Historical Traces of European Radio Archives, 1930-1960

28 Oct 2021 to 29 Oct 2021
University of Amsterdam and / or online

Bringing critical perspectives to bear on radio archives is the main departure point for this international workshop, which explores broadcasting, archives and the historical data they have co-produced. This two-day workshop brings together interdisciplinary perspectives from scholars and practitioners invested in theoretically-informed, connective histories about radio archives. It takes up a historical-geographical focus on radio archival collections in Europe that were affected by war and political transformations between 1930 and 1960, including case studies for Axis, as well as Allied, countries during and after World War II.

The task of critically analysing the radio archive may involve researching the holdings of a single institution. In the case of European radio archives, however, the scholar is often required to “re-collect” dispersed materials as a result of changed institutional circumstances (Badenoch 2018) or the aftermath of conflict, war or regime change (Birdsall 2018). One strategy for scrutinising such dispersed collections is to elucidate archivist practices in describing and cataloguing radio collections, and reveal “tacit narratives” indicative of past ideologies or political investments in the archive (Ketelaar 2002). Another productive approach may evaluate past choices of particular archival tools or technologies in order to record, copy, store, or preserve radio recordings.

The workshop builds on the growing attention to the significance of archival processes for the scholarly understanding of radio history. Against a long-held tendency to decry the ‘absence’ of sound recordings in the archive, there is a burgeoning interest in the rich potential of the radio archive as an object of study (Dolan 2003, Street 2014) and in constructing “new histories” (VanCour 2016). Recent data-driven approaches to the radio archive have also explored possibilities for ‘big data’ analyses of digitized sources (Hughes et al. 2015, Goodmann et al. 2019), and speech recognition for the purposes of scholarly research (Ordelman and van Hessen 2018).

In response, this workshop focuses on connections between radio broadcasting, archival collections, and European history, thereby seeking to intervene in the fields of media history and sound studies that have rarely treated this interrelation. Thus, we ask:

  • How were archival collections established in radio broadcasting from around 1930 onwards?

  • In what ways were particular historical processes (e.g. war, conflict, regime change) significant in the life cycles of radio archival materials?

  • How have particular actors (e.g. archivists) or institutional frameworks impacted radio archival collections?

  • In what ways can the study of radio archival collections benefit from drawing on recent approaches developed in fields such as sound studies, digital history or computer science?

With the workshop, we seek to facilitate a conversation with specialists concerned with the complex histories of radio archival collections and the methodological possibilities for studying them today. The workshop sessions will revolve around panels with short presentations/discussions of ‘position papers’ (pre-circulated prior to the workshop).