Digital showcase of British scientists wins prestigious award

Posted by ap507 at Dec 01, 2015 12:55 PM |
Project involving University of Leicester historian praised for bringing history of science to the public

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 1 December 2015

Contact pressoffice@le.ac.uk to request images.

A project that showcases the lives of British scientists involved in some of the most remarkable scientific and engineering discoveries of the last century has won a prestigious award from the Royal Historical Society.

‘Voices of Science’ is a website that marks the culmination of a major oral history project by the British Library to gather the life stories of British scientists, with involvement from Dr Sally Horrocks from the University of Leicester’s School of History. The Royal Historical Society announced the project as the winner of the Web & Digital category in its first Public History Prizes on 27 November.

The website draws from a National Life Stories programme ‘An Oral History of British Science’, and features interviews with over 100 leading UK scientists and engineers, telling the stories of some of the most remarkable scientific and engineering discoveries of the past century as well as the personal stories of each individual.

Dr Horrocks has been senior academic consultant to the project since 2011 and helped to develop the website, taking responsibility for much of the written content as well as advising on the selection of audio and video content.

Among the interviewees featured on the website is University of Leicester graduate and marine geophysicist Carol Williams.

Dr Horrocks said: “Voices of Science is unique among history of science and oral history website alike. It presents an accessible picture of British science and British scientists since the 1940s through extracts from over 100 oral history interviews. It allows us to see how science fits into the context of individual lives and helps us to understand what being a scientist has meant to those involved.

“We are delighted that the Royal Historical Society has decided to recognise our work in this way and are particularly pleased that they recognised our efforts to go behind the scenes of the project and share with our audiences the process of collecting oral histories.  This is something I know my own students find valuable and which opens up the processes of doing history to a wide audience.”

Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History at the British Library, said: "Winning an RHS Public History Prize for our 'Voices of Science' web resource is an important recognition of the vital role that oral history can play, both in recording the often hidden and forgotten life stories of British scientists, but most importantly in reaching out to new public online audiences through contextualising and personalising the complexities of the contemporary history of science and technology. The Oral History of British Science team at National Life Stories is enormously proud of this achievement."

The judges said: “This website provides rich materials for understanding the practice of twentieth-century science in a historical manner. The interviews themselves are fascinating; they are greatly enhanced by the interpretative material that is also provided on the site, encouraging users to reflect on major themes, including the role of gender in science, and the practice of oral history. The site is beautifully organised, providing not just valuable sources but tools for reflecting on them. It offers a way into a major field of history that makes it fully accessible to those with little or no previous knowledge of the history of science.”

The Public History Prizes are intended to promote the field of public history by recognising work that enhances public understanding of the place of the past in today’s social, political and cultural life. The historian and broadcaster, Amanda Vickery, Professor of Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London, presented the first prizes on 27 November.

Peter Mandler, RHS President, said about the Public History Prizes: “We live in something like a golden age of public history - a time when academics and other specialists work closely with journalists and the media and vice-versa to satisfy public interest in and raise public understanding of historical questions.  The Royal Historical Society wants to recognize creativity and excellence in this booming field:  to show that the public doesn't need to choose between edification and entertainment, between expertise and accessibility, between style and substance. We hope these prizes will draw further attention to the most impressive combinations of high-quality research and high-quality presentation.”

Over 1000 hours of unedited interviews, each lasting 10-15 hours, have already been made available in full on the British Library’s Sounds website as part of the Oral History of British Science project, while the ‘Voices of Science’ site offers curated access to audio and video highlights from the interviews, as well as photographs, biographies and other contextual information.

For more information, visit the website at: http://www.bl.uk/voices-of-science/

Read a blog by the British Library on the award: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/sound-and-vision/2015/11/voices-of-science-winner-of-the-royal-historical-societys-public-history-prize-for-web-digital.html

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Notes to editors:

More information on the prize winners: http://royalhistsoc.org/public-history-prize-winners/

Voices of Science is led by National Life Stories at the British Library in association with the Science Museum, and with support from the Arcadia Fund. Dr Sally Horrocks from University of Leicester has acted as Senior Academic Consultant, Dr Thomas Lean was Project Interviewer for the ‘Made in Britain’ strand, and Dr Paul Merchant for the ‘Changing Planet’ strand. All are available for interview.

Dr Horrocks is also academic advisor to the National Life Stories Project ‘An Oral History of the Electricity Supply Industry in the United Kingdom’

The Voices of Science website can be found at www.bl.uk/voices-of-science. For further information on the British Library’s oral history collections, please visit www.bl.uk/oralhistory.

The British Library is home to the UK’s Sound Archive, a treasure trove of living history containing more than 6.5 million sounds including music, spoken word, oral history, wildlife and the environment dating back to the birth of recorded sound in the 19th century. Discover more and listen at www.bl.uk/sounds

The Oral History of British Science Advisory Committee comprises: Professor Jon Agar (UCL), Dr Tilly Blyth (Science Museum), Lord Alec Broers, Georgina Ferry (chair), Professor Dame Julia Higgins (Imperial College), Dr Maja Kominko (Arcadia Fund), Professor Sir Harry Kroto, John Lynch OBE, Professor Chris Rapley CBE (UCL), and Dr Simone Turchetti (Manchester University). Lord Rees of Ludlow acts as an Advisor to National Life Stories. The project has so far received funding from the Arcadia Fund, The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, The Royal Society, the Worshipful Company of Armourers & Brasiers, and individuals donors.

National Life Stories (formerly the National Life Stories Collection) was established in 1987 and its mission is: 'To record first-hand experiences of as wide a cross-section of society as possible, to preserve the recordings, to make them publicly available and encourage their use'. Alongside the British Library’s other oral history collections, which stretch back to the beginning of the twentieth century, National Life Stories' recordings form a unique and invaluable record of people’s lives in Britain today and in the recent past: http://www.bl.uk/nls.

Arcadia is the charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. Since its inception in 2001, Arcadia has awarded grants in excess of $250 million.  Arcadia works to protect endangered culture and nature. For more information please see http://www.arcadiafund.org.uk/

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