What oral historians and historians of science can learn from each other
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This paper is concerned with the use of interviews with scientists by members of two disciplinary communities: oral historians and historians of science. It examines the disparity between the way in which historians of science approach autobiographies and biographies of scientists on the one hand, and the way in which they approach interviews with scientists on the other. It also examines the tension in the work of oral historians between a long-standing ambition to record forms of past experience and more recent concerns with narrative and personal ‘composure’. Drawing on extended life story interviews with scientists, recorded by National Life Stories at the British Library between 2011 and 2016, it points to two ways in which the communities might learn from each other. First, engagement with certain theoretical innovations in the discipline of oral history from the 1980s might encourage historians of science to extend their already well-developed critical analysis of written autobiography and biography to interviews with scientists. Second, the keen interest of historians of science in using interviews to reconstruct details of past events and experience might encourage oral historians to continue to value this use of oral history even after their theoretical turn.