Commissioning a Company History, Oral History or Research Project
There are many different types of history – from website timelines and storylines to glossy brochures and academic tomes.
Commemorate significant landmarks in your company’s history with a publication or anniversary event, or capture history informally through an oral history project with company employees.
Company directors and communications/PR teams will have an idea what works best for your company. There are a number of options:
1. PR company (or in-house team)If you have the sources available to tell your story, a PR company could pull the story together and design website content, brochures or short publications. An in-house or consultant archivist can ensure accuracy and integrity of ‘history’ text.
2. Consultant archivistFreelance archivists on a short-term contract can research the company’s archive. The result will be an accurate and informative history which will communicate the messages your company wants to deliver.
To contact potential freelancers you can use the professional listserv that acts as a forum and interest group for the profession.
There are also companies which offer a portfolio of history services – from creating publications to using company history as an internal commercial tool. For further information see The History Factory, Winthrop Group and History Associates websites at:
3. Academic historian
There are many academic historians with an interest in business and economic history. They can deliver in-depth analyses of a business and its sector, and the resulting history can be of great value to the company on many levels.
Some universities have management and history schools that employ business historians. Glasgow University and London School of Economics have specialist business history units. See Glasgow University Centre for Business History at http://www.gla.ac.uk/businesshistory/ and LSE Department of Economic History at http://www.lse.ac.uk/Economic-History.
4. Oral historian
Oral historians are interested in the first-hand spoken reminiscences of company employees.
Oral history projects are a great way to engage former employees. They also allow current employees to learn about how the company operated at personal and cultural level.
They can be used for advertising and PR, induction programmes, and to capture key events in company history.
National Life Stories, the oral history project charity based at the British Library Sound Archive has undertaken corporate oral history projects including: London’s Square Mile in City Lives, the Post Office, brand consultancy Wolff Olins and the traditional industries of oil and steel. For information go to National Life Stories and http://www.bl.uk/oralhistory. Oral history projects are also conducted by company archivists or independent oral historians. For advice and information on oral history practice, methodology and training, visit the Oral History Society website at http://www.ohs.org.uk/