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

Tag: Decoding Hidden Heritages

“Blue” Monday

There is a lot of cross-over in my two jobs as Archive & Library Assistant at The School of Scottish Studies Archives (SSSA) and Copyright Administrator working for the Decoding Hidden Heritages Project, as I work with the same collections for both.

Recently I came across this card from the “Informants index” in the Tale Archive. 

White lined index card shows a contributors name, general area and the sentence "three Bawdy Anecdotes" with the archive references. In parenthesis is the word "Restricted"

It is not unusual to see material restricted in the archive, but many of the closures and restrictions at SSSA tend to be retrospective where we have screened archive material or when we discover ‘special category’ data is discussed.  It is slightly more unusual – in our collections – to see material restricted from the earlier days of the School, such as this recording from 1974.  As there is the potential that transcriptions of these exist, and that these may soon be digitised and published, it is important to look into this further. 

As you may remember from some of my earlier posts, there are several places within the archive to look for further information – the first is the Chronological Registers containing summaries of fieldwork recordings. 

RESTRICTED: not to be available to non-members of the School before the year 2000: “Blue”

This was the first time I encountered a restriction from this period with a future date attached. The year 2000 may have been chosen as a date to be sufficient for period of restriction due to a number of reasons, but it seems somewhat arbitrary without any further information. The three bawdy anecdotes are summarised here, along with other bawdy riddles and songs, but there isn’t too much here to tell us about how “blue” it might be.

Something to remember about this point of the history of the School of Scottish Studies was that it was a Research Unit; in the 1970s SOSS had begun to offer undergraduate courses at 1st and 2nd year level and offered supervision for Postgraduate research,  but it was not yet established in offering it’s own degree courses and the collections were not widely open for access. However, this notice does suggest that there was – or might be in the future – access to others beyond UOE. 

Alan Bruford kept helpful notes on much of his fieldwork and his contributors and so I next checked these to see if there was more information about this contributor, Mr Hughson.

Context is a wonderful thing! As well as giving us information about Mr Hughson’s blue riddles – or guddicks, in the Shetland dialect – this gives such a great insight into how Bruford approached fieldwork – from pre-interview telephone calls, interesting information about the interviewee and the importance of the person’s contributions for the ongoing research at SOSS. It also shows the bonds of trust between fieldworker and contributor, which would seem to be a driving motivation in Bruford restricting the material. There is no further indication why the date was chosen for the embargo, but I think it’s fair to assume it was a point in time in which it was assumed Mr Hughson would have passed away. 

I had a listen to the recording itself and the blue material includes three bawdy songs, one which includes a Peeping Tom; an anecdote which infers bestiality (SA1974.199.B4); a story of three women discussing what they think a penis looks like and then meeting a willing man to help them in their research (SA1974.199.B8) and a tale of a fellow who is given medicine to assist with fertility but which has an extraordinary affect on the size of his manhood (SA1974.199.B9).

Of course, we can remove the restriction on this material now (a mere 22 years after it’s intended embargo date!) but we do still have an ethical responsibility to ensure our records are up to date and that we inform our service users that this material may cause potential offence. While this material was intended to be funny by the contributor, there are triggers here for many people in some of these pieces, for example,  sexual abuse and unwanted sexual attention. In cases like this, we ensure that we include a text file with the digitised recording, so that staff can flag issues to our readers, before they begin listening.  This is something that will need to be considered when making transcriptions and recordings available online.



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!

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