Every year, postgraduate students studying Archive and Records Management at Aberystwyth University undertake a project which provides them with the opportunity to use some of the skills they have been developing. This year has been no different, although the widespread effects of the global pandemic have inevitably been felt. Nonetheless, with the support of University and National Library of Wales (NLW) staff, we have managed to adapt. It has been a very welcome opportunity for all of us in the group to gain some cataloguing experience and play a role in the wider Unlocking our Sound Heritage Project. Meeting up on Microsoft Teams every week, our team have gained experience of project planning and working together as a group to achieve a common aim. We have also had the opportunity to hone skills more specific to the role of an archivist, such as ensuring consistency and interoperability in the creation of metadata. To ensure consistency of language, we created cataloguing guidelines according to the requirements of NLW. This clearly set out what was required of each field, as well as whether any controlled vocabulary or international standards needed to be adhered to. To ensure interoperability, we made sure that all the information we recorded could be mapped across to different standards. This mitigates the risk of any information being lost if the collection is integrated into different catalogues.
The specific collection of recordings we have been helping to catalogue encompass various series of oral histories conducted with the residents of Tiger Bay, the diverse dockside community which has been redeveloped over time into the modern Cardiff Bay. I would like to focus in particular on the first series of recordings we have been cataloguing, which were recorded in 1987. This series encompasses a variety of interviews with a number of the residents of the time. They all lived very varied lives, but they are all united by their connection to Tiger Bay. The date these recordings were made means that the residents have interesting perspectives which would be of note to many researchers. Firstly, many of them lived in the shadow of both World Wars and contributed directly to the war effort. Secondly, many lived in Tiger Bay both before and after its 1960s redevelopment, and therefore provide a unique insight into how the so-called ‘slum clearances’ of the period could impact communities.
Western Mail & Echo, “Aerial View of Butetown,” The Heritage & Cultural Exchange Archive, accessed April 21, 2021, https://www.hcearchive.org.uk/items/show/6472. Creative Archives License, c. Western Mail & Echo
Other interesting topics raised during the interviews include: the nature of race relations in the twentieth century in a particularly multicultural part of Britain; the extent and nature of religious observance; gender roles; social values; working conditions and industry. Some interviewees spent more of their life than others in Tiger Bay. Those with a looser connection to the community still provide fascinating stories which may otherwise have been lost. This really brings home to me the value of oral histories as a medium. Although archivists have traditionally focused on documentary evidence, these recordings help to highlight the insight that oral histories can offer into unique lives which may otherwise have gone unrecorded.
All in all, the group are finding this a very interesting and worthwhile activity. We will be back in touch in due course, with other group members’ experiences with the subsequent series of recordings.
Ewan Macleod, MA Archive and Records Manager Student, Aberystwyth University