Sound and vision blog

16 December 2020

True Echoes launches new research website

The True Echoes research project launches its new website today, providing access to in-depth research on the British Library’s extraordinary collection of Oceanic wax cylinders.

The website, true-echoes.com, was originally planned as an output for the end of the project. However, due to the impacts of COVID-19, particularly on international travel, we decided to bring forward the development of the site and adapt it as a valuable tool for online collaboration and research with True Echoes’ Oceanic partners. These cultural institutions in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and Australia represent the countries from which the recordings originate.

True Echoes – funded by the Leverhulme Trust and BEIS – aims to reconnect the digitised recordings and increase their visibility and accessibility for the Oceanic communities from which they originate. The website will be a key factor in this. It will be used as a tool by fieldworkers during the participatory research phase of the project, enhancing understanding of the collections through local knowledge and cultural memory, and will remain available for individuals and communities to research and listen in their own time. It will also enable diaspora communities to access the research and recordings. Website users are encouraged to add comments on the collections, providing further information about the recordings and contributors.

Cardboard container for wax cylinder C46/1398 with inscription 'Gumagabu by Paluwa good' written in blue crayon

Above: Cardboard container for wax cylinder C46/1398 with inscription 'Gumagabu by Paluwa good' written in blue crayon.

The True Echoes website will also be a vital resource for those interested in the early history of anthropology; the cylinder collections represent some of the earliest uses of sound in British anthropological research and the earliest documentation of oral traditions from Oceanic communities. The cylinders were recorded between 1898 and 1918 and include music, stories, speeches and many different types of songs, including hunting songs, hymns, funeral dirges and lullabies.

The website’s current focus is the Malinowski Cylinder Collection [C46], five wax cylinders recorded by renowned anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in the Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea, during fieldwork between 1915 and 1918. Vicky Barnecutt, True Echoes Research Fellow, has conducted this research in partnership with Prof Don Niles, Acting Director of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies and True Echoes Co-Investigator.

Malinowski seated with a group of men holding lime pots. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/18/2

Above: Malinowski seated with a group of men holding lime pots. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/18/2

Further information and resources will be added to the website throughout 2021 and 2022 as research is carried out on other Oceanic wax cylinder collections.

The website has been developed by Andrew Pace, who previously worked on the British Library’s Peter Kennedy Archive website, with direction and support from me.

The website sits outside of the British Library’s Sound & Moving Image catalogue and so provides an alternative platform for sharing in-depth research findings about the collections, including their historical contexts, provenance and value to originating communities today.

The website provides detailed information, where available, about performers, whose names were previously missing from the cylinder metadata. Maps highlight the variety of recording locations and journeys made by the original recordists. Contemporary photographs from related collections in other UK and international institutions further illustrate the collections, locations and contributors.

Rebekah Hayes

True Echoes Research Fellow

For further information about the True Echoes project, visit the True Echoes website or email the team at true.echoes@bl.uk.