory pieces, including comics, illustrations, posters, booklets, short films and animations were then developed in collaboration with creatives to capture the key value of these research methods with a view to being able to convey them to a variety of audiences.

It is hoped that these resources will be useful for people in higher education, commercial, public sector, third sector and community organisations who are interested in experimenting with, and expanding professional skills in, the adoption of social science research methods.

Sensory history is an approach that can be used with oral history interviews to deepen the understanding of participants’ lived experience. Oral history interviews record people’s memories of their pasts and a sensory approach builds on this by foregrounding the person’s senses.

A focus on the intersections between sight, sounds, smell, taste and touch allows interviewees to talk about many aspects of their lives in a human-centred and supportive way. This methodology draws on the idea that people hold stories in their whole bodies not just their minds and can help to explore the relationship between these memories and the society in which they were formed. This is particularly important when collecting histories from those who have been subjected to discrimination, prejudice or trauma. These are all multi-sensory experiences and the tension they generate can linger in the body.

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