The recordings are truly global in their scope ranging from Africa, South Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands, China, Eastern Europe and South America, as well as the more familiar sounds of England, Scotland and Wales. These delicate and sometimes beautiful recordings made by botanists, scientists, colonial officers and linguists capture the lost voices, customs and songs of long forgotten communities. They give a unique insight into the heritage of oral knowledge and traditions and provide academics and researchers with an intimate and rich resource.
The collection dates from 1898 to 1951, the earliest being wax cylinder recordings from the groundbreaking Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait, led by Professor A.C. Haddon. This was the first British expedition to use the phonograph for research purposes. The latest recordings are the Bogumil Witalis Andrzejewski acetate (nitrate lacquer) discs which comprise songs, stories and spoken texts recorded as part of Andrzejewski's linguistic research tour in Somaliland and Somalia in 1950-1 under a Colonial Welfare and Development Research Scheme.
To illustrate the diversity of the collection, Dr Topp Fargion has highlighted some of her personal favourites from the Historic Ethnographic Recordings. "Vocal demonstration of phonograph (or graphophone) - wishing Mr. Ray success on his journey
”. Part of the Torres Strait Island collection recorded in Cambridge in 1898 giving a beautiful glimpse into Victorian life!; () and Arthur Henry Fox Strangways Collection. "Lullabies
" recorded in India in 1910/11 which demonstrates the reality of the recording medium as the equipment is heard to be wound up mid-song.