The Isles of Scilly Museum has launched a new website which gives access to their Oral History Archive. The Museum has been collecting for the Oral History Archive since the early 1990s, when volunteer, Mary Bushell, started interviewing Scillonians in order to record precious memories of life on Scilly. Since then, the archive has grown and now includes interviews collected by Ray Williams in the late 1990s, recordings of local events (such as May Day, Lifeboat ceremonies and Spratting), landscape footage, and recordings of the Scillonian Entertainers and the St. Mary’s Theatre Club. There are also a number of private donations, some of which are old black and white or silent films which have been copied from old 8mm cine film.
In 2008, the museum started working with Emma Moore, a researcher at the University of Sheffield who has been visiting Scilly all her life. Emma has built a digital database to archive the collection and has gradually been editing the interview footage so that it can be played on-line. Now a website, Scilly Voices (www.hrionline.ac.uk/scillyvoices), is being launched. From this site, it is possible to search the Museum’s Oral History holdings and watch a number of interviews with local people, many of whom are, unfortunately, no longer alive.
In collaboration with the University of Sheffield and the AONB unit, the Museum is now seeking to expand the Archive. Over the next year, the project team will be recruiting local people to undertake more interviews for the archive. They are particularly keen to obtain interviews with off-islanders, who are currently poorly represented in the archive. They are also keen to gain footage of different generations from the same family so that changes over time can be traced. Anyone who is interested in getting involved in the project either as an interviewer or an interviewee should contact Amanda Martin at the Isles of Scilly Museum. More information and contacts can also be found on the project website.
It’s hoped that the archive will be useful in a number of ways. It provides a historic record, and the interviews provide valuable insight into life on Scilly and Scillonian families. In addition to developing the archive for this general purpose, Emma will be using the archive to explore the dialect of English heard on Scilly. In written accounts of Scilly, many have noted that the people of Scilly speak “better English” than people on the mainland. However, there is disagreement about the extent to which Scilly has (or, indeed, ever had) a dialect of its own. There is also disagreement about the extent to which language on Scilly has been influenced by the Cornish language and the Cornish dialect of English. On the other hand, some believe that, not only did Scilly have a language variety that was distinct from the mainland, each of the off-islands had their own distinct dialects at one time too. The recordings in the Oral History Archive suggest that some people do sound ‘Scillonian’, and Emma hopes to uncover what it is that makes them sound this way. She will also be looking for changes in the variety of English spoken on Scilly. Because Scilly's population is very mixed (including people who have lived there all their lives, incomers and seasonal workers), any language change will help to reveal the impact of social and cultural changes on Scilly.