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23 March 2021

True Echoes: Daniels Ethnographical Expedition to New Guinea, 1904

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The Daniels Ethnographical Expedition to New Guinea 1904 Cylinder Collection (C62) is a collection of 40 wax cylinders recorded in what is today Papua New Guinea. The collection – formerly known as the ‘Seligman New Guinea Cylinders’ – came into the Library in the 1950s as part of the Sir James Frazer Collection from the University of Cambridge.

This collection is part of the research focus of True Echoes, a three-year research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Learn more about True Echoes in a previous post. It is the second oldest of the eight collections researched by the project, and one of three from Papua New Guinea. The project is overseeing the reorganisation of some of the cylinders within these collections and also the renaming of some of the collections. These changes will be implemented in the British Library catalogue towards the end of the project.

The Daniels Ethnographical Expedition was led and financed by Major William Cooke Daniels (1870–1918), a wealthy American retailer who met the British anthropologist Charles Gabriel Seligmann (1873–1940) by chance on a fishing trip in Hampshire, UK. Seligmann had taken part in the 1898 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits and had visited what was then British New Guinea. His interest continued after his return to the UK. The other members of the Daniels expedition were Walter Mersh Strong (1873–1946), a doctor who left midway through to become Assistant Resident Magistrate in Mekeo district, and Arthur Henry Dunning (1884–1959).

Seligmann, Strong, and Dunning arrived in the capital, Port Moresby, on 19 December 1903. The first recordings were made on 5 January 1904 in Port Moresby, when Dunning, assisted by British Resident Magistrate Francis Rickman Barton, recorded three cylinders of lagatoi songs. Lagatoi are the double-hulled sailing canoes used in the hiri, the annual trading expedition that Motu/Koita people took to the Papuan Gulf to trade their clay pots for sago; the hiri is still celebrated today and remains an important symbol for the Motu/Koita people.

Lagatoi canoe, 1904. Photo taken during the Daniels expedition, 1904. British Museum Oc,B119-150 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Above: Lagatoi canoe, 1904. Photo taken during the Daniels expedition, 1904. British Museum Oc,B119-150 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Seligmann, Strong, and Dunning joined a government expedition to the western part of British New Guinea in January, but left early when Seligmann and Dunning fell ill. They did not take the phonograph, the machine used to record and play wax cylinders, on this trip as they could not find any spare cylinders.

Daniels and his yacht, the Kori, arrived in Port Moresby on 23 May. Over the next five months, the team visited Hula and the Mekeo and Rigo districts in what is now Central Province, and islands in Milne Bay including Samarai, Tubetube, Muyua, Gawa, Kwaiawata, Iwa, and the Trobriand Islands. They also visited Dogura in Bartle Bay, and Wagawaga, a village on the coast of Milne Bay.

Seligmann and Dunning recorded eleven cylinders in the Rigo district, including songs in the Sinaugoro, and possibly the Uare and Doromu-Koki languages. They travelled from Rigo to the village of Hula, where five cylinders were recorded. In what is today Milne Bay Province, they recorded five cylinders on Tubetube, two on the Trobriand Islands, and six at Wagawaga.

Map of recording locations from 1904 expedition. Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors.

Above: Map of recording locations from 1904 expedition. Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors.

In October, the expedition returned to Port Moresby and Daniels left. Seligmann and Dunning stayed in Port Moresby, spending time with Barton and Ahuia Ova, the Koita Chief and Village Constable of Hanuabada, the Motu/Koita village near Port Moresby. Ahuia had previously worked with members of the 1898 Cambridge Expedition. Seligmann and Dunning recorded seven cylinders in the Koitabu language, including one by Ahuia Ova himself. Two other lagatoi songs were performed by a Motu man named Igo who had travelled with the expedition in Central district.

From left to right: Unidentified man, Strong and Igo on a beach, 1904. British Museum Oc,B119.52 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Above: From left to right: Unidentified man, Strong and Igo on a beach, 1904. British Museum Oc,B119.52 © The Trustees of the British Museum

27 Osebouta Trobriands [C62/1419]

According to the announcement, this recording is “A sung song at the Kaiwos Womilamala, by [Tobiga]. Trobriand Islands, September 1904”. The word Osebouta is written on the cylinder box lid, but the pronunciation in the announcement sounds more like osiboita.

linus digim’Rina, a Trobriand Islander and anthropologist at the University of Papua New Guinea, and collaborating researcher on the True Echoes project, has contributed this perspective on the two recordings from the Trobriand Islands in the collection:

“Given that Major Daniels’ yacht Kori visited the Trobriand Islands in September 1904, there is a good chance that Seligmann’s recording of the two songs Mamiepo C62/1420 and Osebouta C62/1419 occurred during the Kuboma (south-west coastal district including Luba) Milamala yam festival season. The season customarily falls between July and September. In the local parlance these would be within the moons (tubukona) of Khaluwalasi, Khaluwasasa/Iyalaki and Iyakoki, respectively.

Therefore I do not think Seligmann’s recorded pronouncement and notation of the songs being ‘sung at kaiwos Womilamala’ [‘sung at Milamala dances’] were completely off the mark. Although I do not have any definite recollections of the named songs, I do not doubt that these two songs belong to the Milamala festival dance songs genre. C62/1419 27 Osebouta is etymologically odd or warped although certain key parts of the lyrics like ‘batagava Bunita’ were recognisable alluding to marine life like sailing. The closest rendition of the name might be ‘wosi bwarita’ which means ‘song of seas’. The performer is Tobiga which, in the recording is repeated by Seligmann after a slip. And Tobiga is a common enough Trobriand male name. In fact the tune is very familiar to the ear as a cheerful Milamala song. There is a charming Kitava song called Yaulabuta but the lyrics and tone of Osebouta nowhere near resemble the former. As I cannot make much of the name Osebouta and its provenance I shall leave it at that.

On the other hand, C62/1420 26 Mamiepo appears rather interesting. Like Osebouta, Mamiepo is most probably a misspelling of the word for the pawpaw/papaya fruit, Momyepu. Although I have not come across a song within the Milamala dance song genre going by that name, the lyrics quite frequently mention the word rarana. This refers to raw pawpaw which due to lack of properly ripened pawpaw fruits available, people may be compelled to eat, sometimes by boiling or baking peeled pieces as a snack or dinner. Listening carefully to the repeated verse, it seems as if pawpaw fruit is metaphorically evoked to convey the image of one taking one’s chances way too early than is necessary. As a result there is this impression of regret over lost opportunity towards the end of the lyric.

Although Mamiepo is a dance song and as pronounced by Seligmann, there were no background sounds of backup by other singers or even drum beats. This might suggest that the recording came about as a result of Seligmann and/or his team’s request, solicitation and insistence.

Unlike Malinowski’s recordings which had a bit more related ethnographic material to augment their contexts, these two recordings will notwithstanding generate much interest and curiosity among the present locals in identifying the songs, performers, composers and place of recording.”

linus previously contributed to a Sound & Vision blog post on Malinowski's 1915 - 1918 recordings from the Trobriand Islands.

Vicky Barnecutt

True Echoes Research Fellow

09 March 2021

A Covid-19 radio archive

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In September 2019 the British Library started recording radio. The Library already had a substantial collection of radio programmes, going back to the 1920s, and has been recording radio off-air – that is, from the live broadcast – since the 1960s. But this was a new project intended greatly to increase the amount of radio captured live, with a particular focus on local and community radio. Too great a proportion of community radio has not been archived in the past and has been effectively lost soon after broadcast. The National Radio Archive, as the pilot project is called, should go some way towards rectifying this significant gap in the national audio collection. What we had not calculated for was the Covid-19 pandemic, and radio’s extraordinary response to a national crisis. Broadcast Recordings Curator Neil McCowlen describes some of the Coronavirus-themed radio programmes preserved for the nation over the past year.

Some National Radio Archive stations

Some of the stations selectively archived by the National Radio Archive 

With our National Radio Archive pilot barely six months old, the world suddenly fell into the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic. Radio has often been seen as a great companion and full of friendly voices to lighten the mood, so with a national lockdown in March 2020, many turned to the radio to see them through the long days spent at home. National stations such as the BBC, LBC and talkRADIO had already documented the spread of the virus from its early outbreak in Wuhan, but now more local information was needed to give support, guidance and opportunities to help within the local communities as lockdown developed.

The National Radio Archive archives selectively from fifty radio stations at any one time (from over 700 operating in the UK). It strives to capture a good cross-section of the country’s response to the pandemic, through national stories, local news and community broadcasts to help those in need in the local areas. This output, sometimes produced at home, shows a great insight into how the communities helped each other with entertainment, support, guidance and activities to help in what was an isolating and, for some, a frightening time. The collection documents the ways in which radio delivered an immediate response to people’s needs, providing news as it happened, and giving a voice to those who needed it most.

After a year of recording since the start of the first lockdown, The British Library has recorded many thousands of news broadcasts, talk shows, phone-ins and general commentaries broadcast by UK radio stations on the pandemic, an ever-expanding reflection of not just the UK’s reaction to the pandemic, but how it has affected people across the world and the many smaller communities that live within that world. With the British Library’s complementary Broadcast News service adding television content to this archive, there is an enormously rich vein of first-hand experiences and reactions for researchers to dig into to tell them about how the world reacted to the first global pandemic for a century.

The National Radio Archive pilot records selectively from BBC network stations, BBC nations, the World Service, BBC local, commercial stations, community radio and Restricted Service Licence (RSL) stations, and internet radio. Over 110,000 programmes have been recorded since the start of lockdown as UK radio to responded with such inventiveness and immediacy. Here are three examples of this from stations whose response to the crisis has been particularly noteworthy.

Manx Radio (www.manxradio.com)

FM 89, 89.5, 97.2, 103.7, AM 1368

Manx Radio is the national commercial radio station for the Isle of Man. Because the island has an independent government, the station has access to all the local politicians with ministers appearing regularly on The Mannin Line, the daily phone-in show to answer listeners questions, plus a daily Update show that reports on the latest Covid-19 situation and Manx related news. The Breakfast Show also has Coronavirus specific interviews and local stories and news. There was also a short series recorded by a student returning to University at the start of his first year called Life as a Fresher. It is a snapshot of a unique experience of starting university life in a pandemic.

Manx Radio also broadcasts a regular Isle of Man Government Coronavirus Briefing, along the lines of the Downing Street, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Government briefings which have continued regularly into 2021 on radio and television.

Isle of Man Government Coronavirus Briefing, 9 April 2020

Manx Radio

Briefing held by Health Minister David Ashford

Isle of Man coronavirus briefing - Manx Radio - 9 April 2020 - extract

Transcript: The first is a statement the chief minister has asked me to read out on his behalf and the statement is as follows: Good afternoon. First of all I would like to thank everyone for their support and kindness over the past few days.  I have been humbled by the volume of messages.  It was important to me to keep everyone updated and I have today received my text message to say that I have tested positive for Covid-19.

Academy FM (www.academyfmfolkestone.com)

FM 105.9

Academy FM is a charity community radio station based in Folkestone, Kent. Its programme Folkestone Virus Update ran for the first months of the pandemic with local information and important messages as well as stories and interviews about life and services available in the community. The twice weekly Folkestone Status shows also contain local news and interviews, although there is a lot of music as well. The Folkestone Radio Church is a virtual church service (“When you can’t come to church, the church comes to you”).

Folkestone Virus Update, 30 March 2020

Academy FM

Councillor Jenny Hollingsbee talking about the Community Hubs set up in the Folkestone area and what they offer residents facing hardship during the lockdown.

Folkestone Virus Update - Academy FM - 30 March 2020 - extract

Transcript: The sorts of things they can do is: to provide food for those not able to get, or to prepare it, for themselves; food delivery in all the three hubs; assist with collection and delivery of food orders; collect and deliver medical supplies; walk dogs and other pets; offer to talk to someone for advice and reassurance. But it’s not limited to all of that, I mean in fact, what any vulnerable person needs.

BCB (www.bcbradio.co.uk)

FM 106.6

Community radio station BCB, or Bradford Community Broadcasting, produces an extraordinary amount of local programming. It has two hourly shows a day called About Bradford and Bradford and Beyond. These cover all important local news stories, plus messages and support for residents in the Bradford area. There are interviews with a large variety of people involved in caring and those isolated during the pandemic. Guests range from local councillors giving official advice to ordinary citizens helping the community to cope at home with ideas, support and contacts.

Programmes are also made for the elderly, mental health sufferers, carers, academics, migrants, LGBTQ+ community, gardeners, businesses, programmes on specific racial matters, environmental matters (Women and Climate), work undertaken at the University (Research Matters), local landmarks and shows on computer games and entertainment. There is also a strand of programmes made by under sixteen-year-olds, the youngest presenter being seven, sharing their experiences of life during the pandemic, including a young carers show, Who Cares. Bradford Spice provides specific programmes for the Asian and Arab communities and also has programmes in Urdu.

The station also broadcasts Democracy Now! which is broadcast Monday to Friday. This is a syndicated current affairs programme from New York and covers the US and the world’s reactions to the virus and the political response to it. With New York being the epicentre of the pandemic in America through 2020, it serves a useful role in showing how the outbreak developed in the United States.

Research Matters, 6 April 2020

BCB 106.6fm

Professor Marcus Rattray, Bradford University explains the structure of the Coronavirus.

Research Matters - BCB - 6 April 2020 - extract

Transcript: Covid-19 as we all know is a virus and viruses are really tiny, really, really, really tiny.  Some people say they’re microscopic but that's a major exaggeration.  The Coronavirus is smaller than can be seen under a regular high-powered microscope. It's around 10 nanometres long. Over 1 thousand times smaller than a human cell and a human cell itself is tiny. In our bodies we have about 37 trillion cells.

Broadcasting in a pandemic has been a great challenge for many community radio stations, existing on slender resources, run by volunteers, and with hastily-improvised recording operators as staff were in many cases forced out of the studios and obliged to produce programmes from home. It has also been challenging at times to archive such programmes. In the crisis conditions of the early months of lockdown, regular schedules were often abandoned and the metadata essential for catalogue descriptions could be difficult to locate (we often found social media to be the most useful source for programme information). Catalogue data and the brief programme descriptions that are available were also enhanced by speech-to-text transcriptions for some programmes.

UK radio’s response to the pandemic has generated much praise. A #ThankYouRadio campaign, has been launched by Radiocentre, the industry body for commercial radio, to mark the anniversary of lockdown, with contributions from the chancellor Rishi Sunak, health minister Matt Hancock and Dame Judi Dench. The academic research community has also taken note, Brunel University being quick off the mark with its UK community radio responses to COVID-19 project. Radio responded boldly to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the archive will greatly inform understanding of the impact the virus on UK society, for years to come.

Neil McCowlen

Broadcast Recordings Curator

Background information on this project, including a listing of all radio stations included so far, can be found on our blog post Piloting a National Radio Archive.

23 February 2021

250,000 sounds preserved by Unlocking Our Sound Heritage

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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.

UOSH banner

15 January 2021

Grace Robertson, a pioneer of women’s documentary photography

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It was when Glenda Jackson fixed me with her frankly intimidating glare and barked, ‘Is that enough for you?’ that I knew I was in way above my head. What on earth was I doing on London’s South Bank, not only with a national icon of stage and screen but with one of the pioneers of documentary photography, Grace Robertson? What on earth did I think I was doing? Luckily Grace (who sadly died on 11 January aged 90) came to my assistance, accustomed no doubt to dealing with tricky customers, and calmly said that yes she’d got the images she needed, thank you. Glenda was pacified.

Those times in 1993 took us around the country for the National Life Story Awards, part of the International Year of Older People, to meet and photograph ‘champions’. Jackson, Richard Branson and Lord Soper were amongst them, and it was a huge learning curve for a young and relatively inexperienced oral history curator. Grace, then aged 63, agreed to take part in the project to ‘celebrate the role of older women photographers’ and I got to know her gentle and unobtrusive technique (despite her considerable height: she was six feet two inches).

Lord Donald Soper being interviewed by his granddaughter as part of the 1993 National Life Story Awards
Lord Donald Soper being interviewed by his granddaughter as part of the 1993 National Life Story Awards. Image courtesy of Grace Robertson/British Library

Grace was fearless but great fun and with her husband, photographer Thurston Hopkins, was enormously generous to me when Val Williams and I were starting up our Oral History of British Photography (OHBP) project at the British Library in 1990. At exhibition openings she’d say to me: ‘Have you met XYZ [famous photographer]’, and then whisk me off to meet my heroes. She and Thurston played an important part in OHBP: both were interviewed themselves (see the BL Sounds website at Grace Robertson and Thurston Hopkins), and Grace trained up to become an interviewer herself, capturing recordings for the collection with Mark Gerson, Penelope Anne Tweedie, Humphrey Spender and Margaret Harker.

Born in 1930, the daughter of journalist Fyfe Robertson, Grace Robertson was one of the few women photographers to work for the magazine Picture Post, which did so much to promote documentary photography’s role in documenting ‘ordinary’ lives before, during and after the Second World War. Her father gave her a Leica camera in 1949 and Grace worked as a freelance photojournalist for Picture Post (initially under the pseudonym Dick Muir) from 1951 until it closed in 1957. She was often allocated commissions about women’s lives. Her 1955 images of childbirth were truly pioneering and she later remarked that ‘I felt I was an observer of society. I never thought about my presence in it. My driving force in photographing women was to find out what made them tick.’

Photograph of women from ‘Mothers’ Day Off’, Picture Post 1954
From ‘Mothers’ Day Off’, Picture Post 1954. Image courtesy of Grace Robertson

Grace went on to work for other British and American publications including Life, retraining as a teacher in the mid-1960s, and only returning to photography in the 1980s. Latterly she lectured on women photographers and published an autobiographical monograph, entitled Grace Robertson – Photojournalist of the ‘50s. Shirley Read, another OHBP interviewer, remembers that Grace was also the Chair of ‘Signals, the Festival of Women Photographers’ in 1996, and ‘she could be formidable in that role’. In retirement she and Thurston moved to Seaford in Sussex where he died aged 101 in 2014.

Grace Robertson was interviewed by Alan Dein in 1993 for An Oral History of British Photography.

Blogpost by Dr Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History @BL_OralHistory

13 January 2021

Building a National Radio Archive - in Hastings

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The British Library's National Radio Archive pilot is collaborative venture, involving curators, technologists and three software and data partners. The day-to-day work of managing the capture of programmes, however, is mostly done by one person, our Broadcast Recordings Curator Neil McCowlen. Here he describes what it has been like keeping a pilot radio archive going, under lockdown, in Hastings.

Neil McCowlen recording radio programmes

Caption: Neil McCowlen recording radio programmes at home in Hastings

On Monday 21 March 2020 a new way of working began for most areas of the British Library, as well as many other workplaces in the UK as work shifted from office to home. This threw up many challenges. This was certainly so for the newly formed National Radio Archive at the British Library. It had started in September 2019, and in those first six months a new system had been adopted to record and archive radio programmes across 50 UK radio stations. As with all new procedures and set-ups, there had been challenges and teething difficulties as all parties began to co-operate together and a good working pattern became established. However, that all changed with Coronavirus lockdown. Now, the Library’s resources became one laptop in Hastings and remote working had to be established.

The radio stations themselves had to adapt to new working practices. The national stations continued their coverage of the main news and talking points of the day, but more importantly, the general interest programming became an important way for people to find entertainment and solace during days of isolation. For many people, being confined to their homes meant a dependence on radio for a voice to listen to as they faced a long period of isolation from friends and relatives. Keeping up with national news was important, but being aware of the local situation in their areas and nearby support and guidance became a necessity.

This is where local stations, and in particular, community stations, came to the fore. At first, many struggled with their studios having to close and volunteer presenters being confined to their homes along with the rest of the population. This proved a huge problem for the National Radio Archive too, as great community programmes were suddenly disappearing from the airwaves. The published schedules of many stations still listed shows that were now no longer being broadcast and automated playlist music now took their place. Trying to discover what was actually being broadcast became a headache, especially as only one person was now monitoring all 50 stations squashed in a corner of one room in a flat nearly a hundred miles from the St Pancras office. Social media provided a way of finding out about some of the new programmes being broadcast, but often blocks of time were recorded to see what programmes might be found in those slots, as many shows were replaced by chart music.

As things settled down, a lot of programmes were being produced at home where presenters set up equipment that allowed them to broadcast from a room at home. This led to some very interesting broadcasts. Suddenly street sounds outside windows and noises around the house were heard rather than the noise free recordings made from a studio. Some stations were able to provide equipment for some presenters, others made do with programs on their personal PCs or phones. This led to a large variety in sound quality. Many such programmes were archived by the NRA to show the range of quality across all stations.

However, the most important thing was that local information and help for the community was being broadcast. Some regular programmes returned, serving branches of the community generally not covered by national and local commercial stations. Programmes devoted to mental health, carers, those living with HIV or other specific heath matters, race, age and gender specific programming and hobbies and interests were being broadcast, giving people a chance to find ways to get them through the isolation of lockdown and discover new ideas to do in the home to boost their morale. Many of these programmes were initially discovered on social media as the schedules were still incorrect in the early months of lockdown, so it was a challenge to archive these shows, but over time patterns emerged and series became easier to follow and record.

National Radio Archive management system

Caption: National Radio Archive management system

One of the most important additions to the schedules were specific community programmes linked to COVID-19 itself and the help and advice that the health authorities within the community could provide the listeners. They also gave out helplines and gave ideas for leisure and fitness activities to help during lockdown. Stations such as Future Radio (Norwich), Resonance FM (South London), Academy FM (Folkestone), All FM (Manchester), Cornwall Hospital Broadcasting Network, Calon FM (Wrexham), Manx Radio (Isle of Man) and Radio Reverb (Brighton) broadcast such programmes, and Manx Radio also had their own government daily updates, along the same lines as Downing Street were giving out. BCB in Bradford adapted their local information show and added a further show in the afternoon to give out even more local information and stories. Siren Radio, based in the University of Lincoln, even broadcast virtual lectures for the students as term time neared its end.

These were all archived, and as the lockdown continued, stations were swapped within the NRA, so that other stations responses to the pandemic could be recorded, whilst still maintaining the maximum of 50 stations that can be recorded from at any one time on the system. Some local festivals and outdoor events had to be cancelled, but they then became virtual events and were covered by the community stations, often broadcasting parts or all of the events. 24-hour marathon broadcasts were set up to raise money, and broadcasts in different languages found within the local area became available again on several stations.

As schedules had not been updated since March on many station websites, the programme information still had to be obtained from social media, causing problems with keeping on top of the broadcasts being taken. Some replaced scheduled programmes at the last minute, due to technical problems at presenters’ homes, or they were unable to record their show due to family issues. So, even the more reliable of station schedules could not guarantee to be 100% accurate. A lot of metadata became generic and detailed programme information was no longer available on shows that were previously rich in available details. Therefore, the research to find that data became more labour-intensive.

Then there were technical issues with our equipment to contend with. There would be some days when the remote access would drop out and the laptop would need to be restarted. There could be quite a gap before a connection could be re-established. Most of the time the connection was stable, but new working practices had to be adopted. Internet speeds could become an issue, with some tasks taking longer to perform than on previous days. Meetings with colleagues were held via Zoom; technical problems were handled remotely (the NRA’s main software provider, SCISYS, is based in Germany).

The main thing is that even with a new way of working, the National Radio Archive continues to grow and has an invaluable range of broadcasts across this strange period in our lives. It mirrors the nation’s reaction to events in phone-ins, interviews and the programmes produced to help during lockdown. Radio has risen to the challenge of being a valuable friend in a trying period for many and has shown ingenuity and dedication in producing helpful and entertaining material. We are proud to say that those programmes and the story of this time in Britain’s history has been captured fully by the Radio Archive and will provide researchers with a rich vein of information in the future. As it now passes 140,000 recordings, the National Radio Archive continues to gather the nation’s words and give a fully rounded picture of not just Coronavirus, but all world and national events as they happen.

Neil McCowlen

21 December 2020

Recording of the week: Sheffield’s pub carols, a secular tradition

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This week's selection comes from Andrew Ormsby, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Recorded by Ian Russell on Christmas Day 1974, in The Black Bull public house, Ecclesfield, Sheffield, this rousing rendition of ‘Six jolly miners’, followed by ‘Hark! Hark! What news’, captures the democratic and exuberant nature of the local ‘pub sing’, a tradition which goes back to the 19th century, and still thrives in certain pubs in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

Map displaying view of Sheffield from Park Hill in 1740
View of Sheffield from Park Hill in 1740, taken from ‘The illustrated guide to Sheffield and the surrounding district etc.’, published Sheffield, 1879

The Sheffield carol tradition has its roots in reforms carried out by the Oxford Movement, an influential group of Victorian clergymen, whose attempts to make worship more serious resulted in a purge of certain carols, which were thought of as not really suitable for singing at Christmas. The village musicians, whose presence was no longer required in the west galleries of their parish churches, took the rejected carols to their local pubs, where they have remained ever since. The pub carols often feature different words and tunes to the more familiar Christmas repertoire, and there are variations from pub to pub and village to village. Each area is proud of its own tradition, and some have their own carols, often named after the location itself, such as ‘Stannington’, written in 1950 by Mina Dyson, who was the organist at the local church in that part of Sheffield.

Despite the subject matter, the fervour you can hear in these songs is really an expression of community spirit and uninhibited enjoyment, rather than an outpouring of religious feeling. In many of the recordings you can hear the clinking of glasses, the exchange of Christmas greetings, general pub chatter (including the odd swear word) and an atmosphere of communal enjoyment that rings out in every line. ‘Awake to joy and hail the morn’, sing the locals in the Black Bull, sounding like they’re about to raise the roof. It’s hard to listen without wanting to join in.

Recording of carol singing in Ecclesfield, Sheffield, South Yorkshire 

Made by Ian Russell in 1974, as part of his research towards his Ph.D. thesis 'Traditional Singing in West Sheffield, 1970-1972', this recording is part of the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture, which consists of sound recordings of the former Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies (IDFLS), part of the University of Leeds from October 1964 to September 1983, and dialect-related sound recordings made prior to the establishment of the Institute.

The sound recordings were donated to the British Library in 2019 for digitisation as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The Ian Russell Collection (C331), documenting traditional English carol singing in the north of England from 1984, will also be digitised and readily available as part of this project.

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18 December 2020

Caulking the ethnographic gap – A Trobriander perspective on the songs, dances, stories and performers of the Malinowski Cylinder Collection (C46)

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linus digim’Rina is a Trobriand Islander and an anthropologist. He is currently Head of Anthropology at the University of Papua New Guinea. He provides a Trobriander perspective on the Malinowski Cylinder Collection (C46), which has also been described on the Sound and Vision blog today.

Nigadabuwa canoe with Namwanaguyau doing a slow punt along the shores of Khaulukuba beach. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/4/8

Above: Nigadabuwa canoe with Namwanaguyau doing a slow punt along the shores of Khaulukuba beach. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/4/8

All these items originated from the Bweyowa cultural heritage of the Trobriand Islands, part of its gulagula. With a slight exception on the Gumagabu song dance, the images and recordings have over time been removed from the cultural ambience of the place, Bweyowa, Kilivila, Kiriwina or the Trobriands. As with Rogaewa from the Iwa people, it will probably struggle to find a comfortable niche back at its original home. Yet it is not completely isolated and could potentially and mutually be invited back ‘home’ like the proverbial prodigal son in the Christian bible.

Gumagabu, according to Malinowski, was in 1918 owned by To’uluwa, chief of Omarakhana, and whose ancestors acquired it from the descendants of Tomakam through laga payment. If this claim by To’uluwa was true then laga payments by Bweyowa custom is outright alienation whereby holdership of previous tenant is completely terminated. I have since then not heard of any other group or village that contested this claim by To’uluwa.

Gumagabu dance. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/7/13

Above: Gumagabu dance. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/7/13

Other than this there are no plausible other claims of ownership for Rogaewa, which the Okheboma people occasionally and sentimentally lay claims to, nor is it possible for Ilakhavetega and WosiTuma for that matter. The images too are neither offensive nor emotionally heart-rending. In fact, both the sound recordings, despite the poor quality perhaps, and dance images would generate a mild reminder of perhaps a slipping-by Bweyowa cultural heritage – a certain phase of cultural paradigm that is worth reflecting upon for the future. In this view, I would suggest seeking the endorsement of the incumbent of the Bweyowa/Trobriand office of the paramount chief – GuyolaKilivila. He is the sanctioned overall custodian of Bweyowa/Kilivila gulagula. This immediately disqualifies all Church leaders, politicians of various levels and modern day professionals.

Personally, and after listening to many of the tunes, not to mention themes, of these so called archaic sounds, and generally from South East Asia through to the Pacific region, I recognise a fundamentally common similarity in the tunes, flows, humming and repetitiveness of the songs. (I wish I was a musician to explain this a bit more clearly.) This is found in poems, magical chants, mourning dirges, laments, heralds and songs. For the time being and in the absence of a better label I suspect this alluring similarity to be fundamentally Austronesian!

Malinowski today

As with Malinowski and those immediately before him, the chosen field approach together with its fine field documentation methods generated its own values, and indeed part of which we are appreciating. Over time we have all become part of the journey of documentation hence, ‘caulking ethnographic gaps’ has become our immediate task that has probably opened up more possibilities. These songs, dances and stories are alive, have been enacted, details adjusted and adopted – and continue to live on. This is a result of often mutually combined efforts between the chronicler and the informants and/or collaborators. Insofar as one can see for the Trobriand Islands at least, the anthropologist-informant relationship is by and large ephemeral suggesting unsustainability by average standards. I wonder if this is an unanticipated end result of objective-imbued field observation and documentation approaches. For, and on the other hand, the Christian churches approach do not necessarily document like the anthropologist and yet leave behind apparently a more lasting active legacy with the people – often derided as been subjective. Christian missionaries tend to impose, observe and adjust methods of cultural integration including appropriating cultural spaces such as renaming places and persons – to which the anthropologists do not. Through the institution of baptism for instance, church legacies have lived on as part of the local people’s annual cultural celebrations and personal names like Peter, Jacob, Benjamin, Esther, being proudly carried on and shielded by its received forms of morality. By contrast therefore, the world famous name of Malinowski is faintly recalled, and I know of no Trobriand child named after him. A few of the elders use his books mainly for the images and tales rather than the ideas expounded. Malinowski is not alone and indeed this includes all the other anthropologists that came after him, as well as myself at Basima, on nearby Fergusson Island. Of course, immediate family members playing hosts do rename one or two of their off springs after the anthropologist but this is where it ends, generally. This is perhaps why the world famous Malinowski shall remain obscure and often on the recesses of living Trobriand Islanders’ lives unless one is a travel writer or becomes a student of anthropology, as I have been.

Returning to the songs and dances for the last word, modern day performances lacks systematic documentation except for a few parents and school teachers insisting upon children to learn, display and be involved in cultural performances. The language is spoken everyday but not so much of the singing and dancing of those traditional themes and tunes. The introduced ideas and beliefs together with more dynamic technology have evidently taken over much of the cultural spaces. In fact only the occasional travel writers, tourists, journalists, office of tourism agents, social media enthusiasts and urban based relatives that pick up performance images for various purposes. This casual form of documentation characteristically lacks the vital cultural context. There still remains hope however for the present generation to embrace the potential of today’s technology towards the fosterage of that ‘slipping by’ Bweyowa culture.

The Rogayewo, a slow dance performed by men wearing fibre skirts, and holding pandanus streamers in their hands. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/SOS/58

Above: The Rogayewo, a slow dance performed by men wearing fibre skirts, and holding pandanus streamers in their hands. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/SOS/58

For further information and commentary from linus on the Malinowski Cylinder Collection, please visit the True Echoes website.

True Echoes: Malinowski’s 1915 – 1918 Trobriand recordings

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The Bronislaw Malinowski 1915-1918 Trobriand Islands, Territory of Papua Cylinder Collection (C46) is a collection of five black wax cylinders (British Library shelfmarks C46/1397–C46/1401) recorded by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski between 1915 and 1918 during fieldwork in what is today Papua New Guinea. The collection came from the Museum of Mankind to the British Library’s National Sound Archive in 1985.

An example of one of the Malinowski cylinders

Above: An example of one of the Malinowski cylinders

This collection is part of the True Echoes project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Learn more about True Echoes in a previous post. This is the smallest, and most recent, of the eight collections within the project, and one of three from Papua New Guinea.

Malinowski (1884–1942) was born in Poland, and moved to London in 1910 to study at the London School of Economics under Charles Seligman and Edvard Westermarck. He also corresponded with Alfred Cort Haddon and W. H. R. Rivers at Cambridge. These were amongst the leading anthropologists and sociologists of the time.

From September 1914 to March 1915, he conducted anthropological fieldwork in Territory of Papua, the southern half of what is now Papua New Guinea, including three months on the island of Mailu. He made two further trips to Papua from July 1915 to March 1916, and from November 1917 to October 1918. For much of these second two trips, he based himself in the village of Omarakana on Kiriwina in the Trobriand Islands.

In his most famous work, Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922), Malinowski described the kula, a ceremonial exchange system involving shell valuables that operates across the Trobriand Islands and throughout much of maritime Milne Bay Province. Many regard Malinowski as one of the founding fathers of British social anthropology, and Argonauts as a seminal work. He is often seen as the originator of the ‘participant observation’ method of ethnographic fieldwork, first described in Argonauts, which became a hallmark feature of the discipline. You can read more about this method on the Cambridge Encylopaedia of Anthropology website. He went on to teach anthropology in the UK, most famously at the London School of Economics, and subsequently at Yale in the USA.

Malinowski’s map of the “Kula District”. The Trobriand Islands are just to the left of the text reading “The Northern Massim”

Above: Malinowski’s map of the “Kula District”. The Trobriand Islands are just to the left of the text reading “The Northern Massim” (Malinowski 1922:30).

For his fieldwork, Malinowski borrowed a phonograph from Charles Seligman, as noted in Argonauts (Malinowski 1922: xix), and purchased 72 cylinders in London. We do not know of any recordings made during his first trip to Papua. At least four of the five cylinders in the British Library appear to have been recorded in the Trobriand Islands; one is dated to 17 July 1918.

In partnership with Prof Don Niles at the Institute of Papua New Guinea studies, we have been able to correct the metadata in our records and find out much more about both the songs and the performers through archival and historical research. This research is highlighted on the True Echoes website. We have been assisted in this research by Michael Young, Gunter Senft and linus digim’Rina. As both a Trobriand Islander and current Head of Anthropology at the University of Papua New Guinea, linus has given us his own perspective on these recordings in a document on the True Echoes website and accompanying blog post ‘Caulking the ethnographic gap – A Trobriander perspective on the songs, dances, stories and performers of the Malinowski Cylinder Collection (C46)’.

The recordings feature songs sung by men with no accompanying instruments. The cylinder boxes have some information written on them in blue crayon. Michael Young, Malinowski’s official biographer, has confirmed that this is Malinowski’s handwriting. For four of the cylinders, the song or genre title and performer’s name is written.  

For example, C46/1399 has the words 'Usi Tuma by Monakeu' and 'Ragayewo by Tokulubakiki' written on the side of the cylinder box.

The cylinder box for Usi Tuma (C46/1399) showing part of the notation in blue crayon

Above: The cylinder box for Usi Tuma (C46/1399) showing part of the notation in blue crayon

Malinowski wrote about both Monakeu - also spelt Monakewo - and Tokulubakiki in his diary and in letters home. Tokulubakiki was from the chiefly clan of the village of Omarakana; Malinowski described him as his “best friend” and his “favourite informant in Omarakana,” (Malinowski 1929:148. 161). In a letter to his wife, Malinowski noted that Tokulubakiki was “a decent, honest, straightforward man” (Wayne 1995:151). Tokulubakiki features in a number of Malinowski’s photographs.

Tokulubakiki and his wife Kuwo’igu in front of their yam house. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI_3_SOS_26

Above: Tokulubakiki and his wife Kuwo’igu in front of their yam house. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI_3_SOS_26

There is no information about the contents of the song or story of Ragayewo. The only time that Malinowski mentioned it is in his diary: in Kiriwina, on the evening of 30 June 1918, he “sat and wrote down and translated Ragayewo” (Malinowski 1967:295). We do not know what has happened to this transcription and translation.

Usi Tuma by Monakewo and Ragayewo by Tokulubakiki [C46/1399]

In 1985, a television documentary series on early anthropologists, Strangers Abroad (Central Independent Television) featured an episode on Malinowski’s work, Off the Verandah. The production team took at least one recording back to Kiriwina, probably 'Gumagabu by Paluwa' (C46/1398). An older man, Bwabwa’u, remembered Malinowski and translated this recording. Translation was difficult as the song was several generations old and used an archaic dialect. . In a letter to the British Library’s Sound Archive in 1985, producer Steven Seidenberg noted that the song was “about a man from Kiriwina who has been ship-wrecked … on Dobu [Island] and who has been eaten by cannibals (possibly for ritual sacrifice?). Gumagabu is the name of the man who has been cooked.”

Gumagabu by Paluwa [C46/1398]

Don Niles, Acting Director of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, said of the True Echoes project:

“In working with these early collections from Melanesia, we will gather as much information as possible about the recordings, from the cylinders themselves, the collector’s diaries, photographs, collected artefacts, and published accounts. We aim to contextualise the collections with information about the collector(s), their fieldwork, and their academic involvements. With this most basic information, we will attempt to reconnect the recordings with the people for whom they have the greatest significance: the descendants of those recorded and others whose traditions are represented. We very much hope that they will be able to tell us more about the music and the performers, their intertwined histories, as well as the recordings’ significance today.”

Vicky Barnecutt

True Echoes Research Fellow

Further reading:

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. London: Routledge. [British Library shelfmark Asia, Pacific & Africa V 10295]

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1929. The Sexual Life of Savages in Northwestern Melanesia. New York: Liveright. [British Library shelfmark General Reference Collection YC.1993.b.3568]

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1967. A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term. Trans. Norbert Guterman. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World. [British Library shelfmark General Reference Collection X.809/4015]

Wayne, Helena, ed. 1995. The Story of a Marriage: The Letters of Bronislaw Malinowski and Elsie Masson. Vol. 1, 1916–1920. London: Routledge. [British Library shelfmark General Reference Collection YC.1997.b.1016]