Sound and vision blog

11 July 2008

Digital views

I read in today’s Guardian that a government-commissioned report on youth violence is due to be published on Monday.  It proposes that parents should be more responsible for controlling the bad behaviour or their children.  Causes of violence and crime in young people are also the topic of discussion in this recording from the Archival Sound Recordings St Mary-le-Bow Public Debates. It is remarkable that many of the issues we are contending with now were evident in 1973.

Digitisation of the Bow recordings presents a unique opportunity for researchers to look at the way issues were debated in a public space during the 60s and 70s and how social issues evolve (or do not evolve) over time.  Listening to the debates provides insights into the language and mores of a particular time but also offers an additional perspective on the here and now.

By publishing sound recordings over the web, we are improving access to material which was once trapped in the archive.  The recordings were unpublished and catalogued only to a minimum, so researchers might not easily have come across them.  Metadata exposed to the web is so much more accessible than records contained in a catalogue.  This is not to denigrate the value of the catalogues but it illustrates the extent to which search engines allow for greater visibility.

The digitisation of archival material increases the availability of primary sources, and we seek to challenge the idea that somehow the only way of looking at a particular time is by reference to written or printed sources. Field recordings of this kind are in effect documents which record a particular event and they present multifaceted evidence in one source. They are quite different from say a news-film or a documentary in not being selectively edited. We can consider them raw representations of what took place and in this way they are completely unique.


In this debate, Anthony Storr and Joseph McCulloch offer a stern warning against making young people into scapegoats for problems we are unwilling to face in ourselves – our greed, selfishness and graspingness.

While the government report to some extent acknowledges this by looking to the parents, the current political stance seems to be increasingly moving towards criminalising the young - and their parents, rather than addressing the underlying causes.

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