Listening to the World: BBC Monitoring Collection AHRC Research Network
'I finished today thinking that this is one of the treasures of the world and a global resource deserves global recognition. Any citizen of the world can find something relevant to them in this material. This is a history of the world speaking to the world. …It's an amazing, amazing resource. It's as versatile as the person who asks it questions.'
- Nick Cull, University of Southern California
The BBC Monitoring Service was established in 1939 and was initially accommodated near Evesham, Worcestershire, but later moved to Caversham, near Reading, where it remains today. The Service played a key role throughout the Second World War and Cold War era by providing the BBC, as well as the government with information about what was being broadcast on the airwaves by countries across the world.
In 2015 Imperial War Museums received a research networking grant of £32,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to examine the academic potential of the transcripts of the broadcasts monitored between 1939-1982 (the BBC Monitoring Collection).
Suzanne Bardgett, IWM's Head of Research and Academic Partnerships, was the Principal Investigator of the research network and you can read her blog on how the network came into being here.
The collection consists of some 15 million pages of typed transcripts, the raw, unedited documents transcribed from live radio broadcasts. There is also the working index, 'Monitoring Reports' and 'Daily Digests of World Broadcasts' – the summaries that were circulated to BBC journalists and government departments, as well as media outlets. The network was the first major initiative to investigate this vast and largely unexplored asset.
The AHRC networking grant allowed researchers to suggest potential approaches, that can further understanding of key themes in world history. From 2015 to early 2016 the network held five workshops, bringing together current and former BBC Monitoring staff, users of the service including diplomats, government specialists and journalists, industry practitioners from equivalent overseas agencies and leading international academics.
The research workshops addressed the following themes:
- Translation and Open Source Intelligence, 1939-1982
- BBC Monitoring Service as an Institution
- BBC Monitoring and the Second World War
- BBC Monitoring and the Cold War
- BBC Monitoring Transcript Collection and Digital Research
Sara Beck, Director of BBC Monitoring, is featured below talking about the important role that Monitoring continues to play in following international events.