What is today known as the Lautarchiv (“sound archive”), based at the Humboldt University, Berlin, contains the remaining traces of almost a century’s endeavors in sound archiving: 7,500 shellac recordings and smaller collections of wax cylinders, tapes, and aluminum discs that document a wide variety of languages and dialects, along with “voice portraits” of famous public figures of the German Reich and Weimar Republic. Most of the language and dialect recordings are part of sensitive collections, produced in prisoner-of-war camps during World Wars I and II. The archive also holds tape recordings deriving from phonetic and linguistic studies during the GDR period, textual and photographic documents, and some historical recording and playback devices. The Lautarchiv originated from an opportunistic initiative by the German psychologist Carl Stumpf and the language teacher and phonetician Wilhelm Doegen. In 1915, Stumpf and Doegen founded the Royal Prussian Phonographic Commission to record and archive the languages and music of “colonial” prisoners of war interned near Berlin during World War I—thereby claiming German interpretive sovereignty over their sound cultures. After the war, Stumpf, who had served as director of the Phonographic Commission, continued his ethnomusicological research in the framework of a different collection, the Phonogramm-Archiv in Berlin. Doegen struck out on his own and helped found the Lautabteilung (“sound department”) of the Prussian State Library in 1920. A decade later, in 1931, the Library’s Lautabteilung was taken over by the University of Berlin. During World War II, the postwar years, and the GDR period, it was affiliated with various different departments and research interests, changing its name many times. Today, it is simply known as the Lautarchiv.
An overview of the history and chronology of the Lautarchiv can be found on www.lautarchiv.hu-berlin.de.
A catalogue of the collection is available online through the database Kabinette des Wissens.
Compiled by VT | Picture: CC-BY-SA | Max Planck Institute for the History of Science