No January (or February) blues

As mentioned in Phil’s latest post, for the project team, 2018 started with a conference at the British Library, where we shared our research and listened to the fruits of the AHRC Project directed by Stephen Muir at the University of Leeds Performing the Jewish Archive. Interdisciplinary conferences can be as disorienting as they can be rewarding. And so, for the first day, I felt like a fish out of water and enchanted at the same time. The Leeds project centres on musicology, theatre studies, and performance, combining the excavation of music and drama from the archives with staging and filming the resulting performances. The project is not only interdisciplinary itself, it also brought together researchers at institutions in the UK, the US and Australia, thus making it very international. Papers presented addressed the findings in archives, the processes of staging the works in different locations across the world while engaging performers and audiences with their historical context of their creation and first production. Indeed, audience research through a combination of questionnaires and filming were a new and experimental part of the project. Another aspect of the Leeds project, which permeated the three packed days of the conference, was research through experimental performance, bringing together a diverse group of artists and researchers to document their encounter with new materials. A fascinating record of performance-related research and a growing resource for researchers and teachers is the online archive https://jewishmusicandtheatre.org/.

You might ask, what we were doing there? Well, our project also works with archives whose holdings have hardly been explored. We are discovering, recovering, and producing archival materials. As cultural historians, musicologists, and scholars of literature, the three of us are engaged in a related endeavour. In November we organised a Mitchell Library in Glasgow to talk about what we found in the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre about the first ever Jewish Book Week in the UK, held in Glasgow in 1937. Naturally, these discoveries talked about performance, and to bring them to life and explore their meanings, we engaged in performance ourselves, the live audience being a crucial part of our work.

In London, we gave papers on the collections we are working with: Mia talked about survivor testimony and the editing processes from a survivor narrating, and writing their life story to its eventual publication by a dedicated publisher. Survivor and their narratives are the archive which then become another archive when they are collected as published works. Phil’s research on cantors who migrated to Scotland in the early twentieth century generated much discussion about Jewish liturgical music and was the paper most directly linked to the research of the Leeds project. I shared my thoughts on the Dorrith Sim Collection, raising questions about the different stake-holders relevant in assembling, archiving, and interpreting the collection: the family, the archive, and the researcher.We left London enriched by engaging scholarship, new contacts made, and new directions for our own work on Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces.

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