Sheila Stewart’s works as Local History, continuation…

George Ewart Evans

George Ewart Evans writes about the rural community in Suffolk where he lived. Evans includes himself in his works of oral history testimony to describe and explain old customs and farming ways, and traditional rural village life. Like Sturt, Evans does not concern himself with his informants’ feelings and emotions in relation to their experience.

In his accounts Evans includes anecdotes gathered from his informants. In his introduction to Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay, Evans admits that not all “the material contained in this book has been collected orally: much has been taken from books and manuscripts; but in nearly every section the oral material has given the initial impetus to search, check and exemplify wherever it has been possible to do so” (Evans 1956, p. 13). Evans focuses more on his aged subjects’ memories than Sturt does on his, and in his “recordings” the dialectic speech of his subjects is more pronounced.

In his editorial preface to Evans’ book The Crooked Scythe (1993), David Gentleman writes: “Certainly one can enjoy [Evans’] books in a spirit of nostalgia, and take pleasure from the charm of the rural subject matter. But George was too clear-headed and too objective for nostalgia,” and the reader speedily discovers “that the lives and times he recorded were far too hard for anyone with any humanity to wish them back, rather, he used the past as a way to understand the present” (Gentleman 1993, p. 24).

In his introduction to Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay, Evans admits the material in the book has been creatively worked, and he writes: “It is only fair to warn the reader … that there is a slight didactic purpose lurking in this book, related in a way to the village of the future…. A move into the past gets the best start from the sure ground of known and felt facts about one’s own immediate environment” (Evans 16). Evans also reveals “that the book, as originally conceived, had no purpose at all” and was simply a response to the abundant materials that he found when he arrived in the village (Evans p.p. 16-17). Michael Evans, George Ewart Evans’ son, calls Evans a “pioneer of oral history,” and discloses that after his oral history recordings had been put to air Evans “realised that transcriptions of the recordings could be used in book form” (Michael Evans 2002, p. 3).

Works cited

Evans, George Ewart. Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay. London: Faber, & Faber, 1956. Print.

—.      The Crooked Scythe: An Anthology of Oral History. Ed. and with drawings by David Gentleman. London: Faber & Faber, 1993. Print.

Evans, Michael. “Land of my father.” George Ewart Evans, pioneer of oral history. Books. The Guardian. 1-4. Web. 30 Jan. 2011.

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