Cake and Conference

Dear Everybody,

Welcome.  This is a very first blog post on the AOH website and it has been written for two reasons.  Numero uno: I think that there are far too many ‘pages’ and not enough ‘posts’ on this here website at the moment and this intends to redress (by a very small amount) the balance somewhat.  (Make the most of all the tools available.  Add strings to bows and all that CV kind of thing.)  Segundo: what I’m going to say has been gestating over the course of today and I don’t think there’s enough stuff there for a page all to itself, and besides I was warned that what I had already written might have to be redone.

By an almost complete coincidence, I arrived home earlier today to discover that my housemates had been busy baking a cake, which is exactly what I was going to talk about here: cake and its power to facilitate interactions with people.

The original idea for a discussion about cake came to us at yesterday’s conference, where the AOH website was unveiled for the very first time to actual, other people to see what they might think.  Overall, it seemed to go down very well, and talk afterwards turned to individual experiences of trying to interview people.  Two main situations emerged where the interviews proved difficult and it was discovered that on both occasions cake could make everything go that bit more smoothly.

  • Situation 1: When trying to interview members of the general public it was often the case that they would appear reticent to offer you so much as the time of day.
  • Situation 2: When talking about memories and recollections, sometimes of a particularly harrowing time in the past, the interviewee would break down in tears.

Now, before revealing the answers we came up with, how do you think cake could help?

While you think about that, here’s a picture of some cake cut-offs (because I was too late to take a picture of the actual cake) to give you an idea of the kind of thing we’re talking about:

2013-05-23 20.12.00

So, what d’you reckon?  Well, here’s what we decided upon:

When going around hopefully trying to interview people cake could be that little something extra that makes the people you are meeting just that little bit more interested in what you have to say.  The words “excuse me, but would you mind answering a few questions?” don’t sound nearly as appealing as “excuse me, I have cake, would you mind answering a few questions?”

When the tears well up from inside the interviewee, cake (accompanied by comforting words and empathy of course) can go an awful long way to making that person feel better and able to continue with the interview.  It’s much better than ploughing on regardless and often a bit better than the words of comfort on their own.  Cake also gives you something else to talk about for a few minutes: “Oh, this is an awfully nice cake, what type is it?” for example.

And talking about types of cake, there are so so many possibilities that you are limited only by your spirit of adventure and your baking ability.  I think we agreed that lemon cake was considered quite a good version to have, but chocolate cake could also be a good idea considering that chocolate on its own has a tendency to melt in warmer climates.

To summarise: Cake – a useful and versatile tool in any would-be oral historian’s arsenal.

Thanks for your attention!  RC

(And thanks to H Finch-Boyer and K Suggitt for (unwittingly) playing the part of inspirational muses for this post)


This entry was posted in Cake, Interview Technique by Robert Coates. Bookmark the permalink.

About Robert Coates

Rob is a young man of astounding qualities. Intellectually gifted, dextrous of finger and with an innate sense of rhythm he has been contributing to websites and internet emporia for only a few months. He likes walks in the country and the books of John Fowles.

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