For the final project of my Masters in Public History I am about to embark on an oral history project for GlaxoSmithKline, the sixth largest pharmaceutical company in the world. I opted to take on this project because of the opportunity to work with a market-leading company, and was also intrigued by the challenge of doing oral history in a business environment.
According to oral historian Rob Perks, the corporate world has been underrepresented by British oral historians and there is a lack of collaboration between business historians and oral historians. In the past, business historians have complied company histories using interviews only sparingly, or not at all. Additionally, the focus of oral history has traditionally been on marginalised groups and community history, categories under which the corporate world does not tend to fall. This being said, I have noticed that company staff form their own communities, tied together by the shared experience of working life. This is certainly true in the case of GlaxoSmithKline which has a Retired Staff Association that meets on a weekly basis and runs outings and meals throughout the year. As part of my oral history project I will interview women who belong to the RSA to collect and compare their memories and experiences of working with Beechams Group (which became GSK following two mergers). Through this I hope to achieve a greater understanding of the history of GSK from a more personal perspective.
Given that there are currently only a limited number of sources to draw on regarding how to successfully collect corporate oral history I am going to track my experiences in this blog as a guide for how to (or how to not!!) collect oral history in a business environment.