Sound and vision blog

9 posts from January 2017

31 January 2017

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

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 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

30 January 2017

Recording of the week: let it snow!

This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds

There's nothing quite like the sound of walking through freshly fallen snow. This particular recording was made in the Kentish village of Knockholt, just after midnight on the 3rd February 2009. This signalled the start of a prolonged period of heavy snowfall that was to see most of the British Isles grind to a halt, forcing schools, railway lines and even airports to close because of the treacherous conditions.

Footsteps in the snow, 3 Feb 2009, Kent, United Kingdom, Phil Riddett


Visit British Library Sounds to listen to more recordings of weather from around the world.

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

27 January 2017

Denying Denial - Holocaust Testimonies Online

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

26 January 2017

PhD Placement Opportunity: Developing Access to the Evolving English VoiceBank

The Evolving English VoiceBank is an audio archive of approximately 15,000 voices created by visitors to the Library’s Evolving English exhibition in 2010/11. This collection is only partly catalogued and a new placement opportunity at the British Library offers a PhD student the chance to work on this unique and so-far unexplored archive.

During the three-month placement (or part-time equivalent) the student will audit VoiceBank and WordBank audio files and prepare cataloguing metadata for about 500 to 750 files for the Sound and Moving Image catalogue. The student will receive training in audio editing software and in preparing cataloguing records, and will also be able to use the collection for original research or potentially to support their own doctoral project. The content will be particularly relevant for students of dialectology, sociolinguistics, phonetics or language variation and change.

The placement student will be a full member of the Spoken English team, which sits within the British Library’s Sound & Vision team, and participate in the department’s core activities. This may involve taking part in workshops or conferences, writing blog posts, and preparing content for online resources. The placement will support the development of transferrable skills in areas such as public engagement, team-working, and project planning and delivery. It will be an opportunity to engage in the work of a world-class research Library and to understand its content, structure and remit.

The placement would suit someone studying for a PhD in linguistics or English Language. They would be expected to have a thorough grounding in dialectology, sociolinguistics and/or phonetics. Familiarity with British accents would also be desirable. View a detailed placement profile.

Application guidelines

For full application guidelines and profiles of the other placements offered under this scheme, visit the Library’s Research Collaboration webpages.

The application deadline is 20 February 2017.

For any queries about this placement opportunity, please contact

A note to interested applicants

This is an unpaid professional development opportunity, which is open to current (or very recent) PhD researchers only. To apply, you need to have the approval of your PhD supervisor and your department’s Graduate Tutor (or equivalent senior academic manager).

Our PhD placement scheme has been developed in consultation with Higher Education partners and stakeholders to provide opportunities for PhD students to develop and apply their research skills outside the university sector. Please note that the Library itself is not able to provide payment to placement students, nor can it provide costs for daily commuting or relocation to the site of the placement. Anyone applying for a placement at the Library is expected to consult their university or Doctoral Training Partnership/Doctoral Training Centre to ascertain what funding is available to support them. The Library strongly recommends to universities that a PhD student given approval to undertake a placement is in receipt of a stipend for the duration of the placement.

23 January 2017

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

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


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.

18 January 2017

Music for a President

The inauguration of the 45th President of the United States made me think of the music written by the great American composer John Philip Sousa. 


John Philip Sousa in 1911 (Library of Congress)

Born in Washington in 1854, Sousa’s father was of Portuguese and Spanish origin and his mother was German.  Their son’s musical fame led him to became one of the few enshrined in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1976.

Sousa is famous for his patriotic marches, the most well-known being Stars and Stripes Forever, written in 1896 and made the official national march of the United States by an act of Congress in 1987.  Here is a recording performed by the Sousa Band more than a century ago in extremely good sound for 1909.  The fidelity of the piccolo solo is remarkable.

Stars & Stripes 1909

Hail to the Chief is the official Presidential anthem of the United States which is played at public appearances.  This was a song written around 1812 by a little known London theatre conductor James Sanderson to verses from Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake.  After being published in Philadelphia it was played firstly to honour George Washington and then at various occasions including the inauguration of the eighth president, Martin van Buren.

It was the 21st President, Chester Arthur, who requested a new musical work to be written specifically to be associated with the President of the United States because he did not like Hail to the Chief.  Sousa’s offering was Semper Fidelis (Latin for ‘Always Faithful’) written in 1888.  It is regarded as the official march of the United States Marine Corps and here they are playing it in 1909.

Semper Fidelis

These marches, along with The Liberty Bell and The Washington Post will keep Sousa’s name alive, but he also wrote a number of operettas – El Capitan having 112 performances on Broadway in 1896.  His march of the same name uses music form the score and is here performed by the Sousa Band.


A poster for the original production of John Phillip Sousa's operetta El Capitan (1896), starring DeWolf Hopper (Library of Congress)

El Capitan

The reason so many early recordings of Sousa’s works exist is because the primitive acoustical recording process was best at reproducing the sound of loud performances - something an opera singer or a brass or military band could provide.  Indeed, some of the very earliest recordings are of bands.  Here is a London recording of Stars and Stripes Forever when it was hot off the press, made by the London Regimental Band 120 years ago somewhere between 1896 and 1900.  Certainly, it has a more primitive sound than Edison was later to achieve; the piccolo solo on this recording is barely audible.

Stars & Stripes 1896


The Sousa Band at the St. Louis Exposition in 1893 - each member sporting a moustache

Sousa believed that the phonograph would put musicians out of work stating in 1906 that it would prevent music being made at home and that ‘they are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country.’  For this reason he would not enter a recording studio although allowed his band to do so.  Therefore, he is not conducting these early performances.  However, he did conduct a few recordings and broadcasts later in life.

For all the latest Classical news follow @BL_Classical 

16 January 2017

Listen to and tag thousands of music tracks on Europeana's radio player

Europeana Sounds, a project that connects digital sound archives across Europe, has just launched an interactive radio player.

Now you can enjoy listening to 200,000 music tracks, and while listening, add labels to help other listeners to find recordings.

The player and tagging are very easy to use and no sign-up is required:

  • Press the play button in the player below to hear a recording
  • Select a term in the list shown in the 'Refine the music genre' box, then press 'Add'
  • Use the buttons below the play window to pause a recording, or to jump to the next
  • You can also select Classical, Folk, or Popular music genres
  • So, listen & tag!

On Thursday, Europeana Sounds will be holding a #TagDayThursday. We want to gather as many new genre tags in Europeana Radio as possible – you can help us make this happen! A progress bar can be seen at

For more information, please see the Europeana Sounds website and the press release about the Europeana radio player

The animation below shows how to add tags:

The Europeana Sounds project is co-funded by the European Commission under the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme.

Recording of the week: Mr Seagalman calls his animals in

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.