Morris Matthews, K. (2017), "Alumni Voices: The Changing Experience of Higher Education", History of Education Review, Vol. 46 No. 1, pp. 111-112. https://doi.org/10.1108/HER-05-2016-0022
Emerald Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited
Those charged with writing an institutional history set within the recent past should read this book. Further, if the researchers are also connected with that institution there is all the more reason for doing so.
What insider colleagues Spencer, Jacobs and Leach achieve here is twofold: as academic insiders within what was formerly known as King Alfred’s College, now the University of Winchester, they problematize their positioning as part of the research methodology throughout. In drawing on a range of oral histories across the institution, from students to secretaries and academic staff members, they pull together a series of perspectives on the campus experience across 60 years. None of the informants are identified by name and there are few photographs.
The result is that this is not a traditional history of higher education but rather a different way of reflecting an institution’s past canvassed through the voices of former students who studied and often lived on campus as well as the voices of staff members. The detail gathered in the reported interview material is striking comprising mainly thoughtful and often critical reflections of experiences within the institution. It was most helpful to be able to refer to the initial questionnaire for the institution and wider community and to the draft document for interviewees included within the appendices. The authors also make clear just how they used data management systems to help collate the material collected. While all of this was admirable, what I really liked was the inclusion of examples of alumni voices at the beginning and at the end of the book in order to demonstrate the ways in which the material being worked with was interpreted and then presented. Such exemplars provide valuable methodological underpinnings for new researchers.
With so much primary data, the arrangement of the book’s eight chapters is sensible. It traces the historical antecedents from a Diocesan Training School to a university pulling out the chapter themes associated with religion, place and space, gender, management and change. In order to theorise the substantial shifts and changes in higher education and the impact on the institution, the authors draw upon Ferdinand Tonnie’s concept of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. In this way, they explain the move from the early days of the institution with strong bonds and sense of community, through to more recent times where the voices highlighted less of the common good and more of an emphasis on the individual learner and self-interest. Throughout however, the voices describe a caring community where they developed academically and took away a series of guiding principles that have equipped them for life.
While Alumni Voices will no doubt be read with interest by those associated with King Alfred’s and the University of Winchester, it has a much wider relevance for anyone contemplating using voices within the production of an institutional history.