John Gibson (1887-1980): Researching Writing Lives

Having never blogged before, I was excited to participate in this Writing Lives project and the experience did not disappoint. I chose John Gibson as my author, a working-class political activist and engineer from Tyneside, whose involvement in the labour movement of the early 20th century interested me greatly.

Unfortunately, I realised there was little information about John online, having tried in vain to track down any documentation or family photographs. Luckily for me however, despite being only seven pages in length, John’s transcript was steeped in personal information and political history. As someone who identifies with him ideologically, John, and indeed his mother, have inspired me to get more involved in local politics, continuing to champion some of the causes he dedicated his life to fighting. Nevertheless, such a short transcript did prove challenging at times, with the project involving writing eight themed blogs. Having to produce this much quality content with not an awful lot of source material has improved my ability to read between the lines and delve more deeply into a text, surely one of the main objectives of an English degree.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing about John’s life and memoir during this module, but his experience of the ‘Battle of George Square’ was a particular highlight. This was one of the most infamous political events of the 20th century, and one I had no knowledge of before reading the transcript. John’s recollections from the scene, amidst the chaos, encouraged me to read up on the subject, discovering many similar firsthand experiences online. I also found John’s comments on some of the labour movement’s most famous names very illuminating, leading me again to read up on them. I found the fact that John had encountered such famous figures exhilarating, as if I too had known them by association, whilst also increasing the mystery around him due to the lack of information.

As previously mentioned, before this project I had never blogged before, with my only previous writing experience being academic essays. Writing in this new format meant I had to be much more conscious of audience, and the idea that my work was going to be seen by others was initially daunting. However I quickly adjusted and am proud of the fact that strangers have read my work through the Writing Lives website and via Twitter. Social media had never been my strong suit, and so the importance of Twitter for the project meant I also had to adjust to this. Through using this application, I have witnessed the power of social media and the advantages it brings in terms of reaching out to people. The Writing Lives online community were incredibly supportive throughout the module and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the works of my fellow students.

Overall, I am very proud to have been involved in the Writing Lives project. Analysing John Gibson’s transcript has been fascinating and I hope I have in some way contributed to public history in bringing his life and memoir to a wider audience.

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