Oral History Project



The History of Parliament's Oral History project is working with the British Library to create a sound archive of British politics since 1945, and will provide a unique record of post-Second World War British political history. To access our catalogue and view or listen to snippets from the archive, please see our research pages.

The Oral History project was inspired by the 1930s project of the History of Parliament's founder, Colonel Josiah Wedgwood, which used a questionnaire to capture from MPs who sat in Parliament from 1885 to 1918 impressions of their political careers. These formed the basis for biographical sketches of each Member.

The project goes well beyond Wedgwood's, however. Initially focussing on parliamentarians, it is intended to interview as many former Members of the House of Commons as possible. The interviews are free-flowing, 'life story' interviews but use a series of questions, based loosely on Wedgewood's original questionnaire, as the basis for the interviews. The interviews include valuable insights into the lives of individual former MPs as well as the development of political careers in the second half of the twentieth century. They illuminate the changing patterns of parliamentary politics, in particular the culture of Westminster and the professionalization of politics; the history of the constituency surgery and the development of constituency pressures; the changes in parliamentary lobbying; the relationship with constituency parties; the increase in parliamentary activity, particularly select committees, all-party groups and other activities at Westminster; the history of election campaigns. Our 'life story' interviews collect a great deal of rich and detailed material from the individuals we have spoken to that goes far beyond parliament.

We rely on a brilliant team of volunteers to undertake our interviews, with support throughout from the British Library for training, archiving, and methodology. The History of Parliament Trust was supported generously by Dods Parliamentary Companion on setting up the initial project. We also work with the Association of Former Members of Parliament on contacting former Members and obtaining further publicity for the project.

The project has been interviewing since 2012 and our volunteers have already interviewed nearly 250 former Members in more than 860 hours of recording. 195 interviews have now been deposited at the British Library. For more information on some of interviewees, please see our research pages.

In 2020 Emma Peplow and Priscila Pivatto published an introduction to the archive, The Political Lives of Postwar British MPs: An Oral History of Parliament. This is now available in paperback and hardback via Bloomsbury Academic.

The History is keen to attract people with an interest in and knowledge of British postwar political history to act as interviewers. If you would like to become part of the team, please email website@histparl.ac.uk.