THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

96 posts categorized "Oral history"

27 March 2017

Recording of the week: Silversmithing - 2D to 3D

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This week's selection comes from Liz Wright, National Life Stories Project Interviewer.

Rod Kelly is a silversmith who specialises in the technique of chasing to create low relief decoration on the surface of silver vessels, which he often raises (hammers from sheet metal) himself. Rod depicts images from nature with a fluidity of line that seems effortless, but the process of decorating a three-dimensional object, based on a two-dimensional design, can be painstaking. In this clip, he describes the nerve-wracking process of composing a design on a silver form.

Rod Kelly_the nerve-wracking art of silversmithing

BK-1988-5Silver vase, Philippe Wolfers c.1895 (Rijksmuseum) 

Visit Crafts on British Library Sounds to hear more from British artisans working with studio crafts such as pottery, metalwork, jewellery  and book arts.

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

13 March 2017

Recording of the week: a Welsh kibbutz?!

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This week's selection comes from Dr Cai Parry-Jones, Curator of Oral History.

In this extract, Holocaust survivor, Judith Steinberg, talks about her husband who arrived in Britain in 1939 on the Kindertransport from Germany. Steinberg’s husband was one of 200 Jewish refugee children who spent their early war years living and working in Gwrych Castle, north Wales, one of several hachsharoat (agricultural training centres) established in wartime Britain by German-Jewish Zionist Youth Organisations such as Bachad and Youth Aliyah. Working on the land, the hachshara (singular of hachsharoat) at Gwrych sought to train its apprentices for kibbutz life in Eretz Israel. 

Jewish Holocaust Survivors_Judith Steinberg extract

Gwrych_Castle,_Denbighshire;_The_Seat_of_Lloyd_Hesketh,_Bamford_Hes

Gwrych Castle, Denbighshire; The Seat of Lloyd Hesketh (National Library of Wales)

Judith Steinberg's full interview is part of the Jewish Holocaust Survivors collection on British Library Sounds.

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

10 March 2017

Speaking of the Kasmin Gallery: how to buy a Hockney for £40

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Artists’ Lives: Speaking of the Kasmin Gallery is a free display at the Tate Britain in London. You can listen to artists, curators and John Kasmin himself telling the story of the groundbreaking gallery in New Bond Street which became known as ‘the most beautiful room in London’. The art on display, by artists shown at the Kasmin Gallery, includes works by Anthony Caro (1924-2013), Robyn Denny (1930-2014) and Richard Smith (1931-2016).

Artists'_Lives_Spotlight_01Photography © Tate, 2016; Photographer Joe Humphrys

Kasmin, who was born in 1934, established the Kasmin Gallery in 1963 and has been involved in London’s art scene for over fifty years. His life story interview was recorded between 2008 and 2016 by Monica Petzal and Cathy Courtney. Kasmin’s engaging recall of people, events and conversations is extraordinary – but his storytelling style is not the only unusual thing about his interview.

Most National Life Stories interviews are recorded in sessions over a period of a few months; a typical Artists’ Lives completed interview might be around 20 -30 hours long. At over 180 hours, Kasmin’s interview (C466/184) is by far the longest interview held by the British Library’s Oral History section. The full interview is not yet fully documented and available online but audio clips, photographs and exhibition catalogues have been used in the exhibition.

In one of the extracts, Kasmin remembers going to the Young Contemporaries show in 1961 and becoming fascinated by one painting in particular, even though he didn’t understand its points of reference. That painting was Doll Boy by a then unknown student named David Hockney (now in Tate’s collection)– and he had to have it.

Kasmin on Doll Boy

At that time Kasmin did not yet have his own gallery – he was working at Marlborough New London. Kasmin invited Hockney round for tea after work. He liked the shy young man with NHS glasses and a strong Yorkshire accent. He admired his work so much that he wanted to help him, even if it meant upsetting his boss, Marlborough Fine Art co-founder Harry Fischer.

Kasmin on Hockney

Soon life at Marlborough became intolerable for Kasmin, who was not allowed to follow his artistic interests. Frank Lloyd, Marlborough’s other co-founder, was disappointed when Kasmin handed in his notice because he could see the young man’s potential – and also because he took the gallery’s main collector, Sheridan Dufferin, with him. Hockney went on to become one of Kasmin’s most famous artists.

Artists'_Lives_Spotlight_16Photography © Tate, 2016; Photographer Joe Humphrys

The idea of life story interview methodology is to capture a person’s whole life in detail, including childhood, education, family, social and working life. One of the benefits of this method is that the interviewees have a chance to explain the connections between phases and aspects of their lives and how these fit together. Interviewees often explain how random coincidences – such as spotting a painting at a show and liking it - lead to whole careers and relationships. These junctures can be missed or misinterpreted by biographers but they are often crucial to the life trajectory.

National Life Stories collects oral histories by project – this approach allows cross-reference (and often disagreement!) between interviewees. For example within the Artists Lives collection on BL Sounds [http://sounds.bl.uk/Arts-literature-and-performance/Art], the British Library’s online sound resource, you can listen to three full life story interviews with artists whose work was exhibited at the Kasmin Gallery and is now on display at Tate Britain: Richard Smith (C466/308), John Latham (C466/69) and Robyn Denny (C466/347).

In this clip artist Robyn Denny explains that he was delighted to show his work with Kasmin, whom he considered the most important person on the art scene from the 1960s onwards. Denny reflects on Kasmin’s odd mixture of attributes and roles in life, from poet to dealer to collector to dealer: ‘he was kind of nuts, Kasmin, and he is, but he isn’t.’

Denny on Kasmin

In total, over 200 Artists’ Lives oral histories are now freely available on BL Sounds. To explore Artists’ Lives interviews not online please search the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image catalogue.

Artists’ Lives is run by National Life Stories at the British Library in association with Tate. The Henry Moore Foundation and the Yale Center for British Art have supported the project since its inception in 1990, and NLS also works closely with the Henry Moore Institute. National Life Stories is grateful to all its sponsors in relation to the exhibition Artists’ Lives: Speaking of the Kasmin Gallery, particularly the Gubenkian Foundation UK and the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation.

You can visit the free BP Spotlight exhibition Speaking of the Kasmin Gallery at Tate Britain until Autumn 2017.

23 February 2017

Behind the candy-striped jackets – oral history uncovers the unspoken

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David Kynaston is perhaps best-known for his prize-winning studies of Britain in the later twentieth century, most tellingly his Tales of a New Jerusalem series, including Austerity Britain, Family Britain, and Modernity Britain.  We can now hear David Kynaston reflect upon how he weaves personal memories through his studies of this dramatic period, as he gives the National Life Stories Lecture, ‘Uncovering the unspoken: memory and post-war Britain’, to be held in the Knowledge Centre at the British Library on 13 March 2017.

Austerity Britain book cover

Austerity Britain by David Kynaston

To inform the themes of his lecture Kynaston welcomed four eminent guests to the purpose-built recording studio in the Library: Clare Short (former British politician), David Warren (former British diplomat), Anne Sebba (writer, presenter and lecturer) and Sarah Dunant (novelist, journalist, broadcaster and critic). This wide-ranging and lengthy discussion – which will also be archived and made available at the British Library – covered the speakers’ reflections on some key themes including class, sexuality, education, gender, the influence of family background and the mechanics of how we remember.  If, like me, you are intrigued to know how Kynaston will intertwine these themes with his wider reflections on post-war Britain then book a ticket to attend the lecture.  Tickets are available via the British Library Box Office.

Of course, Kynaston is no stranger to oral history. National Life Stories is the oral history fieldwork charity based in the British Library Sound Archive that has been collecting and commissioning oral history interviews for the last thirty years.  David Kynaston deposited the interviews from two of his key works on the City of London, which are available for anyone to listen via the Listening and Viewing Service at the Library; one on the City investment group, Phillips & Drew (now incorporated into UBS Global Asset Management) and the second on LIFFE.  The Kynaston London International Financial Futures & Options Exchange (LIFFE) Interviews is a series of over 65 recordings with employees and former employees of LIFFE conducted in 1996 as part of the research for his book LIFFE: A Market and its Makers (Granta, 1997).

  Floor traders cropped
Floor traders © Power Stock Photo Library

When Kynaston conducted his interviews in 1996 LIFFE was at its zenith, as one of the largest futures, commodities and equity exchanges in Europe. The exchange floor was a hive of activity, noise and colour where each trader - kitted in a distinctive coloured blazer - would use a mix of hand-signals and shouts from ‘the pit’ to conduct the exchanges.  In this clip from the City Lives project, we hear about the events at the opening of LIFFE in 1982 and then a description how the exchange functioned in the mid 1990s. The first speaker is David Burton, Chairman 1988-1992 (this recording is from 1993), and the second is his successor Nick Durlacher (interviewed in 1995).

Burton & Durlacher (LIFFE)

David Burton interviewed by Cathy Courtney, 1992-1994, and Nicholas Durlacher interviewed by Cathy Courtney 1995. Both of these interviews from City Lives are available to listen online, British Library Sound Archive refs C409/077 and C409/127.

Within only four years of these interviews LIFFE changed beyond recognition. The last open outcry trading pits were closed in 2000 as trading shifted to electronic platforms.  Gone were the coloured jackets, the shouts and the practical jokes of the brokers.  Both City Lives and the Kynaston London International Financial Futures & Options Exchange (LIFFE) Interviews capture personal descriptions of these moments in the life of the City of London from the perspectives of those who worked there and experienced the intense life on the trading floor.

If you are not able to attend the lecture, we plan to film the event and make it available online. More news will follow on this in later March.

Mary Stewart, Curator of Oral History

31 January 2017

When politics meets science: Tam Dalyell, Labour MP (1932-2017)

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The many tributes to Tam Dalyell, who died last Thursday, paid little attention to his unswerving interest in scientific affairs throughout a 43-year career as an MP.

Tam

Tam Dalvell, Labour MP (1932-2017), courtesy of Douglas Robertson and the University of Edinburgh

Dalyell read history and economics at Cambridge in the 1950s, yet acknowledged in his 2012 interview for the History of Parliament oral history project “it’s important that there were particularly others from the sciences that I got to know very well”.

While at university he was friends with Ron Peierls, son of nuclear physicist Sir Rudolf Peierls, and attended lectures given by physicists Sir James Chadwick and Otto Frisch.

Dalyell on attending lectures given by Otto Frisch (British Library Reference: C1503/38)

Dalyell knew many world-famous scientists through his friendship with David Schoenberg, head of the Mond Laboratory in Cambridge. In 1964 he was the only MP on a high-level science/political delegation to the Soviet Union, witnessing how personal relationships within the international science community could transcend Cold War politics.

However it was through writing a weekly column for New Scientist for 37 years that Dalyell “provided a conduit for researchers to speak to Parliament and vice versa”.

Dalyell’s support for the public understanding of science demonstrates that parliamentarians who are actively involved in debates about science do not necessarily come to Westminster with a scientific background, as interviews with other former MPs confirm.

Patrick Jenkin (MP for Wanstead and Woodford, 1964-1987), who died in December 2016, spoke about having never been taught science at school, yet he became president of both the Foundation for Science and Technology and the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. He was chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee during its 2000 inquiry into Science and Society.

David Price (MP for Eastleigh, 1955-92) read history at university but in Parliament became a vigorous campaigner for British industry and space research.

David Price on his involvement in space research (British Library Reference: C1503/19)

The interviews also reveal that MPs with a technical or scientific background were not always comfortable adopting a visible position on science. “I really didn’t feel sufficiently technically qualified in order to become, as it were, a technical guru in Parliament, so in the end I concentrated on foreign affairs,” said Ben Ford (MP for Bradford North, 1964-83), despite a thorough knowledge of aviation electronics and experience of lecturing on productivity at INSEAD and the University of Cambridge.

From accounts such as these, it seems that there was little correlation between these MPs’ scientific credentials and an inclination to be actively involved in Westminster’s consideration of science.

The interview clips featured in this blog are sourced from the ongoing  History of Parliament Oral History Project (deposited at the British Library). For further interviews in this collection, search 'C1503' in the Sound and Moving Image catalogue. Further oral history interviews relating to Science and British Scientist can be found via the Sound and Moving Image, online via BL Sounds and the Voices of Science webpage, the website of the Oral History of British Science programme, led by National Life Stories in association with the Science Museum, and with support from the Arcadia Fund.

Emmeline Ledgerwood, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, University of Leicester and The British Library

27 January 2017

Denying Denial - Holocaust Testimonies Online

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Today marks the release of the film Denial in British cinemas. Coinciding with Holocaust Memorial Day, UK, the film focuses on the 1996 Irving v Penguin Books Ltd case when both American historian, Deborah Lipstadt, and Penguin books were sued by author David Irving for libel in Lipstadt’s book Denying the Holocaust (1993), in which she names Irving as a Holocaust denier. After a four-year legal battle, the English court concluded that Irving was an active Holocaust denier, antisemite, and racist, who ‘for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence’ to promote Holocaust denial.

Deborah Lipstadt at 2016-10-06 premiere of the movie Denial at Landmark Theater in Bethesda

Deborah Lipstadt at the premiere of Denial at the Landmark Theatre, Maryland, 2016. © Edward Kimmel

But what do we mean by Holocaust denial? In its simplest form it is an act of denying the genocide of Jews and other groups in the Holocaust during the Second World War. It is now illegal in 14 European nations, including France, Germany, Italy and Portugal. Because of its ease of access, dissemination and anonymity, the internet is now one of the main forums in expressing disbelief in the Holocaust. Fortunately, the internet can also serve as a powerful medium of education and in the context of the Holocaust has been used to combat intolerance and promote an understanding of the dangers of racial discrimination and persecution. One of the ways The British Library has contributed to the mission of Holocaust education is through the inclusion of 283 digitised oral history interviews with concentration camp survivors, refugees and children of Holocaust survivors on the BL Sounds website. Some of these testimonies also feature in an online educational resource– Voices of the Holocaust—which is available through The British Library’s learning website.

Oral histories such as these are important to both Holocaust studies and education for several reasons. First, they personalise the Holocaust, giving us a voice to the varied experiences of hardship, ordeal, suffering and terror on behalf of the murdered six million Jews and others who are unable to do so. Second, oral histories enrich our understanding of events during the Holocaust, offering both historical information and emotions not found in official documentation. For example, reports from extermination camps may provide us with facts and figures on how camps were officially run and organised, but these sources provide us with little, if any, information on the personal experiences and ordeals of survivors and victims themselves. The interview of survivor Josef Perl, for instance, highlights what it was like to witness the shooting of family members in a Jewish ghetto at the age of ten.

Josef Pearl on witnessing his mother and sisters being shot

Equally as emotional and graphic is Arek Hersh’s interview, where he details his experience of being forced to walk on a death march in 1945 from Auschwitz to Buchenwald (approximately 427 miles).

Arek Hersh on his experiences of walking on a death march

Other personal testimonies highlight the good in humanity, discussing how some people risked their own lives to save others. Magda Balogh’s interview, for instance, mentions her encounter with the Swedish diplomat and humanitarian, Raoul Wallenberg, in Budapest and how he and his helpers saved her life and thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Second World War.

Magda Balogh on Raoul Wallenberg

Photograph of prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau during liberation

Prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau during its liberation in January 1945

As well as offering a personal insight into Holocaust experiences, oral histories allow us to examine how memory and emotions work. How do individuals recall past events? What facts are missing and why? How do we remember traumatic events? Lawrence Langer, a scholar of Holocaust literature and education, has suggested that Holocaust survivors carry two forms of memory—their ‘common memory’, whereby they describe ‘their experiences in a chronological and ordered way, providing detached pictures of what it was like then, as seen by their present selves’, and a ‘deep memory’, which emerges when they relive ‘the horrible experiences with a full charge of pain, chaos and irreversible loss’. Like many Holocaust survivors, Hungarian-born Heidi Fischer suppressed her ‘deep memory’ for decades and it was only in the 1990s that she began to address and revisit some of the painful and traumatic events that she endured.

Heidi Fischer on revisiting traumatic memories

The most meaningful way of paying tribute to the legacy of the Holocaust is to ‘never forget’ and by including personal accounts online it is hoped that knowledge about the Holocaust will reach wider audiences and that listeners both now and in the future will be able to reflect upon the moral questions raised by this unprecedented tragedy. Many of the Holocaust interviews on BL Sounds were digitised and made available online thanks to the generous support of both the Brian and Jill Moss Charitable Trust and the Pears Foundation. Other Holocaust oral history interviews are available at the British Library, collected through collaborative projects or deposited by other organisations and projects. Further details can be found on the Oral Histories of Jewish Experience and Holocaust Testimonies webpage.

Dr Cai Parry-Jones. Curator, Oral History

23 January 2017

Recording of the week: Exotic food? Exotic through whose perspective?

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This week's selection comes from Niamh Dillon, National Life Stories Project Interviewer.

Rosamund Grant was born in Guyana and moved to London as a young woman in the 1960s.  Here she discusses challenging European stereotypes of Caribbean food and how she defines herself through her cooking.

Rosamund Grant_Not just Caribbean Stew

Spice-370114_1920

The recording is part of the Food: from Source to Salespoint collection which documents changes in the production, manufacture, retail and consumption of food in Britain in the twentieth and twenty first century. 

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

16 January 2017

Recording of the week: Mr Seagalman calls his animals in

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This week's selection comes from Emme Ledgerwood, Collaborative Doctoral Award student with the British Library's Oral History department and Leicester University.

In this recording, made more than 100 years ago on a wax cylinder, the different calls a farmer, Mr Seagalman, uses to communicate with his animals conjure up a picture of his daily life on the farm.

Animal calls_ Mr Seagalman (EFDSS cylinder 105)

Drove of sheep and cows_EFDSS_YaleDrove of Sheep and Cows (Robert Hills 1769-1844). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

This recording was made in 1910 and is part of the library's English Folk Dance and Song Society collection of ethnographic wax cylinders.

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.