Since January – as an Arts and Humanities Research Council Cultural Engagement Fellow – I’ve been cataloguing a collection of paper files at the British Library that belonged to Peter Kennedy (1922–2006), a renowned collector of British and Irish traditional music and customs. His archive spans roughly 1600 open reel tapes (around half of which are his own field recordings), 1500 photographs and 170 boxes of correspondence and song texts – a vast collection!
Whilst trawling through Peter’s papers, I discovered a number of reports he had written in the 1950s that detail his daily activities when he was travelling the UK and Ireland recording hundreds of traditional performers, including Harry Cox, Margaret Barry, Fred Jordan and the McPeake family. I realised that these detailed reports would provide an ideal focal point for a website which would collate and contextualise all of the material from his collection that I have helped the British Library to digitise over the past few years:
Here, Peter’s reports can be scrolled through as interactive images, where clicking on a performer’s name reveals related sound recordings and photographs from his collection. Links to currently undigitised recordings in the Library’s catalogue are also present. This simple interface holds a large amount of information, but presents it in a way that encourages its discovery rather than relying on users navigating it by text searches.
Encouraging users to explore the collection in this way also draws attention to Peter Kennedy as a collector – a narrative that is easily lost in the impersonality of library catalogue systems, but is one which lies at the heart of this collection. As an ethnomusicologist, I find these kind of insights into Peter’s fieldwork methodologies fascinating.
However, interest in Peter’s work is not limited to academics, but extends to practicing musicians, too. It’s hoped that this site will stimulate musicians and researchers to continue to engage with his work and to explore the large amount of material that hasn’t yet made it onto my website.
Andrew Pace completed his BMus and MA at City University London and has recently completed a PhD in Ethnomusicology at the University of Manchester.