Sound and vision blog

3 posts from November 2015

30 November 2015

Voices of Science – Winner of the Royal Historical Society’s Public History Prize for Web & Digital

National Life Stories are thrilled to announce that they have won the Royal Historical Society’s Public History Prize for Web and Digital for the Voices of Science web resource.

VOS screenshot
The Voices of Science website presents clips from approximately 100 recordings from the oral history collections at the British Library, primarily the ‘Oral History of British Science’ initiative made between 2009-2013.  Voices of Science tells the stories of some of the most remarkable scientific and engineering discoveries of the past century using oral history interviews with prominent British scientists and engineers.  Scientists talk candidly about their motivations, frustrations and triumphs, as well as their colleagues, families and childhoods. They reflect on how new instruments and techniques have changed the way they work and how fluctuations in government policy and media interest have reshaped how they spend their time.  

Computer engineer David 'Dai' Edwards recalls setting up the Manchester Mark I computer for Alan Turing and others

Aeronautical engineer Denis Higton recalls an unconventional route into scientific work at the Royal Aircraft Establishment

Space engineer Maggie Aderin-Pocock discusses the origin of interest in space and the influence of television programmes 'The Clangers' and 'Star Trek'

Voices of Science also provides links to the full unedited interviews and transcripts available to all worldwide at British Library Sounds . Personal biographies, photographs and links provide context for each scientist’s life and work. All the digital interviews, averaging 10-15 hours in length, have been archived in perpetuity at the British Library.

The judges of the award said:-

"This website provides rich materials for understanding the practice of twentieth-century science in a historical manner. The interviews themselves are fascinating; they are greatly enhanced by the interpretative material that is also provided on the site, encouraging users to reflect on major themes, including the role of gender in science, and the practice of oral history. The site is beautifully organised, providing not just valuable sources but tools for reflecting on them. It offers a way into a major field of history that makes it fully accessible to those with little or no previous knowledge of the history of science.”


David 'Dai' Edwards with the expanded Manchester 'Baby' computer, June 1949


Members of the ‘Oral History of British Science’ team Dr Rob Perks, Dr Sally Horrocks, Dr Thomas Lean and Stephanie Baxter accepted the award from Amanda Vickery at a reception at University College London last Friday evening.

From the winning team (left to right): Stephanie Baxter, Web Coordinator; Dr Sally Horrocks, Senior Academic Consultant; Dr Rob Perks, Director of National Life Stories and Lead Curator, Oral History, British Library; Dr Thomas Lean, Oral History Interviewer.

The Voices of Science website involved colleagues around the British Library and this prize recognises the huge amount of hard work and enthusiasm which went into it.  National Life Stories would like to say thank you to all of them.

Full details about the award can be found here.


10 November 2015

Celebrating 80 years of talking books

80-years-of-talking books

The gathering of famous literary characters pictured above - I think that's Hercule Poirot at the back there - took place at the British Library on 5 November. It was organized by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to highlight the 80th anniversary of the Talking Books service for people who are blind or partially sighted.  

The RNIB's Talking Books service provides 4,000 audio books every single day to people with sight loss.

In celebration of its 80th anniversary, the service will be provided entirely free for all blind and partially sighted people, starting today.  

The first talking books were issued on 24-rpm discs with Braille labels, under the series title 'Talking Books for the Blind'. 

The British Library holds a collection of around 200 or so of these. They were donated by the RNIB in 2009, long after the format had been discontinued.

The content ranges from Bible stories to classics like The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot and thrillers such as The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain.

However many of the sets are incomplete and many titles are not represented at all, including the very first: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The Library is keen to expand the collection should the opportunity arise. If you have any of these discs please do get in touch.

And if you would like to know more about the history of talking books I can recommend this 2013 blog post by Matt Rubery: The First Audiobook.

03 November 2015

National Life Stories interviews used in new science teaching resources

I have no memory of any teacher of science at my primary, middle or secondary school telling the class about a particular scientist.  Or even about the work of science - the extent to which it was a field of day-to-day effort - an occupation, a job.  Science consisted of special names for things and observable/measureable phenomena (habitat, electrical resistance, malleable, etc.).  It was a method (control all variables but one) and a more or less interesting body of knowledge and understanding that just existed.  That people worked for and on it was not pointed out.

Contrast this with a new set of resources for teachers on the National STEM Centre website that have been developed from oral history life story interviews (long audio and short video) with ten British scientists from ethnic minority backgrounds, recorded by National Life Stories at the British Library in partnership with The Royal Society.  In these new resources, particular scientific questions - how do you get a satellite into orbit?, how does the human body's immune system work?, what kinds of energy should society develop? - are taught through the life stories (summarised in profiles, timelines and the videos) of people who faced these questions in their own jobs or postgraduate studies - interviewees Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Professor Saiful Islam, Dr Jassel Majevadia, Dr Jo Shien Ng, Dr Donald Palmer.  Additional resources based on the other five life story interviews - with Professor Sir Harry Bhadeshia, Professor Sanjeev Gupta, Dr Mah Hussain-Gambles, Dr Mark Richards and Dr Charlotte Armah - will appear in December. 

For the full audio interviews on which the educational resources are based, visit the British Library's Sounds website.

Dr Paul Merchant