THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

7 posts from February 2021

23 February 2021

250,000 sounds preserved by Unlocking Our Sound Heritage

By Katerina Webb-Bourne, Communications Intern for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Time is running out to preserve some of our most endangered sound recordings. The Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project is now four years into an ambitious, National Lottery Heritage Funded five-year project to safeguard at-risk recordings.

Despite the challenges of another lockdown, the resilience and perseverance of the UOSH team has paid off. While navigating national restrictions we have reached a key milestone to save our sounds. 250,000 recordings from across the UK are now safely preserved in our sound archive.

You will soon be able to dip into our collections on our new Sounds website and enjoy sound heritage as diverse as folklore from the Isle of Man to Uyghur music with the electric guitar. The sound items we have preserved also come from ten partner hubs located around the UK, who have contributed over 35,000 recordings of their own and are helping to manage collections from 59 organisations spread throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The UOSH team has adapted to current conditions to continue to provide access to sounds that inspire us and audio we can all enjoy in difficult times. Our Learning and Engagement teams and ten hub partners have launched sound websites, workshops, and a number of creative listening sessions for everyone.

To celebrate all these impressive achievements we want to share the 250,000th sound to be preserved by the UOSH project with you. In this recording you can hear Maeve and Dick discussing how one goes about making ‘Pig Lug’, a Yorkshire dish from the coastal town of Filey similar to a pie or pastry containing currants.

Grab a pen and some paper, and listen closely for the recipe:

Listen to Maeve and Dick

Maeve: aye but now then what about pig lug [= ‘type of pie with currants’] have I tae [= ‘to’] tell thee how tae mack [= ‘to make’] it and then if thou ever gets a wife thou knowest thou can tell her how tae mack it
Dick: aye why
Maeve: have I tae tell thee why dost thou think thou could tell me better Dick
Dick: I daen’t [= daePRESNEG (dae = ‘to do’)] know I daen’t know how tae mack it
Maeve: I know you you mack you mack pastry fost [= ‘first’] though knowest how tae mack pastry Dick
Dick: yes mm
Maeve: you get a bit o’ saim [= ‘lard’] and a bit o’ flour and a bit o’ salt put in and then you mix it in thou knowest and then you get a drop o’ watter [= ‘water’] and mix it tiv [= ‘to’ + vowel] a nice you know a nice movable consistency they call it these days
Dick: aye
Maeve: anyway you get that in
Dick: paste [= ‘dough, esp. pie crust’] aye
Maeve: paste aye and then you roll it out Dick then you put a bit of old blather [= ‘batter/pancake mixture’] on it butter margarine … (aside) go on tae them buns lass … (continues) and then you put some sugar on and then you put it wiv [= ‘with’ + vowel] a few currants your Joan daesn’t [= daePRESNEG (dae = ‘to do’)] like a lot o’ currants course she hae [= ‘to have’] tae she has tae heve [= ‘to have’] her own way like sae [= ‘so’] we put ’em we put ’em as though they were birds flying i’ t’ air thou knowest now and again
Dick: aye
Maeve: but thou likest uh raisins best daesn’t thou
Dick: I dae [= ‘to do’] I like raisins
Maeve: aye well next time we mack em Dick we’ll put raisins in ne’er [= ‘never’] mind about what she likes
Joan: no no no we shan’t cause I daen’t like it
Dick: thou’ll hae tae mack a special ‘un for me then wi’ nowt [= ‘nothing’] but raisins in it
Maeve: aye that’ll be better then I rolls it up and I puts it on a baking sheet thou knowest Dick puts a bit mair [= ‘more’] sugar on top and a drop o’ milk and by thou should see what a shining paste they heve when they come out o’ th’ oven
Dick: oh aye
Maeve: oh they’re grand I know there’s ya [= ‘one’] fella comes tiv our house and if you daen’t put em out o’ road [= ‘out of the way’] there’s nane [= ‘none’] for you he’ll eat lot
Dick: aye that Griffiths fella
Maeve: aye

An illustrated map of Yorkshire with Filey pictured on the coastAbove: An illustrated map of Yorkshire, featuring Filey on the coast between Scarborough and Bridlington. 

Our team enjoyed listening to Maeve and Dick revel in the comforts of baking at home, and it resonated with those of us who picked up new skills during in lockdown. We also found familiar joy in hearing them debate one other about the perfect amount of currants to include in their favourite dish. Perhaps it is time for all aspiring bakers to rediscover an old favourite like Pig Lug?

This recording featuring food from Filey was captured by John Widdowson and is part of the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture (C1829). The collection is a diverse and absorbing treasure trove of sound recordings from the former Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies (IDFLS), part of the University of Leeds from October 1964 to September 1983. It also contains dialect-related recordings made prior to the establishment of the Institute, as well as many sounds recordings made for the Survey of English Dialects (SED), the first ever comprehensive, nationwide survey of vernacular speech in England. The collection was donated to us in 2019 for digitisation as part of the UOSH project.

Over 300 examples of dialect are represented in the SED, forming an important and moving record of life in the late 19th and early to mid-20th centuries. These sound recordings provide us with a window to a vanishing world at a point where many (though not all) the old ways were dying out.

It also provides us with a timely reminder of the vital work we are carrying out and spurs us on to keep preserving sounds, as there is lots more work to do. Look out for new websites exploring the History of Recorded Sound and the speeches of famous orators on Speaking Out in the coming months.

Thank you to Jonnie Robinson, Charlotte Wardley and Andrew Ormsby for your contributions to this article, and the Leeds University Dialect and Heritage project for giving us permission to use this recording.

Congratulations are due to every member of the UOSH team at the British Library and partner hubs for all that has been achieved over the past year.

Follow project updates @BLSoundHeritage on Twitter and Instagram.

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22 February 2021

Recording of the week: Breathe in

This week's selection comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Reference Specialist.

Born in 1885 in a small town in the Free State province of South Africa, Tromp Van Diggelen had an unfortunate childhood. He suffered from various respiratory-related illnesses, such as pneumonia.

Supported by his teacher at school, Tromp started studying the functionality of human body which eventually led him to discover that simple circular breathing exercises would improve physical strength and build up body resistance.

Instead of investing in long days of training at the gym, he realised good breathing techniques could in fact help him add a few inches to his chest, thus building up physical endurance. He would later become known as 'The Man with the Perfect Chest'.

This focus on functional strength allowed him much more freedom to finally participate alongside other children in sport competitions.

He understood that muscle flexibility was improved by blood flow, and simple breathing exercises might improve the muscular tone, leaving us with a healthier and stronger appearance. This knowledge is at the core of 'A Lesson in Correct Breathing', released by Columbia.

Colombia disc label

Breathing Made Easy

Download Transcript for Breathing Made Easy

In the recording you hear real intakes, while following Tromp’s clear instructions on how to expand the chest and then release the breath.

These talking demonstrations based on practical and simple advice are sequences that are easy to follow and repeat, accessible to anyone. Ultimately, they show us how much a correct breathing technique can improve the quality of our life as a whole.

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

18 February 2021

Remote oral history interviewing at the British Library during the Covid-19 pandemic

Soon after the first lockdown in March 2020 the British Library oral history team suspended all face to face oral history interviews. Cut off from our established workflows and working from home we were faced with the same question as everyone else, what now?

Led by Oral History Archivist Charlie Morgan, in April 2020 we issued some guidance on ‘Remote oral history interviewing during Covid-19’, kindly hosted by the Oral History Society (updated editions have followed). The guidance argued that for the majority of projects remote interviews would likely never be as good as in-person interviews – from a technical, ethical and practical perspective – and that interviewers should think twice before immediately shifting to online remote interviewing. We recommended delaying interviews that might not be urgent, and raised a number of ethical and legal issues, not the least of which was whether an interview in the midst of a global pandemic might add extra trauma and pressure for certain interviewees (and interviewers) struggling to cope.

As lockdown eased over the summer we developed new risk assessment guidelines, policies and check-lists to help interviewers safely prepare for socially-distanced in-person interviews. Led by Assistant Archivist Camille Johnston, we published ‘Recording oral history interviews in person during the COVID-19 pandemic’ and this formed the basis for a new BL/National Life Stories policy on in-person interviewing.

But no sooner had in-person interviews restarted than they were curtailed by the second and now third lockdowns, forcing us to revisit our earlier decision about remote interviews. This was especially the case for several of National Life Stories newest projects, including ‘An Oral History of Farming, Land Management and Conservation in Post-War Britain’ (generously funded by the Arcadia Trust).

Back in March 2020 the oral history community was relatively unfamiliar with remote interviewing, but since then we and others around the world have been experimenting with a host of technical options. Our own experiments, alongside Oral History Society trainers, focussed on the options we had suggested in our ‘Remote oral history interviewing during Covid-19’ guidance, and resulted in a series of how-to videos on the Oral History Society’s YouTube channel. Some options record video, some don’t. Audio quality and costs both vary. Issues like poor broadband and ‘Zoom fatigue’ persist. Unlike in-person interviewing there remains no single ‘best practice’ approach to remote recording.

Aerial photo of a desk with a laptop, keyboard and mouse shown next to a USB microphoneRemote recording set up. Image: Liz Wright.

For our own projects we settled on using a podcasting programme Zencastr (now Zencastr Classic) which, for reasonable cost, delivers high quality uncompressed wav recordings through a ‘double-ender’ recording where all audio is recorded locally. This means that both the interviewer and the interviewee will each be recorded as they sound, and not as you would hear their voice after it has been compressed through, for example, Zoom, Teams or a telephone call. Zencastr, like all US-based software services, is no longer fully compliant with UK-EU GDPR as a result of the withdrawal of the US-EU ‘Privacy Shield’. Every institution must now make its own risk-based decision about whether or not to use US-based software services on a case-by-case basis. In this instance the BL decided that use of Zencastr was an ‘acceptable risk’, as it was crucial for the continuation of our work during the pandemic, and the data would be stored on remote servers for a minimal time period before being deleted.

While a podcasting programme such as Zencastr records high quality audio it doesn’t have any video functionality. To allow greater rapport we decided to use a video conferencing programme (in our case Zoom) on mute at the same time so both the interviewer and the interviewee can see one another. Finally, as built-in computer microphones are generally of poor quality, we purchased multiple USB microphones for interviewers and also for interviewees, who receive their microphones by post and forward them on to the next interviewee the same way. There are many USB microphones to choose between, the best quality running into hundreds of pounds apiece. For its balance of quality, cost and ease of use we decided to use the Bumblebee microphone made by Neat. The added cost of the microphones and their transit has been balanced by savings in interviewer travel costs, especially when interviewees are far away requiring overnight stays.

We produced guidance for interviewees to help them set up the microphones, check that their computers had sufficient storage space, and join the Zencastr call. And then we began interviewing.

Paul Merchant, interviewer on the farming oral history project, was one of the first in the BL team to use the new kit and remarks, ‘although this method cannot reproduce the more subtle and intangible aspects of life story interviewing, it has allowed us to record very valuable material with existing and new interviewees, with archive-quality stereo audio.’

John Marshall interviewed by Paul Merchant (C1828/23)

Download John Marshall interviewed by Paul Merchant Transcript

Paul explains that his interview technique has had to change – shorter and more precise questions tend to be needed – and feelings and emotions are more difficult to spot, especially with new interviewees whom he’s never met face to face. He has found remote interviewing sometimes lacks the emotional intimacy of in-person interviews, where the tiny signals and tells of body language and posture can often dictate a particular questioning line and are not easily seen and understood via Zoom. Asking ‘difficult’ questions becomes more challenging.

Photograph of an interviewee wearing headphones and looking at a computer screen while taking part in a remote oral history interviewRemote interview with John Marshall in Fife, Scotland, November 2020. Image: Rhona Marshall.

Liz Wright, who has also been recording remotely for another time-limited project, agrees with Paul about the difficulty of interpreting body language on-screen, and feels that the pace of an interview can be affected – especially when it comes to understanding different types of silence and how to respond to them. And practically the added technology can make interviewees initially more nervous and apprehensive, and it can take time for them to trust the process, bearing in mind that some of them may never have communicated via video call before. Despite these challenges the remote interviews, which have so far been continuations of recordings started in-person in the autumn, have recorded very interesting testimonies of high quality.

Paul, Liz, and the team have also had to develop new ways of ensuring all the interview documentation is shared and signed off: the pre-interview Participation Agreement and post-interview Recording Agreement. And our archival team have had to implement entirely new workflows for safely and securely transferring and storing audio files using a web-based file transfer service that allows for password protection (the paid-for premium service WeTransfer Pro).

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic there were questions about whether we were entering a ‘new normal’ for oral history, where remote interviewing would become the dominant approach. Our experience so far suggests otherwise and indicates there are still many aspects of the in-person interview that can’t be replicated at a distance, especially for in-depth interviews and with new interviewees. Yet it is still true that the world of oral history has changed dramatically in the last twelve months. It is now clear that high quality remote interviews suitable for archiving can be recorded, and this in itself opens up many possibilities to interview people who live far away or in other countries. Even once we can return to in-person interviewing, remote recordings will still be a part of our oral history toolkit.

Blog by British Library Oral History team, February 2021

17 February 2021

On teaching languages

Reference Specialist, Giulia Baldorilli, writes:

The Direct Method, teaching a language by speaking it (Stray 1992: 12), was originally introduced by W.H.D. Rouse in the late 19th century and is part of the wider Applied Linguistic interdisciplinary field. Son of a Baptist missionary from India, Rouse attended Regent’s Park College when the family moved back to London in 1880. After a fellowship at Christ’s College (Cambridge), Rouse continued his teaching first at Cheltenham College, and later as a schoolmaster at Rugby Grammar School. Convinced that a radical change was necessary in public school classical curriculum, Rouse laid out a new solution known as the Direct Method. This new progressive approach promoted by Rouse would enable pupils to immerse themselves fully in the learning experience of languages.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Rouse’s new way of teaching modern languages can be traced back to Germany, when a polemical pamphlet ‘Language teaching must start afresh!’ by Wilhelm Viëtor was first published. The work - inspired by Viëtor’s own experiences - was conceived as a means of bridging the gap between knowing and living a language in one's daily life (Walmsley 1984: 1).

Several reforms carried out in the educational field were indicative of much broader social and economic developments taking place in England at the end of the Edwardian period: the Elementary Education Act 1891, which removed fees in elementary schools was mainly aimed at promoting more accessible education within a society still dominated by social inequalities.  

The teaching of foreign languages also looks to the living situation rather than a given literary corpus, with emphasis on the direct method and, wherever possible, complete immersion in the target language (especially by living among its speakers). Language in education has often been influenced by political factors: for example, Welsh was proscribed in the schools of Wales for a long time in the 19c, but now many schools in Wales teach through the medium of Welsh and every school teaches the Welsh language (Mc Arthur et al 2018).

The core features of the direct method were conversation, questions, and answers, which belonged to the Socratic method of ancient Greece. In short, this new approach represented a radical renewal in the way of teaching the classical curriculum.

As applied to the teaching of languages, the Direct Method means that the sounds of the foreign tongue are associated directly with a thing, or an act, or a thought, without the intervention of and English word: and that these associations are grouped by a method, so as to make the learning of the language as easy and as speedy as possible, and are not brought in a haphazard, as they are when children learn their own language in the nursery.  It follows that speaking precedes writing, and that the sentence (not the word) is the unit (Rouse and Appleton 1925: 2).

Listen to instruction - in Latin

Side one of ‘Latin Course’ (Linguaphone LAT 1-10 E). BL ref.: 1CS0011839. We hear the teacher start the lesson by encouraging the pupils to repeat a set of Latin words after him - to mimic the sound so as to create a real experience of the language.

In 1911, Rouse organized a summer school on direct-method classical teaching. Its success led to further such events, and at the Cambridge school of 1913 the Association for the Reform of Latin Teaching (ARLT) was founded.

Article from The Daily Mirror (5 September 1949)
Newspaper article about the Direct-Method
from The Daily Mirror (5 September 1949, British Newspaper Archive)

One of the principles of this method is that English language should be avoided during the lessons. However, on rare occasions some teachers might find it beneficial to some extent, such as to confirm a correct understanding of the Latin word by giving the English equivalent (Appleton 1913: 2-3).

Language Tracing Audio Booklet (Thomas 1914)

On Teaching Language
Image of front cover of audio booklet “A.L.” Language Tracing Books 1 (Thomas 1914)

In the 1930s, Rouse made a gramophone disc of a Latin course and of Greek passages for the Linguaphone Institute. On page 9 of the accompanying booklet for his Latin Course (BL shelfmark DOC0001278) he notes:

On no account give the Record before the lesson. The direct method makes its unique effect because it is natural, spontaneous, and acts between two humans beings without interference. A mechanical device would spoil it; indeed, these hints are only meant to help those to whom it is new, for when they have got all the matter in their heads, they will use it quite naturally, each in his own way, and all hesitation will disappear.

Listen to instruction - in Latin

Side ten of ‘Latin Course’ (Linguaphone LAT 1-10 E). BL ref.: 1CS0011839. In this second clip we hear more of the lesson as the pupils repeat a set of Latin words after the teacher - to mimic the sound so as to create a real experience of the language.

This approach relies on the idea that a more immersive, interactive way of learning a language, which doesn’t start with plain grammar books, should be promoted: the use of words (and idioms) is the ultimate tool of the whole learning experience. In this reformed method - a conversational method - the correct use of constructed sentences should be preferred. Thus the pupils should be able to write and speak in a completely constructed language before they can fully understand that vernacular expressions like idioms, often do not require them (Stokes 1917: 11-14).  

References

Appleton, R. 1913. Some Practical Suggestions on the Direct Method of Teaching Latin. Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons.

McArthur, T., J. Lam-McArthur, J. & L. Fontaine. 2018. The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rouse, W. & R. Appleton. 1925. Latin on the Direct Method. London: University of London.

Rouse, W. Latin Course. [gramophone Disc]. UK: Linguaphone, LINGUAPHONE LAT 1-10 E

Stokes, E. 1917. A Reformed Method of Teaching English: Being a Practical Exposition of the Direct Method for Teaching English as Used in an Indian High School. Calcutta: Longmans & Co.

Stray, C. 1992. The Living Word: W. H. D. Rouse and the Crisis of Classics in Edwardian England. London: Bristol Classical Press.

Thomas, D. 1914. The A. L. Language Tracing Books, for use with the “A. L.” “Direct Method” Readers, and with the “Teaching of English by the Direct Method”. Leeds: E.J. Arnold.

Walmsley, J. 1984. ‘Quousque Tandem: Wilhelm Viëtor's Language Instruction Must Do an About-Face.’ In The Modern Language Journal 68 (1), pp. 37–44.

15 February 2021

Recording of the week: the swimming songbird

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

The White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) is a bird that just loves water. Normally found alongside fast flowing rivers and streams, this little songbird has evolved to dive, swim and even walk underwater. Though it’s almost impossible to believe that a bird not much larger than a sparrow could survive in such precarious conditions, the dipper has a number of special adaptations that allow it to thrive. Strong legs help individuals brace themselves against the current while their feet are able to firmly grip slippery rocks and pebbles both above and below the surface. They also possess powerful, rounded wings that act much like flippers when swimming underwater.

Colour illustration of a White-throated DipperHand coloured woodblock print of a Dipper, produced by Alexander Francis Lydon for Volume 3 of A history of British Birds.

A lovely description of the Dipper's song can be found in A History of British Birds, a multi volume collection written by the parson-naturalist Reverend F. O. Morris and published by Groombridge & Sons between 1850-1857. Morris wrote:

‘The song of this interesting bird is melodious and lively, though short. It is to be heard in sunny weather at all seasons of the year – a sweet accompaniment to the murmuring music of the rippling trout-stream, which soothes the ear and the heart of the solitary fly-fisher, as he quietly wends his way along, at peace with all the world.’

This close proximity to water makes recording dippers notoriously difficult; all too often its song and calls are drowned out by the rapid current. Despite the challenges, the sound archive does have almost 100 recordings of the White-throated Dipper in its collection.

The following example was recorded near the River Vrynwy in Wales by wildlife sound recordist Richard Margoschis. A breeding pair used rocks in the middle of the fast-flowing river as their songposts and it’s from one of these that the male in this recording was captured delivering his song. Though certainly melodious and lively, the song appears to be much longer than described by Morris.

Dipper song, recorded in Powys, Wales on 16 March 1980 by Richard Margoschis (BL ref 10563)

This recording was digitised as part of the Library’s Unlocking our Sound Heritage project. Now in its fourth year, this UK-wide project aims to digitally preserve and provide public access to some of the nation’s most unique and at risk sound recordings. Thousands of wildlife recordings from all over the world have been digitised so far and you can keep up-to-date with the project’s progress by following @BLSoundHeritage.

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11 February 2021

Experiences of women in STEM: working in the scientific civil service

For International Day of Women and Girls in Science, PhD candidate/researcher Emmeline Ledgerwood looks at the careers of women government scientists in a new article for Women’s Rights. Here, she discusses the research that revealed the opportunities and challenges these women encountered as working scientists.

I met Carol Atkinson, Susan James, Sarah Herbert and Shirley Jenkins during 2018-2019 when I interviewed them for my PhD research into the impact of organisational change in government research establishments. I conducted 23 oral history interviews with former government scientists and these interviews are being added to the British Library sound collections, alongside the larger collection of interviews with British scientists, An Oral History of British Science.

Portraits of Carol Atkinson, Susan James, Sarah Herbert and Shirley Jenkins by Bill Knight
Carol Atkinson, Susan James, Sarah Herbert and Shirley Jenkins. Images © Bill Knight.

Six of my interviewees were women who had worked either at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in Farnborough or the Building Research Establishment in Watford during the second half of the twentieth century.1 While the interviews focused on organisational change, memories of childhood and education were explored alongside those of working life, revealing some of the influences, opportunities and challenges that defined their careers in science.

Sarah Herbert on the inspiration from her Physics teacher C1802/13

Download Transcript - Sarah Herbert on the inspiration from her Physics teacher

The women featured in the article are not those who have made brilliant scientific breakthroughs or who will become the subject of biographies.2 More importantly, perhaps, they represent and refer to the curious, practical and intelligent women who embarked on a working life in science as the natural choice for a satisfying and enjoyable career. Their stories are of women who were valued colleagues, contributed to their field at many levels, whether as technicians or experts on international committees, and held senior positions of responsibility in the workplace.

At the same time interviewees' experiences of working in science illuminate the widespread challenge of navigating male-dominated environments before the establishment of equal opportunities practices in the workplace. The prevailing attitudes are reflected in the 1980 Review of the Scientific Civil Service, which made no attempt to analyse staff diversity in terms of race or gender, rather it was concerned with numbers, qualifications and scientific disciplines.3 While there are no references in the interviews to active efforts by women to collaborate in changing their standing within the system, the article shows how individual women responded to the workplace culture.

Women such as James progressed to positions of standing in the professional scientific community, but there have always been many women who have played an integral role in the conduct of scientific research who are far less visible to historians of science. At RAE there were technicians, cleaners, administrators and librarians, such as interviewee Pam Turner who was a subject librarian responsible for answering enquiries from the materials and structures team.

Portrait of Pam Turner by Bill Knight
Pam Turner. Image © Bill Knight.

My PhD oral history interviews have allowed the stories of their working lives to be preserved. The beauty of the life story approach is the bonus of tantalising glimpses of other women who inhabited these worlds of science, such as ‘this admin officer, she was like the God-like person in charge of admin for the department’; or ‘she was one of the WAAFs employed at Bletchley Park operating all these things to keep track of what was happening’; and ‘she used to fly Met Research Flight and go thunderstorm hunting, she was a great glider pilot.’4 If only we could track down more women such as these and record their stories for another oral history project.

Explore the journeys of Susan James, Sarah Herbert, Shirley Jenkins, Carol Atkinson and their colleagues on the Women’s Rights website.

Blogpost by Emmeline Ledgerwood (@EmmeLedgerwood), AHRC collaborative doctoral student with the University of Leicester and the British Library Oral History department. Her research looks at how the privatisation policies of the 1980s and 1990s affected government research establishments and the scientists who worked in them. She also writes about parliamentary history, including the scrutiny of science at Westminster and political ambition in women. Her interviews for the History of Parliament oral history project (C1503) and with Conservative party activists (C1688) are archived in the BL sound collections. Emmeline is co-convenor of the University of Leicester oral history reading group @hypirohrg which welcomes new members.

References:

  1. British Library, C1802 Privatisation of UK Government Science: Life Story Interviews.
  2. Paola Govoni and Zelda Alice Franceschi (eds), Writing About Lives in Science: Autobiography, Gender, and Genre (Göttingen, 2014); Sally Horrocks, ‘The Women Who Cracked Science’s Glass Ceiling’, Nature 575, no. 7781 (6 November 2019), pp. 243–46.
  3. Management Committee of the Science Group, Review of the Scientific Civil Service (London, 1980).
  4. Claire G. Jones, ‘Women and Science’, in Routledge Historical Resource: History of Feminism (Routledge, 2016); C1802-16 Interview with anonymous, Track 2 00:21:22; C1802-17 Interview with Shirley Jenkins Track 5 00:06:14 and Track 1 00:27:24.

08 February 2021

Recording of the week: From feminist utopias to contemporary sound

This week's selection comes from Harriet Roden, Digital Learning Content Developer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Imagine a land where flowers pave the streets, energy is solely reaped from the sun and air-cars transport people to universities, laboratories and observatories. Imagine this land is run entirely by women, because the men are all locked away in purdah.

This is 'Ladyland', a fictional utopia envisioned by Begum Rokeya (1880 – 1932) in her 1905 novel Sultana’s Dream.

Book cover of Sultana's Dream
Sultana’s Dream was originally published in the Indian Ladies’ Magazine in 1905.

Rokeya was a Bengali feminist writer and educator who is widely regarded as a pioneer of women's liberation in South Asia. She held the belief that women in her society were disadvantaged because of ignorance around their own rights and responsibilities.

She campaigned to change this.

In 1909 Rokeya founded the first school in Bengal for Muslim women which is credited as allowing the first generation of women to become literate.

She later established the Muslim Women’s Society, which advocated for women’s legal and political rights. The actions of the society has since been praised by Tahmima Anam as ‘the cornerstone of the women’s movement in Bengal’, creating a foundation for a politically progressive feminist movement in contemporary Bangladesh.

Her influence has continued to be felt in the creative outputs and work of women across the globe.

A small, white cassette tape sits on a shelf in our sound archive. The four tracks of Aliyah Hussain’s EP take their titles from key moments in Royeka’s novel. This track titled ‘Koh-i-Noor’ is directly inspired by the conversation between the main protagonist, the Queen and Sister Sara who, whilst touring ‘Ladyland’, describe its creation. With universities, ‘manufactories’, laboratories and observatories on the horizon, the Queen states:

Koh-i-Noor from Sultana's Dream, EP by Aliyah Hussain

Men, we find, are rather of lower morals and so we do not like dealing with them. We do not covet other people's land, we do not fight for a piece of diamond though it may be a thousand-fold brighter than the Koh-i-Noor, nor do we grudge a ruler his Peacock Throne. We dive deep into the ocean of knowledge and try to find out the precious gems, which nature has kept in store for us. We enjoy nature's gifts as much as we can.

In the year that Bangladesh turns 50 years old, join us on 22nd February when Tahmima Anam and friends Monica Ali, Nasima Bee and Leesa Gazi take this visionary work as a starting point in an exploration of fiction from across the Bangladeshi diaspora. Book now.

Explore the worlds imagined by women science fiction writers on the Women’s Rights webspace.

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