This post outlines the round-table presentation on the Platform to Platform project by Bruce Ryan, Hazel Hall, Marianne Wilson (all of the Centre for Social Informatics) and Jake Berger (Executive Product Manager, BBC Archive) at the BBC at 100 symposium. More details of this symposium are available on Loughborough University’s website. The presentation – and hence this post – has several parts:
- Introduction: the team
- What and where: the call for this project
- When and how: the practical work to create podcasts and undertake empirical work
- When and how: our approach to the BBC Archive
- Why: how the work on P2P fits with existing scholarship in the area
Our presentation is about the Platform to Platform project, in which a World War II diary was made into podcasts that were enhanced with BBC Archive material. The project name reflects the transformation of the archive from one digital platform (an online photo-diary, including text) to another (podcasts). Alongside this, we also researched podcasting by archivists and academics in the cultural heritage area.
The presenters are: project lead Dr Bruce Ryan; co-investigator Professor Hazel Hall; researcher Marianne Wilson; BBC archivist Jake Berger. Our work also relied on co-investigator Dr Iain McGregor and the sound design students he supervised, and our actors Bethany Ray, Richard Godden, David Monteath and Katherine Stephen.
Hazel Hall explains the call for this project
The archive at the heart of this Platform to Platform project is a diary written in the early months of World War II by a young woman called Lorna Lloyd. Lorna was a 25-year-old school-mistress living in the Worcestershire town of Malvern with her parents when war broke out in September 1939. It is a very well written piece of work containing much detail about the progress of the war, and life under war time conditions in England between September 1939 and January 1941. The quality of the writing reflects Lorna’s privileged upper middle-class upbringing, and her education to degree level at Girton College, Cambridge (although, of course, she did not graduate because women were not allowed to do so in the 1930s).
In summer 2019, Lorna’s nephew, who had transcribed the diary’s contents, told Hazel Hall that he was going to donate it to the Malvern Museum of Local History. Hazel asked if she could borrow it beforehand so that she could photograph the contents. Her intention was to create an online journal to which she would upload the text of each journal entry on a daily basis, alongside the relevant photograph of the source material. The date of upload for each entry would correspond to that of 80 years previous, e.g. the diary entry for 3rd September 1939 would be posted on 3rd September 2019. Hazel had a platform in mind for doing so: the photo-sharing site Blipfoto.
Between September 2019 and January 2021 Hazel uploaded all Lorna’s war diary entries to a journal called LornaL on the Blipfoto web site. In November 2019 Lorna’s niece passed on a large box of other materials related to Lorna and her family. These included other writing by Lorna such as poetry, stories, a full novel, and plays, and art work in various media – for example including pencil drawings, water colours, lino cut – that reflected her interests in topics such medieval history, drama, and mythology. In addition, there were further outputs from other family members and a wide range of ephemera that had been collected by the family in annual scrap books. Amongst the latter were photographs. Hazel used items from this collection to plug the gaps between diary entries.
By January 2021, the LornaL Blipfoto journal had a loyal and enthusiastic following on the web site. After the posting of the final war diary entry, and the explanation for its sudden end, there seemed to be an appetite for re-presenting the diary as a performance in a different format. The opportunity for this arose when the AHRC-funded Creative Informatics project put out a call for projects centred on digitised archive sets. In autumn 2021 an Edinburgh Napier team that comprised Dr Bruce Ryan, Professor Hazel Hall, and Dr Iain McGregor submitted a bid for funding to create a podcast series based around Lorna’s war diary. They were delighted to hear that they had won the funding, and started the Platform to Platform project on 2nd February 2022.
Bruce Ryan explains the practical work
The project ran from February 2nd to July 31st 2022 and comprised two main components. The first was to create a podcast based around the war diary content previously posted in the Blipfoto journal by Hazel between September 2019 and January 2021. The second was an empirical study of audience engagement with the archives digitised in the two different formats: (1) images and text; (2) audio. Here I will focus on the practical work. I’ll also highlight some of our findings from the empirical study related to our use of BBC Archive material in the podcast.
At the start of the Platform to Platform project we had a script and a core project team of the three academic who had made the bid for funding – but that was all. The war diary entries probably could have been recorded and disseminated as a podcast series in their own right, but we felt that they would be greatly enhanced with the inclusion of contemporaneous radio material (principally news), and additional voices.
Ideally, we were keen to access the same radio broadcasts that Lorna would have heard between 1939 and 1941, some of which she refers to explicitly in her war diary entries. However, when we started the project we couldn’t be sure (a) that we would be able to track down the ‘right’ people at the BBC who held this material; (b) that the material that we wanted still existed at the BBC; (c) that we would be granted permission by the BBC to use it in our podcast series.
So, while we worked out a route to the BBC Archive, we developed a back-up plan to use contemporaneous newspaper stories in the podcast series, read by an actor who would perform the role of newsreader. We arranged to access the newspaper content held in the British Newspaper Archive with the knowledge, and blessing, of the British Library and Find My Past. The curator at the Malvern Museum of Local History also helped out here by searching for stories of relevance to Lorna’s testimony in the local paper – the Malvern Gazette.
We recruited four ‘performers’ for the podcast series. Lorna was played by a member of Lorna’s family: she is Lorna’s great-great niece (and she also happens to have turned 25 this year, the same age as Lorna when she started writing her war diary). Another professional actor plays Lorna’s brother Theo. One of our PhD students is the announcer, and another non-professional (although with much experience of amateur dramatics) plays the newsreader.
The other personnel important to this project was the production team. This comprised five third year students from the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University, four from Sound Design and one from Software Engineering. They were supervised by our colleague Dr Iain McGregor.
We were absolutely delighted when Jake’s team at the BBC agreed to provide us with content for the podcast series, especially since this included not only broadcast material but also scripts for our newsreader to relay to our audience. The BBC supplied a long list of files that might be of interest to us, and we made a selection from these. The BBC archive staff also helped us with another key element of the podcast version of the war diary: a theme tune. We were keen to use a piece of music that Lorna herself mentions in the diary: César Franck’s Symphony in D minor. The BBC Archive staff helped us by securing a BBC performance of this piece and advising us on its use without breaking copyright.
So, in our podcast series, we have interwoven contemporaneous news content from the BBC and a range of British newspapers with Lorna’s diary entries. This means that the podcast episodes present a chronicle of the early years of World War II from a range of perspectives: the personal from Lorna, the local from the Malvern Gazette, the regionals from other newspaper reports, and the national from the BBC in the form of both broadcast material and readings from scripts.
The value of the news content is evident in the some of the findings from our empirical work:
- It contributed to the entertainment value of the audience experience.
- It made the audience experience more vivid, serving to bring Lorna’s story to life.
- It gave audience members the opportunity to consume exactly the same news broadcasts as Lorna did, e.g. the announcement of war on 3rd September 1939.
- It contributed to the learning of listeners, serving as ‘additional references’ to Lorna’s narrative.
Jake Berger explains our approach to the BBC
When we heard about the Lorna Lloyd podcast project, it sounded like just the sort of thing that my team – BBC Archive Content & Partnerships – really like to work on. It had the potential to bring to life a personal perspective from the past, combining the very distinctive diary entries written by Lorna at the time, with broader contemporary broadcast material that would have probably been heard by Lorna herself, and certainly heard by people in her community, and across the UK.
The BBC’s archive is uniquely valuable, but particularly unique in its capture and retelling of stories from the 1930s and 1940s, through news broadcasts, interviews and recordings of the world-changing events that took place during this period. There are many significant recordings from this period that did survive, such as Neville Chamberlain’s announcement of war in September 1939, which you can hear in the podcast series, along with nine other audio items from the BBC Archives.
But much of this broadcast material was never recorded and kept – it wasn’t thought that it would be of use again in the future, and recording and storing audio in those days was comparatively expensive and complicated. However, whilst the recordings of these radio news broadcasts may not exist, the scripts read out by the newsreaders were retained, and kept in the BBC’s written archives – over 160,000 of them covering the years 1937 – 1995. The paper copies of these now live in the British Library, but before they were deposited there late last century, the BBC microfilmed each of the millions of pages in this collection.
When we first spoke to the podcast team, my colleagues had fortuitously just built a prototype which made these newly digitised microfilm scans searchable for the very first time. In their first public outing in nearly 80 years, you can hear nine newly recreated news broadcasts in the podcasts.
It has been great that the podcast has demonstrated what we hoped would emerge from these news scripts – countless examples of fascinating and detailed descriptions of the people, places and events that very few people alive today would be able to remember, and many of which have been forgotten and never made it in to the history books. We plan to launch a publicly accessible version of this digitised collection in 2023, so this resource will be opened up and hopefully inspire countless other projects such as this one.
Marianne Wilson explains how the work on P2P fits with existing scholarship in the area
The Heritage Organisations and Podcasts: Scoping Study – HOPSS for short – was a sister project looking at podcasts from the perspective of the creators. The aim was to explore the use of archives in podcasting, and podcasts in archiving, to identify areas for future research, by reviewing the existing literature and interviewing 9 lovely people who were involved in making podcasts about Scottish cultural heritage.
Although, there are a lot of history and library podcasts available, finding research that focused specifically on archives AND podcasts was trickier. To get around this, the literature review looked for research on podcasts created by library, archive, museum AND academic professionals. The most common among these were case studies of people making a podcast for the first time, analysing the experience and what they gained from it. There were also discussions of the role of podcasts in this kind of work, guides to the technical aspects of producing podcasts, and a few interesting examples where podcasts were treated as primary sources or data for traditional research projects. Between the literature and the interviews, we found 12 podcasts where the content was drawn from existing collections. This was a wide range of collections: from the more traditional such as artefacts in museums and libraries, built environment and landscapes, and intangible cultural heritage, such as indigenous languages, crafts and folklore. As far as we are aware, BBC collections did not feature in any of the podcast series, and only 3 podcasts used artefacts that had originally been captured as audio, of which only 1 was accessing this from outside the institution that owned it. These were collections held by a national library, a university and a specialist oral history archive. This interviewee described their love of oral histories, and the fact that they would love to incorporate this kind of content more often, but were limited both by the sound quality of the artefacts, the administrative hurdles to accessing these from outside the institution, and even just knowing that they existed – this podcaster is an archivist to trade, and discussed the fact that most people wouldn’t know about what is available in collections, much less how to access them. So, there is potentially scope for some outreach work by institutions who hold audio archives.
Also, there is an undeniable need for institutions to be selective about how their collections are used. Beyond issues of copyright – a question that came up during the Lorna Lloyd podcast project, given that Lorna’s diary was a shared family archive being made public – there is also an ethical aspect to creating podcast content for public consumption from a community’s cultural heritage. One interviewee described this as podcasters having a responsibility to ask themselves ‘who owns these stories?’. Balancing this with making collections more accessible is tricky.
Accessibility was a common theme across most of the interviews: the idea of audio as an accessible medium, and podcasting as an audio medium that could increase representation and community building. Podcasts were seen as a way of reaching out to an audience beyond the physical bricks and mortar of a museum or library, as well as the idea of making the subject matter more approachable. A participant used the phrase ‘person-sized’, and one of the academics described podcasts as a ‘narrowcast’ medium.
Although there were a lot of ‘war stories’ about getting to grips with the technical aspects of recording, editing and publishing, most of the podcasters were aiming for a finished product with an informal, intimate tone. However, even those aiming for a homemade aesthetic discussed the need to include additional ‘flourishes’ by including music or building ‘soundscapes’ in the same way that Lorna’s diary was enhanced by including BBC material.
However, the fact that the vast majority of the podcasts were created by very small teams of amateurs was seen as a plus point by the creators. Their enthusiasm and expertise come across to the listener, and enhances the sense of intimacy.
A lot of the interviewees turned to podcasting because they believed in the power of building narratives as a way of opening up cultural heritage. There was also the idea that podcasts could capture, not just tell, a story. Conversational ‘chumcasts’ and interviews are very common formats: these create a space for conversations that might not have happened otherwise, as well as making new connections between people. A lot of the podcasters seemed to think that very often these were stories that would not have been told otherwise: stories of obscure and marginalised people feature prominently in the content of the podcasts. These conversations and connections worked to enhance and extend the existing collections, meaning the podcasts went beyond just presenting the collections, but played a role in their curation. The Lorna podcast is a good example of this in practice: the recreation of the BBC recordings from the script documents, as well as the additional context that the content of Lorna’s diaries gives to the events that they document. As well as enhancing the archives, this was often the best bit for the podcasters – they discovered new artefacts, or new information about artefacts they already knew, and that excitement really comes across to the listener.
But all of this depends on the existence of well-managed, open access archives that cover both national, historic events and the smaller ‘person-sized’ stories – just like the BBC archives.
The Platform to Platform/HOPSS team is very grateful to
- The BBC at 100 symposium, including its organisers and attendees, for this opportunity to talk about our work.
- The Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding the main project via the Creative Informatics project
- Edinburgh Napier University’s public engagement project for funding the podcast launch event, hosted by Great Malvern Priory
- Edinburgh Napier University for funding the HOPSS project
- podcast voice-actors Bethany Ray (Lorna Lloyd), Richard Godden (newsreader), David Monteath (Theo Lloyd) and Katherine Stephen (announcer)
- the BBC Archive for providing audio recordings and news-scripts free of charge
- the British Newspaper Archive (a partnership between the British Library and Findmypast) and the Malvern Gazette for the newspaper articles used in the podcasts
- Our colleague Iain McGregor for supervising the students who created the podcasts from the audio recordings. The students were Alex Gencs (sound design and editing), David Graham (team leader), James McLachlan (sound design and editing), Andras Peter (sound design and editing) and Michael Suttie (web development).
- the Platform to Platform project board members: David Darlington, David Monteath, Guy Puzey, Sarah Ames and Sue Dumbleton
- members of the Lloyd family for encouragement and support
- members of Blipfoto and the cultural heritage podcast producers who took part in our empirical research. News about publications will be published on https://blogs.napier.ac.uk/social-informatics
- Stella Wisdom of the British Library for advice and support
- Faith Renger, Curator of Malvern Museum of Local History for advice and support.
- Booklet of Lorna Lloyd’s poetry: https://www.napier.ac.uk/-/media/worktribe/output-2877394/selected-poems-lorna-lloyd.ashx
- About the Platform to Platform project: https://www.napier.ac.uk/research-and-innovation/research-search/projects/platform-to-platform-an-investigation-into-audience-engagement-with-digitised-archives
- Blipfoto: https://www.blipfoto.com
- Lorna Lloyd’s diary on Blipfoto: https://www.blipfoto.com/LornaL
- The Platform to Platform project blipfoto journal: https://www.blipfoto.com/LornaLPodcast