The BBC Monitoring Service collection at IWM Duxford: investigating and evaluating its heritage and academic value and how it can be made accessible

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial War Museum
Department Name: Research

Abstract

The BBC Monitoring Service transcripts collection occupies 1500 metres of shelving in a 1930s former RAF building at IWM Duxford. It represents the output of millions of hours of listening and transcribing broadcasts - a colossal collection of typed transcripts documenting international radio outputs during the Second World War and the Cold War, from 1939-1980. The network will bring together archival practitioners and researchers from the fields of twentieth century history, BBC institutional history, propaganda and intelligence, radio studies, translation and language studies, and digital humanities to explore the potential of this vast collection, provide expertise on its use and promotion, and examine possibilities for further research and collaboration. The work of the BBC Monitoring Service is international in scope and the research network will reflect this by involving representatives from academic institutions and equivalent archives worldwide, thus opening up the collection for later projects that involve international collaboration.

It should be noted that the BBC Monitoring Service's Summary of World Broadcasts/Daily Digest - daily summaries of the news broadcast by states worldwide - have been used by scholars, who have had access to them on microfiche in libraries worldwide since the 1970s. IWM's collection consists of the raw unedited transcripts from which the summaries were drawn. The proposed network's focus, therefore, will be on the ways in which this very much larger body of unexplored material held by IWM can be used.

The network will explore the collection, suggest ways of providing greater access to and understanding of its content, and encourage engagement from a wide and diverse range of users. The network will also seek to develop future research directions to explore the full potential of this resource. These aims will be achieved through a series of four multidisciplinary workshops to address four key themes:

1. BBC Monitoring and the World: the service and its role in international politics and diplomacy

2. The difficulties of translation and intelligence-gathering faced by the Service;

3. The BBC Monitoring Service as an institution;

4. The archive as a physical entity and the opportunities presented by digital technologies to allow greater public access to the collection, increasing understanding of the output of the BBC Monitoring Service, and providing new educational resources.

The wider aims of the network are to establish and promote the value of the collection for researchers; to encourage recognition of the collection as an important part of British heritage, and to explore the digital potential of the collection.

In order to achieve this, the network will seek to build international relationships with researchers; establish a dedicated microsite on the IWM website and publish the outcomes of the workshops in academic journals and the popular press.

The network will led by IWM's Head of Research, Suzanne Bardgett, who has highlighted the likely value of the collection to the academic world, and co-supervised two PhDs on the subject, and Professor Jean Seaton, Official Historian of the BBC and Professor of Media History, University of Westminster.

The Advisory Group includes: Professor Sheila Anderson, King's College London; Professor Christopher Andrew, Cambridge University; Dr Peter Busch, King's College London; Professor Hilary Footitt, Reading University; Robert Seatter, Head of BBC History; Dr Alban Webb, The Open University; Chris Westcott, Director of BBC Monitoring Service and Rosy Wolfe, Head of Business Development, BBC Monitoring Service.

The BBC is a committed Project Partner.

Planned Impact

It is anticipated that the network will have impact in the following areas, and for the following groups:

Archivists managing equivalent collections worldwide
During the preparation of this bid, a number of overseas archives were approached and there was a very positive response, notably from the former Vice President for Government Publications from Readex USA, the Director of Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego (Polish National Digital Archives), and the Radio Free Europe Archivist from the Wilson Center, USA.

Imperial War Museums
The network will increase access to and raise awareness and understanding of the IWM's largest collection. Increasing the access to, and public understanding of, this nationally significant collection will provide better value for public money. The network will also contribute to IWM's strategic aim of raising and extending its research profile by further strengthening links with academics and institutions within the UK, and building new connections with academics and institutions around the world.

The BBC
The network's outputs will provide examples of the wider role of the BBC by highlighting how the BBC Monitoring Service has played a significant part in intelligence gathering since 1939 (for both the UK and the United States) and provided information that has been used to great effect to help British political and economic interests during the Second World War and the Cold War. The network will also provide benefits to the BBC through opening up links to other institutions, including the IWM, universities, and institutions across the world.

General public
The network aims to engage with a broad spectrum of the public by making the workshop outcomes available on the IWM website. IWM Research will host and support dedicated pages on its website that will allow the public to learn more about the network, with content ranging from downloadable podcasts, blog posts and comment pieces, through to digitised examples of the material held within the collection. In addition, innovative means of engagement will be developed via social media, in order to promote the collection further, and direct interested parties to the relevant area of the IWM website. IWM will host a free public event to showcase the collection and share the outcomes of the network.

Finally, the PI will organise at least one feature on the collection in the national press, and further examples in popular history magazines and on the radio.

Publications

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Seaton J (2016) The new Architecture of Communications in Journalism Studies

 
Description The BBC Monitoring Transcripts project has achieved its goals very satisfactorily over the past year.

There has been effective collaboration between the BBC and the IWM: the former providing facilities, contacts and a shared online space for accessing documents; the latter ensuring that the fruits of the academic engagement have been fully shared with the BBC.

Five workshops took place between June 2015 and January 2016. The first was held at BBC Monitoring's headquarters at Caversham Park, the building which has housed the operation since 1942. Focussing on Translation and Intelligence, it welcomed a number of former and current monitors who contributed valuable insights into the mechanics of their work and how BBCM had responded to particular world events. Participants - who included language specialists - thus gained an insight into the internal workings of monitoring: the workings of shifts and rotas; the challenges of poor reception; the emergence of unfamiliar terms as regimes adopted new ideologies or as industries modernised. Internal technical developments such as the introduction of satellite monitoring of television and the computerisation of the editorial operation were also considered. The monitors took a strong interest in the project and several have contributed blogs about it.

The second workshop focussed on BBC Monitoring as an Institution. Here the focus was on the wide variety of organisations that have benefited from Monitoring's 'window on the world' and its overall value as a tool of 'soft power'. A number of senior journalists, former diplomats and others were able to comment on the value of BBC Monitoring in offering 'the first glimpse behind the curtain of events'.

The third and fourth workshops focussed on the Second World War and the Cold War. Those academics who either visited IWM Duxford and read transcripts in the archive, or who accessed a specially-established online repository, were unanimous in seeing the value of the raw transcripts: 'wafer thin sheets of close spaced typescript many of the twentieth century's most significant historical events literally leap from the files'. 20-minute papers were given on topics ranging from the broadcast sources used by the Oneg Shabbas historians in the Warsaw Ghetto to regime change in Rumania 1940-45; from the Cuban Missile Crisis to Eastern Bloc reactions to the 1976 Soweto Uprising.

The fifth considered the challenges of digitising the collection, and the opportunities that might arise from that. It was addressed by, among others, Bill Thompson, of the BBC's archive development team, who shared some of the issues which had arisen with BBC's Genome project (Radio Times listings, 1923-2009), and discussed with academics the importance of continued access to the collection.

Interviews conducted with those attending the workshop will appear on the project webpages, together with the papers delivered, a series of blogs and sample transcripts.
Exploitation Route The network has engaged both academic and non-academic audiences. We welcomed a large number of attendees from BBC Monitoring itself, including senior staff members, who have come to enrich their understanding of the practice of monitoring and the historic collection. We have also engaged those with interests in security and diplomacy, journalism, and linguistics.

IWM has dedicated webpages that allow the public to learn more about the work of the network. We are in the process of uploading all the academic papers which were presented at the workshops, which will be freely available. We have commissioned a number of blog posts written by network participants which are also shortly to be uploaded onto the website. These posts are aimed at a broad audience, in order to be of interest to general as well as specialist readers.

We have also developed a series of vox-pop videos with each of the workshop participants, and these will shortly be made available on YouTube and linked via the IWM website. It is hoped that these videos will encourage public engagement with the collection, as well as advocating its academic significance.

The academic advisory group are currently working to secure features on the work of the network, including one currently under discussion with The Political Quarterly. The group is also in discussion with the BBC regarding future digitisation of the archive, due to its significance in terms of world history.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy,Other

URL http://www.iwm.org.uk/research/current-research-projects/bbc-monitoring-collection-ahrc-research-network
 
Description Firstly, the workshop held at BBC Monitoring provided a focus for former and some current employees of the Service to contribute to a discussion of aspects of their work - its historical significance and what it was like to be a monitor from the start of the Second World War to the present day. A very engaging exchange took place between academics specialising in linguistics, media history and international affairs and those working 'at the coalface' - the first time that BBC Monitoring's operations had received this kind of scholarly attention. The blogs arising from the first workshop testify to the value to both BBC Monitoring and the wider public of hearing these specialists reflect upon their work. Once their blogs are available they can be read by modern language students considering joining the BBC Monitoring Service as a possible career, and generally provide an illuminating insight for the public into this highly specialist profession. Secondly, following the first two workshops held in June 2015 - 'Translation and Intelligence' and 'BBC Monitoring as an Institution', the three Theme Leaders who had organised the second workshop - Professor Jean Seaton (Co-investigator), Dr Alban Webb, and Dr Rosaleen Hughes - wrote a summary entitled 'BBC Monitoring: a national asset' and submitted it to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to inform the 2015 Defence Review then being prepared. Their summary drew attention to the widespread agreement at the meetings that BBC Monitoring was a national asset of very far-reaching value. The authors pointed to 'the historically-rooted professional capacities of BBCM and the fact that they are increasingly important in identifying, verifying, analysing, contextualising and enriching open sources. In crises, monitoring offers tactical advantages and an early warning system, but can only do this because of its strategic insight and understanding gained over a long period of time'. At a time when news agencies and newspapers facing economic difficulties are cutting back on foreign bureaux and direct reporting from the field, BBCM's capacity to verify material was especially important in dealing with increased propaganda material produced by a variety of state and non-state actors. It was difficult to predict which areas of the world would be problematic for the UK in the future and BBC Monitoring's systematic and highly developed approach were invaluable in this regard. A number of case-studies were cited where BBC Monitoring had provided timely and valuable information which had served the national interest. The point was made that if BBC Monitoring did not exist it would be impossible to obtain the same products and services from elsewhere and that if it were to cease to exist it will be extremely difficult to rebuild. It was also noted that funding through the license fee was unrepresentative of the balance of the actual use of the Service by the BBC and Whitehall and urged that it should be funded on a more sustainable basis.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description 'BBC Monitoring: a national asset' summary paper submitted to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to inform the 2015 Defence Review
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description Partnership with BBC Monitoring 
Organisation British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
Department BBC Monitoring
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution IWM has ensured that BBC Monitoring have benefited from the results of the network's academic engagement with the BBC Monitoring Transcripts Collection.
Collaborator Contribution BBC and BBC Monitoring have provided facilities, contacts and a shared online space for accessing documents.
Impact Senior BBC staff and current and former BBC Monitoring staff attended the five workshops that have taken place as part of the research network. In addition to this, a member of the BBC's archive development team co-chaired the workshop which considered the future digitisation of the collection.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Partnership with the University of Westminster 
Organisation University of Westminster
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We led the AHRC-funded research network.
Collaborator Contribution Professor Jean Seaton was the Co-investigator for the research network. As the official historian of the BBC Prof Seaton provided intellectual guidance on the project, and was instrumental in building up the academic and professional network of experts in this field.
Impact The successful research network: five workshops involving a number of international participants, exploring the academic value of the collection. The academic advisory group are currently working to secure features on the work of the network, including one currently under discussion with The Political Quarterly.The group is also in discussion with the BBC regarding future digitisation of the archive, due to its significance in terms of world history.
Start Year 2015
 
Description BBC Monitoring dedicated web pages 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Web pages hosted by IWM giving details of the 5 workshops hosted as part of the BBC Monitoring Project, along with 13 academic papers, 18 blog posts and vox-pop interviews linked to the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.iwm.org.uk/research/research-projects/listening-to-the-world-bbc-monitoring-collection-ah...
 
Description Workshop 1: Translation and Open Source Intelligence, 1939-1982 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The first workshop took place on 9th June 2015 at BBC Monitoring's offices at Caversham Park, Reading. It investigated the problems of producing and transmitting translated intelligence, and developed a clearer understanding of the working practices of the translators within the BBC Monitoring Service. Translation academics and former monitors came together to discuss topics such as background, recruitment, working practices (in different roles and languages) and the process of monitoring, translating and summarising broadcasts. The workshop explored the role of languages and linguists in intelligence, and saw former monitors give anecdotal evidence of their experience as both journalists and linguists.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.iwm.org.uk/current-research-projects/bbc-monitoring-collection/workshops
 
Description Workshop 2: BBC Monitoring as an Institution 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The University of Westminster hosted the second research workshop on 10th June 2015, and brought together senior figures from both the BBC and HM Government to discuss the significant role that the BBC Monitoring Service has historically played in foreign affairs. BBCM has had, and continues to have, relationships with a variety of other organisations, both in the UK and abroad. This workshop addressed BBC Monitoring's institutional, funding, and editorial relationships with these protagonists from the recent past, including the FCO, the Treasury and BBC News. Discussion focused on how the problems and issues faced by BBC Monitoring helped to shape it as an institution, and identified specific areas of its history for further research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.iwm.org.uk/current-research-projects/bbc-monitoring-collection/workshops
 
Description Workshop 3: BBC Monitoring and the Cold War 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This international workshop took place at IWM London on 15 October and considered how the BBC Monitoring Transcript Collection could potentially enrich and develop existing historical narratives, and offer new analyses around key events and themes in 20th century history, particularly during the Cold War. Focusing on a series of international 'critical events' since the Second World War, the workshop examined the historical significance of BBC output to its stakeholders in the BBC, Whitehall and beyond.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.iwm.org.uk/current-research-projects/bbc-monitoring-collection/workshops
 
Description Workshop 4: BBC Monitoring and the Second World War workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The fourth workshop focused on the BBC Monitoring collection in relation to the Second World War, and took place at IWM London on 19 January. Presentations were heard on a diverse array of topics including the use of radio in the Warsaw ghetto, Vichy France's radio propaganda on collaboration, and comparisons with contemporary activities conducted by the Dutch Government in Exile in London and the US Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.iwm.org.uk/current-research-projects/bbc-monitoring-collection/workshops
 
Description Workshop 5: BBC Monitoring and Digital Research 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The final workshop took place in the Sussex Humanities Lab at the University of Sussex on 20 January 2016 and focused on the archive as a physical entity. It looked at the opportunities presented by digital technologies to promote greater awareness of the resource. The collection is estimated to consist of 15 million sheets of paper and presents a special opportunity for archivists and researchers to address how best to provide access to a collection of such large proportions. Digital humanities researchers will benefit from the chance to help influence the methodological approaches to a collection whose scale and complexity presents particular challenges. The workshop was co-chaired by a member of BBC Archive Development.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.iwm.org.uk/current-research-projects/bbc-monitoring-collection/workshops