In collaboration with the National Library of Wales and British Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project, our group, postgraduate students studying for an MA in Archives and Records Management at Aberystwyth University, have been cataloguing a collection of digitised oral history recordings from Butetown, Wales. The recordings were created during the 1980s by an academic who was researching Butetown, also known as Tiger Bay, and was interviewing residents about their memories of the twentieth century. Butetown was one of the first multi-cultural societies in Britain and its docklands were a major distributor of coal and other goods during the nineteenth and twentieth century and as such, residents had unique perspectives.
In later years further interviews and discussions took place with aims of preserving the history of Butetown, as the area was going through a series of redevelopments and, consequently, many people had moved away, and some residents were elderly or deceased. One section of the collection contains recordings of the Women’s Lives Course, a year-long event that took place in Butetown during the late 1980s that was attended by residents, former residents, and people from surrounding areas. The course held weekly meetings, during which discussions took place focusing on a different topic that impacted the lives of women in Butetown including education, religion, marriage, employment, racism, and family dynamics. During the course participants were taught valuable skills such as how to devise interview questions, the best equipment to use for oral history interviews and technical skills, such as how to use microphones and tape recorders.
The recordings are very interesting, they contain excerpts from previous interviews and the discussions centre around the life of the individual in the original recording who, at times, attended the discussion as well as about similar and different experiences attendees had. Some attendees’ parents emigrated to Wales during the twentieth century, or they themselves emigrated to Wales and as a result, they recount stories about growing up in multi-cultural families, the different cuisines people ate and living in different countries, among others. The recordings further contain larger discussions about British culture and society, community identity, and emigration as well as about Butetown and its redevelopment.
The recordings from the Women’s Lives Course, consequently, provide invaluable insights into women’s lives in twentieth century Butetown, the experiences of diverse communities within Wales, how society was changing as it was approaching the twenty-first century and how community groups sought to preserve their memories.
The Voice of the Tiger Newsletter, (1) September 1994, Accessed: 15 April 2021.
Available at: https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/728376
Creative Archives Licence, c. Butetown History and Arts Centre
Cataloguing oral history interviews can be a lengthy process which requires great attention to detail. When our group was introduced to the recordings, we were presented with an initial spreadsheet containing the titles of the recordings and general descriptions of their contents. Prior to listening to the recordings, we familiarised ourselves with the spreadsheet and carried out research into why the recordings were created. Afterwards we began planning how we would approach the recordings, we divided them between ourselves and began listening to them.
Listening to recordings for cataloguing purposes is unlike listening to music or a podcast. Cataloguers listen to determine the main topics discussed, to identify topics which users will be interested in and any material which should not be published. During interviews people, at times, will say things in confidence which they do not wish to be published or which may be about a sensitive issue. This material, thereby, may be removed from the recording or the recording may be classified as inappropriate for online publication and will only be accessible in-person. After we have listened to the recordings, our team writes descriptions, summaries, and other fields about what we have heard. Descriptions and summaries are not transcriptions, they are concise and yet detailed accounts of what is contained in the material so that users can decide if they want to listen to the recordings. This information may be inputted into archive and library software or another computer programme such as Microsoft Excel.
Rights holders research also must be carried out. All contributors, interviewers, interviewees, and people involved in the recordings such as sound engineers, hold copyright rights over the material and thus, they must be contacted, and their permission must be attained prior to the recordings being published online. If this permission cannot be attained or if the material contains topics which are extremely sensitive, they will be accessible only in-person.
After the recordings have been catalogued and the rights research undertaken, this information is imported into the National Library of Wales and the British Library’s catalogues. Some of the recordings within the ‘Tiger Bay– Heritage and Cultural Exchange’ collection such as the Women’s Lives Course recordings, contain sensitive material. Consequently, some recordings may be accessible only in person at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Although some recordings will not be accessible online, the collection is intriguing, and the recordings are worthwhile listening to in person.
By Evangeline Mills, MA Archives and Records Management Student, Aberystwyth University