Monday, April 7, 2008

Touring Hidden Histories in Southampton

A couple of weeks ago, we received an email from Armin Medosch announcing a new audio/oral history project titled "Hidden Histories" in Southampton.
From the project description:
Hidden Histories uses the revolutionary new concept of Street Radio developed by Hive Networks to make the treasures of Southampton's Oral History Archive available in the public realm of the city. Street Radio is a totally new way of experiencing the city. The system utilises wireless communication technologies such as WIFI and Bluetooth in combination with FM radio to create captive 'puddles' -- specific places where particular stories and themes can be heard. By broadcasting using very weak radio transmitters with a range of about 10 meters a selection of stories from the OHU can be heard along 10 nodal points (location) from where byte-sized stories are transmitted. These nodes link together to form a media rich walk that transports people through the changing life of the city.

The Oral History Unit is an almost hidden jewel in Southampton's culture and heritage department. While well known and highly regarded in the international Oral History expert community, it is literally unknown outside Southampton otherwise. For more than 20 years the OHU has been recording the life stories told by the people themselves. Through the voices of common people it offers a window back into time: on the "tale end of the Dickensian age" as one interviewee puts it himself, where men had to queue every day for work at a shed at the entrance to the docks, to the hard life on the passenger ships and tug boats, an oral history is told that does not conform to the cliches and stereotypes of the official versions produced by todays media industry. The unsung heroes of historical moments such as the sinking of the Titanic or famous journeys of ships such as the Queen Mary are telling their own stories from the insiders perspective. Lesser known stories such as the secret social life on ships, the achievements of women in the heavy industries during WWII, and the troubles of immigrants from Asia and the Caribbean surface in this archive. While many of these stories tell of trials and tribulations they also shine with humanity and joyful moments.

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