The Platform to Platform project centres on the exploitation, augmentation, and exhibition of a set of existing archive data by transforming a young woman’s personal testimony of World War II in textual format into a series of sound files, contextualised by contemporaneous news reports, as a non-fiction podcast series. The series is called Diary of the war – the title that the author Lorna Lloyd used in the first diary entry in her exercise book on 1st September 1939.
There are three academic staff involved in the project. Edinburgh Napier University’s Dr Bruce Ryan is the Principal Investigator, with his colleagues Professor Hazel Hall and Dr Iain McGregor as Co-Investigators. A number of external partners have supported the project: the BBC Archive has provided broadcast sound files and news scripts for the events mentioned in the war diary; Find my Past and the British Library gave the team free rein to use print news items from the British Newspaper Archive in the podcast series script; and the Malvern Museum – where the original copy of the war diary is held – contributed much to the organisation of the podcast series launch event in Malvern on May 24th 2022. The School of Computing at Napier also contributed public engagement funding to the project, most of which went towards the hosting of the launch event, and the publication of booklets of Lorna Lloyd’s powerful poetry for the 90 or so participants at the launch event to keep as souvenirs.
There are two main strands to the Platform to platform project. The first is the production of the podcast series itself in a total of twelve episodes. The first eight comprise the war diary entries complemented with news coverage, and the last four are ‘bonus’ episodes of Lloyd’s poetry. This work has been completed by a team of five students on the third year Napier Group Project module. They recorded 600+ files with three voices: Lorna Lloyd is played by her actress great-great niece Bethany Ray (who happens to be the same age as Lloyd when she first started writing her war diary); Katherine Stephen (one of Hazel Hall’s PhD students) plays the announcer; and an amateur actor – Richard Godden – plays the news reader. One of the members of project board – actor David Monteath (who is also an Edinburgh Napier Sound Design MSc student) – independently recorded his part as Lorna Lloyd’s brother. The students stitched this content together with the archive BBC radio recordings, processed the files, created the episodes, and completed the backend work for the podcasts to be accessible to the general public from the Malvern Museum web pages.
The second (academic research) part of the project is an evaluation of the ways in which members of the public engage with the archives in the two digital formats: (1) the online text and images that were uploaded daily to an online journal between August 2019 and January 2021 at http://blipfoto.com/lornal (i.e. the existing archive); and (2) the podcast series. For this element of the project, the team first completed three scoping interviews to determine interview themes, then undertook nine phase 1 interviews ‘proper’. The phase 2 interviews are scheduled to take place later this month (June) after the nine people who took part in phase 1 have had a chance to listen to the podcast episodes.
The team anticipates that those who first encountered the archive through the online journal at http://blipfoto.com/lornal will report hearing narration of the diary entries to be a different experience from reading them online. For example, engagement in ‘active listening’ is likely to feel more intimate and immersive, especially given the family link between the performer and the diarist. The contribution from this empirical study will add to the small body of knowledge on podcasts and archives. To date, the podcast format has most readily been used in public engagement and outreach activities, privileging expert interpretation of the physical holdings of heritage organisations. Here it is expected that the project team will be able to demonstrate that podcasts can also be deployed as a platform to host archival material as a ‘performance’.
After the end of the funded period of the project (31st July 2022) the team will be disseminating the project findings. These activities include a paper entitled ‘Digital options: an assessment of audience engagement with a digitised archive set transformed from online text and images to audio format’ at the Archives and Records Management Association Annual conference in September. Later the same month, the team plans to present the work as a case study on the creative use of digital archives with BBC Archive in a roundtable at a symposium to celebrate 100 years of the BBC.
The podcast series can be accessed from the Malvern Museum of Local History web site at https://malvernmuseum.co.uk/lorna-lloyds-diary-of-the-war/.