Given a choice, the topic I would like to explore for my initial oral history project is the post-war revival in English traditional music.
There are two main areas I’d like to look at. The first is the development of the music as a genre, looking at how skiffle and the work of American artists like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger encouraged an interest in playing simple folk songs and how this gradually morphed into a whole range of interpretations of traditional music culminating in the emergence of electric folk bands like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, as well as free reed/brass combinations like Brass Monkey, Home Service and Bellowhead. I’d like to look at how the musicians working in this genre searched for and revived these old songs whether it be looking in the archives of the great Victorian folksong collectors, collecting new material from the Traveller community or from sources such as the Copper Family. I’d also look at the individual paths which had brought musicians into this kind of music and how their interest in the genre developed. Another aspect to explore would be the clash of attitudes over what was and wasn’t permissible in terms of instrumentation and arrangement during the “folk wars” of the 60s and 70s, and the influence of key figures such as Ewan MacColl and Bert Lloyd in shaping these attitudes.
The second area to explore is the social history behind the folk music revival. What sorts of people were attracted to the music? How did folk clubs and folk camps develop? How big a part do formal organisations like EFDSS play in the lives of performers, and does this relationship differ between amateur and professional musicians? English traditional folk music has always been somewhat marginalised compared to the folk traditions of other countries. Whereas folk music in much of Europe is often linked to national identity (and thus to a degree nationalism) this is less the case in England where on the whole English folk musicians have been of the left, and have had an internationalist outlook. Many English folk songs address the problems of class, poverty and conflict, and this tradition has often been carried on in the subject matter of contemporary songs written by musicians working in the idiom. A major aspect of the project would therefore be exploring the participants’ political beliefs and discussing the political events that have had an impact on their music. It would also be interesting to explore the importance of local or regional identity with those performers whose music is strongly rooted in a particular community.
The folk revival is worthy of an oral history study in itself as a significant social movement in the latter half of the twentieth century and because much of the contemporary output it produced reflected the social concerns of the day. At the same time it is significant in that it has recovered and made available voices from our lost past. We can’t do the oral history of 18th and 19th century working people and they are often missing from the historical record, so the revival of their songs is one of the main ways we have of understanding their lives and concerns.
There are many names that spring to mind as obvious candidates to interview for this project, but if I had to narrow it down my first choice would be one from a shortlist of Martin Carthy, Peggy Seeger, John Tams and Shirley Collins.
APRIL 9TH 6PM MOORE BUILDING MX-001
Dr Hanna Hagmark-Cooper:
From corner to community – Museums sharing authority in a Facebook world
Dr Hanna Hagmark- Cooper will talk about her work as the Director of the EMYA nominated Aland Maritime Museum as well as ‘Facebook as a way of collecting materials for museum exhibitions’.
In April 2012 four men, all of whom had worked for the Gustaf Erikson (GE) shipping company, met up to plan and organise a summer get-together for former GE employees. As they exchanged memories and photos, they discovered an emotional need to collect stories and pictures from their past working lives (the 1950s onward). The men formed a Facebook group: ‘We who have been to sea in GE ships’. It proved to be immediately popular. Today the group has more than 550 members and still growing. In doing so, fulfilling a social necessity to re-member.
Members of the group post pictures from their time on board various GE ships: to date, more than 8,000 uploaded photographs. Information is exchanged about old friends, details of ships and ports. Together the members are creating a memory bank of life at sea in the second half of the 20th century. In doing so, they are meeting a historical need. The maritime historical records of Åland have very little on this period. Most of the existing material is concerned with the classic tall ships. Modern, engine-powered shipping is largely absent, in terms of objects, photos, archival material and stories.
In my capacity as director of Åland Maritime Museum, I was invited to join the group and survey the collected material. I was immediately struck by the significance of the collection. What made it particularly fascinating was that this was a story told from a crew perspective: ‘history from below’, if you like. The idea of an exhibition quickly formed and in 2013, as part of the 100th anniversary exhibition of the GE shipping company, Åland Maritime Museum produced an exhibition based on this collection. Members of the Facebook group co-curated the exhibition, which included not only a selection of photographs, but also the members’ commentary.
The exhibition was very popular and I believe serves as an example of how museum staff can work together with self-identifying groups in local communities, thereby sharing authority. While the paper will outline some of the challenges involved in cooperative working, I will demonstrate how museums through using social media can make otherwise marginalised histories available to wider audiences and how it can serve to place the museum at the heart of the community it seeks to represent. As a direct result of this cooperation, a new Åland project is now underway, in which a selection of the photographs will become part of the museum’s collection.
For more information about MA Public History Alumni seminars and activities, please contact: Dr Graham Smith.