Revisiting Akenfield: forty years of an iconic text

Abrams, L. (2009) Revisiting Akenfield: forty years of an iconic text. Oral History, 37(1), pp. 33-42.

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Abstract

Ronald Blythe’s Akenfield, now forty years old, is generally acknowledged as one of the most influential books in the field of oral history. First published in 1969, Akenfield is a classic which still has the power to move the reader with its unsentimental, straightforward descriptions of a rural life that was hard, unremitting and something to be endured. This evocative portrait of life in an East Anglian village illustrated the potential for a new kind of history which told the stories of ordinary folk in their own words. To the twenty-first century reader it is a powerful description of a world we have lost. In this article I want to revisit Akenfield as a classic of British oral history, to examine how its reception and use has mirrored trends in oral history practice in the UK, and to reposition it as a text which can have a lot to say to oral historians today. For 40 years Akenfield has acted as a lightning rod, attracting criticism and praise in equal measure but always reflecting the obsessions of the oral history community. Akenfield should not just be seen as an exemplar of a certain kind of oral history practice that was path-breaking and yet not quite professional enough as some have intimated. Rather, I suggest that it can still teach us a lot about how to write history using oral narratives and dare I say it, offers a masterclass in the writing of a history which speaks to its readership.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Abrams, Professor Lynn
Authors: Abrams, L.
Subjects:D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D204 Modern History
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Journal Name:Oral History
Publisher:University of Essex
ISSN:0143-0955
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2009 Oral History Society
First Published:First published in Oral History 37(1):33-42
Publisher Policy:Reproduced with the permission of the publisher.

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