THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

20 posts categorized "Humanities"

19 August 2019

Recording of the week: securing the right to read

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This week's selection comes from Josie Wales, Rights Clearance Officer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Along with many other libraries around the world, the British Library celebrated LGBTQ+ Pride this summer, with staff from St Pancras and Boston Spa joining the parades in York and London.

This Recording of the Week takes us back to 1985, when Pride was a very different kind of event with a much stronger political tone. With around 10,000 people in attendance, the 1985 march was considered to be the biggest to date. In comparison, an estimated 1.5 million people gathered in central London to mark the annual parade this year.

This recording comes from a collection of brief street interviews conducted at the 1985 Pride March, through which we can gain an insight into the atmosphere of the event and the thoughts and preoccupations of those attending. A recurring concern were the raids and seizure of imported books by UK Customs and Excise, which most famously involved independent bookseller Gay’s the Word in Bloomsbury, but also affected other organisations that sold or distributed gay and lesbian reading material. More than one hundred imported titles were deemed ‘indecent or obscene’ under the 1876 Customs Consolidation Act, and confiscated.

Photograph of rows of books in a bookshopPhoto of neatly stacked books placed in front of a wall of bookshelves by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash. Click here to view image credit.

In this short clip, a marcher from the Gay Christian Movement, a charity founded in 1976, describes the impact  of this state censorship and the expensive legal battle against it, and shares their thoughts on our right as people in a free society to read and, most importantly, to choose what we read.

Securing the right to read (C456/121)

Both the Gay Christian Movement and Gay’s the Word faced charges of conspiring to import indecent material, but mounted successful opposition to these acts of repression with the strong support of both authors and publishers and the wider community of readers.

Technology has altered the way in which many of us engage with and access reading material, but the sense of community and solidarity that can be created through literature, particularly for LGBTQ+ and other marginalised populations, remains just as important. This theme will be explored over several events at the British Library in the upcoming season, including Banned Books Week in September, which examines censorship and other barriers to self-expression. More information and tickets can be found on our events page.

Discover more LGBTQ history at the British Library.

This recording belongs to the Hall Carpenter Oral History Archive, which has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project

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

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15 August 2019

Napoléon Bonaparte

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First Consul Bonaparte by Antoine-Jean Gros c. 1802

First Consul Bonaparte by Antoine-Jean Gros c. 1802

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

In May of this year I wrote a blog on the 250th anniversary of the birth of Arthur Wellesley, Field Marshall His Grace the Duke of Wellington. 

His enemy at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Napoléon Bonaparte, was also born in 1769, on 15 August, 250 years ago today. 

Napoleon crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David 1800

Napoléon crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David 1800

Finding a recording that provides a direct link to Napoléon Bonaparte is not easy, but there is one.  Napoléon raised the fortunes of his family so that his youngest brother, Jérôme-Napoléon Bonaparte (1784-1860) became Jerome I, King of Westphalia and later Prince of Montfort.

Jérôme’s second son was Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte known as Napoléon-Jérôme Bonaparte (1822-1891).  His cousin Emperor Napoléon III, to whom he was a close adviser, gave him the title of Prince Napoléon in 1852 (as well as third Prince of Montfort amongst other appellations). 

Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte by Hippolyte Flandrin

Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte by Hippolyte Flandrin 1860

Plon-Plon, as Prince Napoléon was known, was pretender to the throne, and upon the death of the Prince Imperial, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (1856-1879) he became the most senior member of the large and confusingly named Napoléon family. However, the Prince Imperial’s will decreed that Plon-Plon should not succeed, but that his son Victor be the next head of the family causing a rift between father and son.

Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte by Roger Fenton

Photograph of Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte by Roger Fenton 1855

It was this first nephew of Napoléon that was recorded shortly before his death by Edison’s agent Colonel Gouraud in 1890.  Gouraud introduces the Prince who speaks in French.  Then some ladies of the court are introduced, the last probably being La Marquise de Saint-Paul, who was Marie Charlotte Diane Feydeau de Brou (1848-1943) a noted pianist who played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at a charity concert in the Salle Erard in 1884 and who counted Saint-Saëns, Widor and Massenet among her friends.  Only the voice of the Marquise de St Paul seems to have survived on the cylinder.

George Gouraud from Vanity Fair 13 April 1889

George Gouraud from Vanity Fair 13th April 1889

Prince Napoleon 1890

While we can hear the actual voice of Napoléon Bonaparte’s nephew recorded 130 years ago, Abel Gance’s epic five and a half hour film about the great Frenchman from 1927 is silent.  Silent as far a dialogue is concerned, but Carl Davis skillfully uses the music of Beethoven and others to bring the film to life. 

The connection between Napoléon and Beethoven is well known – as the original dedicatee of the Eroica Symphony, the composer captured the spirit of Napoléon’s forceful personality in his music.  You can read more about it in a blog I wrote on Felix Weingartner’s recording of the work.

Recording from the Alan Cooban collection digitised with funds from the Saga Trust

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

12 August 2019

Recording of the week: women conscientious objectors of WW2

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

C880 is a fabulously intriguing collection of interviews, conducted by Rena Feld, of twenty-nine women who either were or are conscientious objectors. Their reasons varied – religious, moral, political – but they held firm in the belief that war, for any reason, was intrinsically wrong.

Before I began listening to this collection, my knowledge of conscientious objectors during the Second World War was limited. I just knew they were men.

Weirdly, the concept of women conscientious objectors never occurred to me, simply for the reason that they were exempt from conscription. What I didn’t know though, was that any single woman between the ages of 20 and 30 could be called upon to report for war work.[1]

British Women's Land Army recruitment posterBritish Women's Land Army recruitment poster, depicting a woman with pitchfork, captioned 'For a healthy, happy job join the Women's Land Army', circa 1940 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Some found that this was in direct opposition to their personal beliefs and refused. The results varied from fines to job loss and for some, like Barbara Roads (C880/02), imprisonment. And then there are others, like Angela Sinclair-Loutit (C880/23) who worked in war hospitals during air raids.

All of the interviews in this collection have some great stories behind them. They really highlight what living and working during WW2 was like, as seen through the eyes of people who just wanted peace. However, I would like to talk about just one of these women.

Enter Diana McClelland (C880/04).

Diana McClelland  (C880/04)

Diana McClelland was a physiotherapist, so exempt from war work summons, who specialised in treating children. From her interview, it’s not clear whether or not she actually managed to register as a conscientious objector, but she definitely wanted to.

During the Battle of Britain, there was a Government supported organisation called the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (C.O.R.B). This group evacuated children to the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, with the plan that when the war was over they would return home to their families.[2] 

In 1940, in her own words, Diana just wanted a short holiday to Canada. So, she boarded a C.O.R.B ship as a volunteer to accompany the children. Unfortunately, she boarded the SS Volendam and never made it to Canada.[3]

Auxiliary Territorial Services recruitment posterAuxiliary Territorial Services (ATS) recruitment poster (The National Archives via Wikimedia Commons)

Spoiler alert: she did make it to Glasgow and none of the kids on board were lost.

The ship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-60, and the passengers and crew had to be evacuated and rescued by the accompanying ships. She gives quite a frank description of the events; the ship listing, waiting for the lifeboats, of the crew shouting in Dutch and the children oblivious to the danger. According to the captain, it was the most orderly evacuation he’d ever overseen, something he attributed to the passengers not knowing Dutch. 

When Diana McClelland returned to Glasgow, holiday attempt foiled, she was asked if she would be willing to try again.

Naturally, she said yes.

The only reason she didn’t was because by the time she was meant to sail, the SS City of Benares had also been attacked, this time with a large number of casualties.[4]

I won't lie, if I’d been on a torpedoed ship I don’t think I’d be willing to run the risk again. No matter how pretty Canada is. Which I suppose means these women were braver than I’ll ever be, and I admire that.

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[1] Women of the Second World War https://www.gov.uk/government/news/the-women-of-the-second-world-war

[2] National Archives Catalogue https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C493

[3] BBC WW2 People’s Archive newspaper https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/34/a4297034.shtml

[4] “Remembering the SS City of Benares tragedy 70 years on” by Michelle Murphy, BBC News, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-11332108

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

This recording has been digitised as part of the library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

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24 May 2019

Bicentenary of Queen Victoria – is this her voice?

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Queen Victoria by Bassano 1882Queen Victoria in 1882 by Alexander Bassano

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Queen Victoria was born two hundred years ago on 24th May 1819.  The most famous and, until recently, the most long reigning of British monarchs, Victoria represented a whole century of development and achievement where Britons were at the forefront of science, engineering and the arts.

It is known that she was persuaded to record a cylinder of greeting on 8th August 1898 to send to Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia but insisted that it be destroyed after he had heard it.  In return, the Emperor and his Queen recorded greetings to Victoria in 1899 and these have survived (BL shelfmark M 1865; digital access via BL reading rooms). 

There are references in letters and first-hand accounts of hearing a recording made by Queen Victoria reported in the book by Paul Tritton The Lost Voice of Queen Victoria (1991 Academy Books).  With the circumstantial evidence it would appear that the recording is probably Queen Victoria, but the unfortunate fact is that the few sentences she speaks are barely decipherable.  There are various interpretations of the spoken text, but she seems to say:

Britons restless for their Queen to speak,

let me answer,

if can be,

XX,

that I have never forgotten.

The fourth line is unintelligible and has been variously interpreted as ‘we all had a wonderful festival’ and ‘towards the end of a wonderful gift to me’, referring to her Golden Jubilee.  It sounds like neither to my ear, but we have subjected the National Sound Archive’s original 1991 transfer by Peter Copland of the Bell-Tainter Graphophone cylinder owned by the Science Museum to the latest restoration technology.  The wax coated cardboard cylinder is believed to have been recorded by Sidney Morse at Balmoral in 1888.

Queen Victoria

While the sound of that recording is poor, we can hear the Queen’s cousin and contemporary Prince George, Duke of Cambridge (1819-1904) in better quality, recorded by Edison’s agent Colonel Gouraud on 22nd December 1888.  His message to Thomas Edison, the inventor of sound recording, is as follows:

I congratulate you on the marvelous success of this invention which I think will produce singular results in the future.

The recording comes from the Alan Cooban collection (C1398) digitised with funding from the Saga Trust.

Duke of Cambridge

George - Duke of Cambridge 1855Collodion of Prince George by Roger Fenton 1855

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

16 May 2019

Mother Carey's Chickens

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Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds writes:

In 19th century coastal folklore, the harsh and unforgiving nature of the sea was often personified by the cruel sea witch Mother Carey.

Carey was said to wreak havoc on the ocean waves, conjuring up devastating storms that would destroy any vessel unlucky enough to be caught in her sights. The ship’s crew would be sent to their deaths so that Carey and her partner, Davy Jones, could feast upon their rotting bodies.

She’s the mother o’ the wrecks, ‘n’ the mother
Of all big winds as blows;
She’s up to some deviltry or other
When it storms, or sleets or snows;
The noise of the wind’s her screamin’
‘I’m arter a plump, young, fine,
Brass-buttoned, beefy-ribbed yound seam’n
So as me ‘n’ my mate kin dine.’

(Extract from John Masefield's poem 'Mother Carey (as told me by the bo'sun)' published in 1902)

Mother Carey didn’t travel the open ocean alone though. Like any villain worth their salt, Carey was accompanied by her very own entourage, which, in this case, happened to be a flock of Storm Petrels (Hydrobates pelagicus). Dubbed Mother Carey's Chickens, these little seabirds were thought to signal the imminent arrival of the dreaded sea witch. 

Mother Carey and her chickens, painted by J. G. Keulemans in 1877Mother Carey and her chickens by J. G. Keulemans, 1877 (Biodiversity Heritage Library via Wikipedia)

As far as accuracy goes, Storm Petrels are a pretty good choice. Not because there's anything sinister about them, but because they're most at home on the open sea and can easily cope with the severest of weather conditions. While many other birds would be caught short in the middle of a tempest, Storm Petrels just take it all in their stride.

What you wouldn’t hear was their voice. For Storm Petrels are generally silent at sea (not a great trait for heralds of doom, but there you go). The complete opposite can be found at their breeding colonies however. Here individuals engage in sustained vocal activity, producing far-carrying purring calls from their burrows. The following extract, taken from a longer recording made by Alan Burbidge on Skokholm Island in 1998, is a great example of this.

Storm Petrel purring calls from burrow (BL ref 145176)

Harbingers of death should, at least in my mind, be loud. Very loud. Terrifying too. But our Storm Petrels are anything but that. Rather selfishly, they save their spine-chilling voices for when they're off duty. So if I was Mother Carey, I'd feel a little short-changed.

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

29 April 2019

Recording of the week: George Ewart Evans and The Barley Mow

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This week's selection comes from Charlie Morgan, Oral History Archivist.

The Barley Mow is a classic end of the night folk song; funny enough to leave you in a good mood, adaptable enough to please the crowd, and it’s about drinking so normally has the pub on your side. It’s also tricky enough to show off the singer’s chops and frankly I’m always impressed that someone can remember every measure to congratulate, from the gallon right down to the gill.

We hold many recordings of the song in the World and Traditional Music collection and I’m particularly fond of a rather chaotic version at the Butchers Arms in Carhampton (side note: Carhampton is notable as the home of wassailing (second side note: I once went to a very good pub quiz at the Butchers Arms)). However, the recording I want to highlight today comes from our oral history collections and the interviews of George Ewart Evans.

Photograph of George Ewart Evans with his children in the school garden at Blaxhall, SuffolkGeorge Ewart Evans with his children in the school garden, Blaxhall, Suffolk

George Ewart Evans is one of the godfathers of oral history and, after moving from Wales to Suffolk in 1947, Evans spent the 1950s through the 1970s recording the voices of local workers and neighbours. He’s probably best known for his books including Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay, but the great thing is that we hold his original interviews at the British Library and you can listen to them online. One of these interviews is with a Mr W. Boulton and, amongst his descriptions of seasonal work in Burton-on-Trent and Suffolk step dancing, Boulton regales us with his own rendition of the Barley Mow. Keep listening and, after some prodding from Boulton, you’ll hear Evans join in too.

George Ewart Evans and the Barley Mow (T1416)

According to Robert Bell, “the effect of The Barley Mow cannot be given in words; it should be heard, to be appreciated properly” and I’d have to agree with him. If you want a look at how this might have been in the 1950s then do check out this amazing footage from the Ship Inn, Blaxall at the East Anglia Film Archive (side note: Blaxhall is where Evans lived in Suffolk (second side note: thanks to my family for humouring my detour to the Ship earlier this year)). As for 2019 you’ve just got to hope that you come across a performance yourself, and in that I say good luck to you all – and of course as well to the company, the brewer, the landlord…

More information on the George Ewart Evans collection can be found in our collection guide to Major national oral history projects and surveys

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

15 April 2019

Recording of the week: opening the Tyne Bridge

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This week's selection comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary and Creative Recordings.

This week's Recording of the week - composed of two recordings in fact, an A-side and a B-side - is drawn from the disc issued by the Columbia Gramophone Company to commemorate the opening of the Tyne Bridge.

Side A features the speech given by King George V at the opening ceremony at the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead-on-Tyne, 10 October 1928. Side B features an address of welcome to the King, given by W. Swinburne Esq., Town Clerk, County Borough of Gateshead. 

Listen to King George V (1CL0044447 side A)

Listen to W Swinburne (1CL0044447 side B)

Of particular (visual) interest is the etching which occupies a large part of side A, showing the coats of arms of Newcastle and Gateshead and a line illustration of the bridge itself.

Photograph of the Tyne Bridge disc

On the 23 August 2018 the bridge's importance as a structure of 'more than special interest' was recognized in its Grade II* listing by Historic England.

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

11 December 2018

The Christmas robin

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Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds writes:

There’s no mistaking it; the festive season is well and truly upon us. Christmas trees, laden with baubles and twinkling lights, can be seen popping up in windows all over the country and it won’t be long before we start coming home to find Christmas cards lying on the doormat. Chances are that at least one of these messages from loved ones will have a robin gracing the front cover.

One of the strongest associations between robins and Christmas cards can be traced back to the days of the Victorian postie. For a time,  Royal Mail postmen wore bright red uniforms which soon earned them the nickname 'robins'. As the exchange of Christmas cards grew in popularity, depictions of robins holding cards in their beaks began to appear. A trend was born and, over a century later, robins are still one of the most favoured images on the market.

Robin-postA Christmas card from 1934 (National Museums Liverpool, accession number 1976.561)

As well as adorning our mantelpieces, the robin is also responsible for the snatches of birdsong that can be heard in our parks and gardens at this time of year. Unlike most other songbirds who fall silent after the breeding season has come to an end, the robin continues to make himself heard. His song does change depending on the season; the winter song definitely has a frostier feel than the sweeter tune we hear in the spring. This may have something to do with the changing function of the song. In the spring months, the male robin has love on his mind. He is looking for a mate and, though he still needs to defend his territory against potential rivals, his song has a smoother quality. When winter strikes however, romance goes out of the window. It's all about survival, which leaves no room for any sweet talk.

The following recording is an example of the robin's winter song, recorded in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire by Nigel Tucker. Don't be fooled by the charming melody though - if you were a robin he would try to take you down in a second.

Robin winter song

Follow @CherylTipp for all the latest wildlife news.