THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

2 posts categorized "Sound and vision"

13 July 2017

Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage

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LANDSCAPE SCREENS 1920 x 1080 PXLS


This family-friendly exhibition, launching on 15 July, will tell the story of the close connections between Britain and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1600 to the present day. It will show how those connections have influenced our food, culture, fashion, politics and heritage and made us who we are today.

Item 67 - Sophia Duleep Singh selling Suffragette 1913The exhibition continues the partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham, bringing together their rich and complementary collections to illustrate this important but little-known aspect of British and local history. There will be over 100 exhibits which highlight many different voices from the past.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh is one of many people who will feature in the exhibition. (Image from IOR/L/PS/11/52, P1608)

Exhibits include letters, posters, photographs, advertisements, surveillance files, campaigning materials, oral history,music, and even a children’s game and a 19th century paper bag for Indian sweets. I and my co-curator of the exhibition, John O’Brien, hope that the variety of exhibits will prompt visitors to consider the many ways that history is

recorded and how gaps and silences can be filled.

The exhibition aims to capture Birmingham's importance in global trade and as a centre of industry.

Item 85 - 14119_f_37__MBM_D B Harris_advert

Mirror of British Merchandise, 1888

The Library of Birmingham's collections include stunning images by local photographers past and present which will be showcased in the exhibition. The image below is a photograph by Paul Hill of the Dudley & Dowell foundry at Cradley Heath, 1972, Library of Birmingham MS2294/1/1/9/1. (Image courtesy of Paul Hill.)

Item 92 Foundry worker by Paul Hill

 Capturing images of Birmingham’s richly diverse community is an important part of the exhibition and engagement programme. A selection of photographs will be included in the exhibition to give a vivid picture of Birmingham and all the people who live there today. Anyone in Birmingham can get involved now by sending their photograph via Twitter #brumpeeps. Exhibition visitors are also invited to ‘make their mark’ and share their own stories. 


Please see the Library of Birmingham's website for activities throughout the duration of the exhibition, such as family days, oral history training and talks at local libraries. 

The exhibition and community engagement programme have been generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. 


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and exhibition curator 


Further information
Asians in Britain web pages
Library of Birmingham website for details of opening hours and events
#connectingstories
#brumpeeps

17 February 2016

Let the people speak: history with voices

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For 135 years the Dictionary of National Biography has been the national record of noteworthy men and women who’ve shaped the British past. Today’s Dictionary retains many attributes of its Victorian predecessor, not least a focus on concise and balanced accounts of individuals from all walks of national history. But there have also been changes in how these life stories are encapsulated and conveyed.

In its Victorian incarnation the Dictionary presented each life as a double-column printed text. 2004 saw the publication of the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) with the addition of portrait images. Today the Dictionary includes portraits of 11,500 of its 60,000 subjects. Every image is a depiction of the sitter from life, so as to convey an aspect of his or her personality.

Now the Oxford DNB is moving on- this time with the inclusion of sound - in a project to link biographies to voice recordings made by an initial selection of 750 historical individuals. The earliest clips—including the suffrage campaigner Christabel Pankhurst and the Liberal prime minister, Herbert Asquith - are held in the ‘Early Spoken Word’ archive at the British Library. 

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CC NPGDame Christabel Pankhurst by Lambert Weston & Son, c.1905 by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG x32605)

 

As the crackling on these wax cylinders makes clear, this was a pioneering form of communication reserved for periods of political drama. Speaking in December 1908, Christabel Pankhurst issued a rallying call to every ‘patriotic and public spirited woman’ to take up ‘militant’ tactics in the hope that ‘1909 must, and shall, see the political enfranchisement of women.’ In his speech on the 1909 ‘people’s budget’ Herbert Asquith acknowledged the intersection of technological novelty and looming political crisis: ‘I have gladly accepted this invitation to speak to you in this unusual manner to reach as many of my fellow countrymen as possible’.

Two decades later the availability of ‘wireless’ instilled a new pioneering spirit. It’s captured in George V’s opening words to the first Christmas message of 1932: ‘Through one of the marvels of modern science, I am enabled … to speak to all my people throughout the Empire’.

  King George V 908_06_LEHD1147
King George V (1865-1936) ©Leemage/UIG/The British Library Board Images Online

 

Other British Library clips reveal how voice recordings took on new formats in the 1930s: the personal travel documentary by Amy Johnson; chef Marcel Boulestin’s guide to perfect omelettes (‘practice, quickness, a thick iron pan and a good fire’); and the celebrity interview with Arthur Conan Doyle (‘how I came to write Sherlock Holmes’). This ability to catch a person’s accent, and indeed to hear a person speak, is the principal attraction of linking ODNB biographies to sound recordings. Hearing the voice reminds us that a distant historical figure was a living person as well as the subject of a biographical text. Listening to voices recorded more than a century ago conjures up something of the ‘marvels’ and delight alluded to by George V.

Conan Doyle 064122

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) from Men and Women of the Day. A picture gallery of contemporary portraiture. Jan. 1888- July 1894 (London, 1888-94) 10804.i.3, 70 Images Online  Noc

 

The effect is particularly striking in the Oxford DNB’s earliest link to the British Library sound archive— that for Florence Nightingale who spoke in support of the Light Brigade Relief Fund in July 1890. Barely audible over the hiss, she concludes her short, carefully enunciated message: ‘When I am no longer even a memory, just a name, I hope my voice may perpetuate the great work of my life. God bless my dear old comrades of Balaclava and bring them safe to shore.  Florence Nightingale’.

Nightingale, Florence 064656

Florence Nightingale c.1860 Add. 47458, f.31 Images Online Noc

 


Philip Carter
Oxford DNB Senior Research and Publication Editor and a member of the History Faculty at Oxford University
 
More on the ODNB’s Sounds project, together with a list of all 750 links, is available here.