Can you help to unlock our Island’s Sound Heritage?

– Posted on Monday 22nd February 2021

Manx National Heritage (MNH) is looking for good listeners to help them to unlock the Isle of Man’s sound heritage.  ‘Listening Volunteers’ are wanted to listen to voice recordings from the Island’s past, part of ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’, a UK wide project to preserve and provide access to thousands of rare and unique sound recordings.

Since October last year National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) has been busy digitising the reel-to-reel, vinyl, cassette tapes and CDs from the Manx National Heritage Library and Archives.  Digital sound files of these recordings are now being sent to MNH for the contents to be listened to and catalogued.

The recordings range from the early 1900s through to the 2000s.  They are mainly oral histories of  Manx people and others talking about fishing, farming, childhood, their lives and places in the early 1900s, plus Second World War internees relating their experiences in the camps here and Douglas Prom hoteliers talking of the Islands holiday hey days.  The audio recordings also include early Manx language recordings and MNH are also looking for people with the necessary Manx language skill level to listen to and unlock these remarkable recordings.

Current Listening Volunteer Janice says:

Well I’m enjoying it as, from the interviewee’s descriptions, I can picture Peel and compare it to the place I know now.  The history of Peel is one of my interests so it is wonderful to hear, rather than just read about it. The activity is perfect if you have a particular interest but would also would be a way of widening your knowledge by listening to topics outside your interest. 

Hearing the interviewee’s memories of what he and his friends got up to and his joy as he tells the stories is so lovely.  He fondly talks of going to the Albert Hall cinema for tuppence to watch silent films in 1918 when he should not have even been there!  How wonderful to hear it from someone who was really there.  The task is so easy to do at home on your computer, with a cup of tea, typing up key points while immersing yourself in the speaker’s voice.”

Volunteering is done entirely from home and relies on a volunteer having access to a computer, e-mail and Microsoft Word.  No special software or knowledge is required, just a keen ear and a love of listening to stories.  Sound recordings are emailed to volunteers to download, along with a Word document in which to type a ‘content summary’ of each recording.  Listening Volunteers are also sent a short Guide on how to write a content summary and there’s always help-on-hand over the phone or email from the project team at MNH.

Listening Volunteer Derek says:

“I have found the project very enjoyable to date.  It has certainly been a privilege to listen to the audio files.  One can’t help becoming immersed into the characters who give an invaluable insight into their unique lives and occupations.  It has certainly improved my knowledge of our history and I would recommend it to anyone who has some spare time to take part.  You will find it most rewarding and will help future generations in understanding our past.”

Katie Clugston, Digital Collections Assistant at MNH and part of the project team, says:

“I’m really looking forward to working alongside volunteers. Not only is it a great opportunity for volunteers to hear some interesting tales of days gone by on the Isle of Man, but also a great help for the team here at MNH. We will be here to answer any queries that Listening Volunteers have and will be more than happy to help. Volunteers will be paramount to the success of this project to unlock the Isle of Man’s sound heritage.”

Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and led by the British Library, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage aims to digitally preserve almost half a million endangered sound recordings from across the UK and the Isle of Man, making 100,000 of these available online.

The overall project is increasing awareness and enjoyment of sound today, while safeguarding the UK’s long-term capacity to care for and use audio collections.  It has already preserved over 200,000 rare and at-risk sound recordings.

Partners in the project include a consortium of institutions, led by The British Library.  The 10 partners from across the UK are National Museums NI, Archives + in Manchester, Norfolk Record Office, National Library of Scotland, University of Leicester, The Keep in Brighton, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, National Library of Wales, London Metropolitan Archives and Bristol Culture.  Together, these institutions are focusing on preserving recordings, including rural mythologies, regional radio, and stories of underserved communities.


Image caption: Harry Boyde, aged 79 retired farm worker, talking with Tom Braide in 1948 (© Manx National Heritage, PG/11941/c)

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