This project has been about salvaging a soundscape from the British colonies. It is an ethnographic teaching project about cultural conservation which involved researching academic materials and constructing an internet platform for students at QUB and the general public. It is an opportunity to hear rare, previously thought lost examples of sounds and music streamed as an accompaniment to some important teaching texts in the fields of anthropology and ethnomusicology, e.g. the recently donated sound reels of the last known ‘jumbie dances’ to take place on Montserrat, a British colony in the Eastern Caribbean, destroyed by natural disaster in 1995. These have been added to by a visual and sound archive made by Dr Skinner prior to the eruption of Mount Chance on Montserrat in 1995. Both digitized archives have been enhanced through additional interpretative texts researched from the Public Records Archives, London, and from visual pictures taken by Dr Skinner before, during and after the volcanic crisis Skinner (2006a, 2006b, 2005, 2004, 2003). The project is open to students and the public to extend the soundscape, and to create their own. Support for this project has come from QUB, HEA, C-SAP, the people of Montserrat, Bill Innanen and Professor Stuart Philpott.
The aims of this project are commensurate with the aims of the UK Sustainable Development Education Panel (SDEP), namely, to foster the sustainable development ideology/philosophy in educational institutions and the work place and to continue to embed sustainable development principles into the curriculum. This project does this by concentrating upon the relationship between tourism and the environment in the Caribbean. By doing so, and by concentrating upon the British Overseas Territory Montserrat, this particular project reintroduces the cultural and the colonial into the mosaic of ESD endeavours: the cultural and the colonial are vital aspects of ESD and are closely associated with legacies from the past and relationships with the past and past practices (slavery and landuse exploitation in this case).
Key activities have been to scan over 250 slides of the island of Montserrat immediately prior to the 1995 eruption; to also digitise recordings from the last ever jumbee dances recorded in the 1960s; and to start an extensive and ongoing review the literature of the region. The dissemination of these activities has begun through the construction of a user-friendly internet platform featuring these digital materials and encouraging their interactive exploration. There have been two main difficulties in this area – one has been a number of personnel setbacks and injuries setting back the timing of the project; and the other has been one of IT problems with building a website accessible in the same way through different browsers. To some extent this project is on-going and sustainable, as it was designed to be.
- interactive website for public and students http://www.qub.ac.uk/montserrat/
- ongoing developing website conservation archive of sounds, images and text
- promotion of the site and HEA activities
- tourist awareness
This project benefits the students at QUB who study anthropology and ethnomusicology. It builds upon the work of Dr Suzel Reily who has set up an internet platform on the sounds and sights of John Blacking’s innovative ethnography of the Venda in S. Africa from the 1950s (http://www.qub.ac.uk/VendaGirls); as well as more contemporary soundscapes from Belfast with the ‘Making Music in Belfast Project’ (http://www.qub.ac.uk/sa/resources/Belfast_Project/index.html). Besides these two disciplines and pools of students, the project will be of use to Cultural Studies and Media Studies students, anthropologists at Kent with their Experience Rich Anthropology (ERA - www.era.anthropology.ac.uk/) projects, those interested in innovative forms of conversation and salvage, and Montserratians on Montserrat as well as migrants elsewhere. It will have therapeutic, healing benefits for the last two categories of site visitors (see Laderman and Roseman 1996). Now running and advertised, this soundscape curriculum project can be extended to take in submissions from the public of sound and visual recordings of life on the island pre-1995.
This project sets in process a cultural reconstruction, a salvage ethnography, of lost sounds of and from the island. It is a conservation project which begins with the digitization of some original ‘jumbie dance’ sound reels from the 1960s: the ‘jumbie dance’ is an ancestral trance healing dance now only performed and sung for tourists. These sound files support teaching texts used by students (Skinner 2004, Skinner 2005b) on anthropology and ethnomusicology modules at Queen’s. Furthermore, they are being used as an active archive on hypermedia modules. In other words, they can be heard as soundscapes from life pre-eruption Montserrat by students, but also the interested and concerned public – such as those Montserratian migrants to the UK. Thus, this aural project is reaching out to a wide audience, showing them and letting them listen to island life and island cultural events which have now been lost. Future phases of this project are to digitise and develop further audio cassette sound files and pre-volcano photographs.
It was John Blacking, the first Professor of Social Anthropology at The Queen’s University of Belfast, who published as an ethnomusicologist pioneering work about the connection between music and the environment (1976). Blacking laid the basis for the study of ethnomusicology when he wrote that cooperation and social interaction are biologically programmed human conditions. They are developed through music and movement - the prerequisites for cognition. Sounds, for example, evoke emotions and feelings, and it is ‘[f]eeling [that is] the catalyst that transforms acquired knowledge into understanding, and so adds the dimension of commitment to action’ (Blacking 1977: 5). Herein lies the connection between ethnomusicology and sustainable development, between the study of sounds and the motivation of community actions such as sustainable practices. This is recognized by Ramnarine (2000, 2004) in her teaching and practice. This is where the soundscape informs the development-scape. It is through the conservation of the island sounds that we mobilize powerful feelings of continuity and place. These will be harnessed by this project.
Those that the site reaches will learn to appreciate - or recapture in the case of many Montserratians - a previously thought lost soundscape.
Baily, J. (1995) ‘Learning to perform as a research technique in ethnomusicology’. In ‘Lux Oriente’: Begegnungen der Kulturen in der Musikforschung. Festschrift for Robert Günther. Gustav Bosse Verlag Kassel. Pp. 331-347.
Blacking, J. (1976) How Musical is Man?, London: Faber and Faber.
Blacking, J. (1977) ‘Towards an Anthropology of the Body’ in, J. Blacking (Ed.) The Anthropology of the Body, London: Academic Press, pp.1-28.
Defra (2006) ‘Furthering Sustainability: A Step-by-Step Guide for Colleges - The Government' s Sustainable Development Strategy’, http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/sustainable/educpanel/furthering/02.htm, accessed 28th May 2006.
Laderman, C. and M. Roseman (Eds), The Performance of Healing, London: Routledge.
Lave, J. and E. Wenger (1991) Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ramnarine, T. (2004) “Performance and Experiential Learning in the Study of Ethnomusicology” in Learning Fields: Current Policies and Practices in European Social Anthropology Education, eds. Dorle Drackle & Iain Edgar. Pp. 227-240. Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books.
Ramnarine, T. (2000) “The World Music in the Community Project: Update on Developments in Ethnomusicology”. Reflections: Newsletter for Learning and Teaching at Queen’s University Belfast. Issue 7.
Skinner, J. (2006a) ‘Land and landloss on Montserrat’ in, J. Besson & J. Momsen (Eds) Land and Development (2nd Edition), London: Macmillan (in press).
Skinner, J. (2006b) ‘Disaster creation in the Caribbean and planning, policy and participation reconsidered’, in J. Momsen and J. Pugh (eds) Environmental Planning in the Caribbean: context and case studies, London: Ashgate Publishers (in press).
Skinner, J. (2005) ‘Interning the serpent: witchcraft, religion and the law on Montserrat in the twentieth century’, History and Anthropology, 16(2), pp.1-23.
Skinner, J. (2004) Before the Volcano: Reverberations of Identity on Montserrat, Kingston, Jamaica: Arawak Publications.
Skinner, J. (2003) ‘Anti-social “social development”? The DFID approach and the ‘indigenous’ of Montserrat’ in, J. Pottier, A. Bicker and P. Sillitoe (Eds) Negotiated Development: Power and Identity in Development, London: Pluto Press, pp.98-120.