Historic recordings

by Nick

Not strictly within scope of this blog, I know, but I thought I’d share an interesting site I’ve found with some fascinating recordings. First, 10 historic radio broadcasts. There’s also a more esoteric set of recordings that includes the only solo recording of a castrato, and a more or less unintelligible broadcast from Florence Nightingale. I thought I’d link to the site because it got me thinking about what we gain and lose from not having an idea of what historical figures sound like before a certain date. It might seem slightly trivial compared to the wider issue of whose voices we’re missing from the past – what we know about a labourer, say, compared to a member of the gentry. But does having this more visceral sense of what people actually sounded like aid historians of the modern period, or add to the complexity of their task in interpreting sources? And more wistfully, do you ever wish that you could hear the voice of particular historical figures who pre-date the invention of recording equipment? It’s something that we could perhaps reconstruct as part of how historical figures presented and represented themselves, as Laura Lunger Knoppers has done for Oliver Cromwell in her The Politics of Portraiture: Oliver Cromwell and the Plain Style. If you haven’t come across Knoppers I’d recommend also checking out her Constructing Cromwell, which you can find the first chapter of here.