Archives, Audio archives, Historical documents, Historical research, Historiography, Jewish archival resources, Klezmer, Library, Research, Ukraine, USSR, Writers

Jewish folk music from 1908 on wax cylinders in a unique phono-archive in Kiev

In my last post I mentioned a phonographic archive located in the Manuscript Institute of the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine.

Vernadsky National Library of the Ukraine in Kiev
Vernadsky National Library of the Ukraine

The library holds one of the largest collections of phonographic recordings of Jewish musical folklore in the world – including Jewish synagogue singing –  on more than 1000 wax cylinders.

Before I worked in an archives I remembered  hearing news-stories about things being discovered in different archival repositories and I couldn’t understand – why didn’t they know what was in their collection?

But now that I understand better how many unique items are housed in archives, I see that not everything can be added to a searchable list.

Not to mention the political restrictions that can make archival materials unavailable and even subject to destruction.

In January 1949 the Soviet government confiscated the entire archival collection of the Institute of Jewish Culture and arrested almost all of its employees including Moishe Beregovski who I wrote about last week and about whom I fictionalized a story called Pale Shadow*.

After the break-up of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) in the early 1990s, the Vernadsky collection of wax cylinder recordings became publicly available and researchers have been going through them ever since – a veritable renaissance.

The collection includes music collected by several generations of cultural researchers who gathered material from as early as 1908 out of Belarus where there was a large Jewish diaspora as well as a plethora of traditional religious centres.

A huge project to re-recording the collection was carried out between 1996 and 1999, from which a  CD was produced, “Treasures of Jewish Culture in Ukraine”, in 1997.


*I entered Pale Shadow into a story contest that the magazine Prairie Fire ran so don’t want to jeopardize my entry by posting it here yet.

Archives, Canada history, Historical documents, Historical research, Historiography, military history, Record keeping, Remembrance Day, social history, Women, women's history

Trying to study war no more

chessmen

 

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One – the so-called war to end all wars. A senseless slaughter of young men on both sides, sent to fight from muddy, disease-ridden trenches, and told to wipe the memory from their minds after peace was declared and move on.

Yet the physical and emotional trauma those soldiers suffered followed them home after the armistice.  Many ended up in insane asylums or became burdens to their families for the rest of their lives, shunted off to a back room in the family home plagued by nightmares or strange mutterings, or drunkenness.  Even those who seemed to be doing alright walked the streets at night, unable to sleep because of their nightmares.

Broken lives. What we’d now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But those soldiers were told basically, to suck it up and forget their experience of war, and move on.

When I worked at the City of Vancouver archives, I got researchers looking into all kinds of things. Military units and people prominent in the armed forces. Evidence of women’s political groups or agencies or information about those working for suffrage, women’s rights, and equal pay.

And though there were a few documents scattered throughout the collection documenting  the issues or the people working for political and social justice, there were plenty of documents about the military and their people.

I encouraged those who wanted to unearth records about progressive history to look at what we had and try to read between the lines as to what wasn’t there or what was on the other side of the mirror. But that kind of research is harder and takes longer to do.

And often, these researchers were so discouraged by the lack of information about progressive movements that they resorted to the easy-pickings; the men, military, and marine records that have traditionally been abundant in archives. And the result?

The war records get used and studied and written about again and again.

And the documents kept coming in. Old women came to the archives from time to time, proudly carrying their brothers’ or father’s, or uncle’s, or husband’s personal records or war mementos, and offering them to our collection.

Yet they seldom brought in anything that would memorialize their own life’s work or passions. And when I’d ask them, they’d became self-deprecating, shake their heads and deny that they had ever done anything of lasting value.

Generally it takes a certain kind person or a certain kind of organization that, dare I say, has enough of an ego to think their actions and the documents that record them have historical value and relevance. And then think about bringing them into an archive to be preserved and made available to future historians.

Altogether, this makes it easy to see why many archival records are of a conservative nature. They’re more accessible, follow a familiar and logical organizational scheme, and pertain to institutions, organizations, and people who have access to funds and political power.

And that makes them easier to access and get funding to research and commemorate as well.

It’s a bit of a vicious circle.