In their own words

20th May 2005 at 01:00
VOICES OF HISTORY. Historical recordings from the British Library Sound Archive on CD-Roms. British Library. pound;15.95

Neil DeMarco listens to historic recordings

The British Library has released a two-CD set of historic recordings from its archive. The recordings date from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century and cover a wide variety of speakers. There are key political figures such as Lloyd George, speaking on his "People's Budget" of 1909, Churchill's "Finest Hour" speech from 1940, and Hitler in 1938.

However, among the 40 speakers represented are some of social interest, including several key figures in the women's movement and a very scratchy recording of Florence Nightingale from 1890 in support of the Light Brigade Relief Fund.

Loyal subjects of the Crown can listen to the first royal Christmas Day broadcast, by George V in 1932, or Edward VIII's abdication speech. Some of the recordings are difficult to follow, and in these instances the speeches have been transcribed. In this way, you can follow the text of the Archbishop of Westminster's speech in 1906, in defence of Catholic schools.

More interesting, perhaps, are the brief extracts from speeches by Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler. These are in the original languages with English translations in the accompanying booklet. They confirm what we already know: Lenin and Stalin were less than dynamic speakers while Hitler could captivate an audience. A-level teachers may find a use for some of these recordings. The contrast between Stalin's deadpan delivery - despite the fact that his country has just been invaded by Germany - and Hitler's rant about the forthcoming Anschluss plebiscite makes for instructive listening. These could easily be incorporated into a PowerPoint presentation comparing the two dictators' speaking styles.

Teachers of the social history of the 20th century may find it helpful to listen to original recordings, for example of Christabel Pankhurst in 1908, just after being released from prison. However, I did not think that listening to the speeches added, in most cases, to what could be gleaned from reading them. Many of the speeches are delivered in a deliberate, rather formal style which, more often than not, sound like sermons.

There are, though, some delightful surprises. I had never heard Eamon de Valera speak before but the lyricism and evocative style of his 1920 St Patrick's Day address is a treat to listen to.


Neil DeMarco is editor of the Hodder 20th Century History series

* BBC Audiobooks has released The Greatest Churchill Speeches: Never Give In!, digitally remastered as a two-CD set (pound;12.99) or a two-cassette set. pound;10.99

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