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Rannsachadh digiteach air a' Ghàidhlig ~ Goireasan digiteach airson nan Gàidheal

Tag: archives

Decoding Hidden Heritages: Connections

One of the best things about having worked in The School of Scottish Studies Archives & Library for the past five years is seeing how people are connected with the archive recordings here.

I don’t only mean seeing how our readers are affected by connecting their own research to the myriad depths and layers of oral record testimony – though that process is rather like watching someone discovering treasure every single time. Once the Decoding Hidden Heritages project reaches its culmination, the transcript material from the Tale Archive will be another important layer to these recordings, and available for all to discover.

I also refer to the connections than extend outside the archives.

Black ad white image of a man sitting outside a house, he is talking into a recorder, being held out to him by a fieldworker. the fieldworker is cut out of the left side of the image

Angus MacNeil of Smirasary, Glenuig, being interviewed by Calum Maclean (out of image) 1959 Image copyright: SSSA

Many of the people who were recorded in the first decades of the School of Scottish Studies are no longer alive, but their material lives on in those who have connections to the people, their native area, or work or traditions. For example. Shetland fiddle players come to the collections to learn the playing style of the isles; Gaelic singers have used the archive to learn a regional variation of a song for performance; local heritage groups using material recorded in their location for museum exhibitions; storytellers learning tales…and the Carrying Stream flows on.

For me,  these connections are particularly palpable when tied to family and we have great links with relations of some of our contributors and fieldworkers. Some can fill in details for us, such as other family members who were recorded or give background information that adds more depth. Often they give permission for re-use of material, if the archive do not hold the rights. Sometimes people come to us looking for recordings their relatives made and at other times we are connected with people who did not know their relation was recorded at all. In all of these instances those connections between contributor, recording, family and us, as the archive, are further strengthened and emboldened.

For those who read my previous blog on seeking the unknown person in the collections – I have an update! A former colleague (connections, again!) sent the post on to her friend from Glenuig who may have known my two unknown women of Smirasary – “You never know, he might have an idea who they are?”

Within a few hours I had a response – not only did he know who they were, but one of the women was his grandmother. The woman that was down in our records as “Anon Woman B / Mrs MacDonald?” was indeed a Mrs MacDonald. She was Johanna MacDonald (1880-1973) and there is more material in the Archives attributed to her from other fieldwork trips to Smirasary in the mid-late 1950s. You can hear some of those other recordings on Tobar an Dualchais. Another fantastic set of connections and one which will hopefully lead to these transcriptions becoming more accessible.

I never fail to be surprised at the connections people have to The School of Scottish Studies Archives, or the weight and strength of those connections!

Decoding Hidden Heritages: Seeking the “Unknown”

As Copyright Administrator for the Decoding Hidden Heritages project, it’s my role to investigate the copyright status of the sound material and transcriptions in the Tale Archive.

Everyone involved with a sound recording has copyright to their material. As a result, it can be a lengthy process when checking which individuals are involved with a recording, and if The School of Scottish Studies Archives (SSSA) hold records of copyright assignation. Typically, the search must go outwith SSSA and that’s when I feel like donning my deerstalker! Today I will highlight some of that process.

We come across a number of contributors who are down as Unknown or Anonymous in our collections. There can be a few different reasons why this happened; not everyone’s names were captured by the fieldworker, or it was a cataloguing error. Sometimes people just wished to remain anonymous – either they were too shy to go on record, or the material may have been deemed too sensitive. These days, we have distinct copyright and Data Protection rules to safeguard sensitive material. We also have methods to close or mute someone’s material for a set period of time rather than anonymising completely or forever. So there is some flexibility in the approaches that we can take.

If persons are not explicitly named for a recording, it doesn’t mean we can assume that copyright can be cleared on that basis alone – we still have to do our due diligence. Given that this week marks International Woman’s Day 2022 (March 8) – let’s look at an example of two anonymous women in the Tale Archive.
index card featuring tales recorded by two anonmyous women in 1959This card refers to part of the recording SA1959.027 – but it doesn’t give us much information, other than it was recorded in Smearisary, Glenuig and the story is of Murchag  is Meanchag/Murchag A’s Mionachag.

My next step was to look at what is included on the whole recording. On checking the Summary book for 1959, it shows that this was a recording made by Calum Maclean, Basil Megaw and Ian Whittaker. The other contributors on the tape were Angus MacNeill, Sandy Gillies and “Anon Woman A”, “Anon Woman B / Mrs MacDonald (?)” and “Anon Woman C”. Not terribly enlightening, in the grand scheme of things! Even if Anon Woman B might be a Mrs MacDonald, it doesn’t give us anything to go on. From here I went down to the archive store room to look at the original tape box  – sometimes there was a listing completed at the time of recording and included in the box.

A beautiful listing both outside and inside the box, but  – as an archive colleague from the past has noted, in pencil – “Who are the informants?”

Listening to the recording itself can be helpful in some cases, because often the name is given at some point – but my Gaelic is not yet good enough for this tape.

So, what now? I will contact our colleagues at Tobar an Dualchais because parts of this tape are available to listen to online; these recordings are by the named contributors. It is possible when their researchers were seeking copyright that they were able to find out who these anonymous female storytellers were. I will keep you updated.

It’s really important to find out who unknown people in our collections are and, if possible, put a name to the voice and acknowledge their important contribution in the archives. I include a very short extract of Anon Woman A and Anon Woman B / Mrs Macdonald (?), of Smearisary and thank them for making my job so interesting!

This clip is placed here on a risk-balanced approach and that is another part of the process for another blog post!

Extract from SA1959.027 from collection of School of Scottish Studies Archives.


Louise Scollay, Copyright Administrator

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