Archival Silences as Historical Sources. Reconsidering Sound Recordings of Prisoners of War (1915-1918) from the Berlin Lautarchiv

Britta Lange


This article aims to consider not only sound recordings of speech samples as historical sources, but also the absence of words and the content hereof: silences in speech. Its focus are sound recordings made by prisoners in German camps during World War I, today kept in the Lautarchiv (Sound Archive) of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin ( The World War I recordings comprise one of the archive’s three founding collections. The fi rst contains voice portraits of illustrious fi gures such as Kaiser Wilhelm II and Paul von Hindenburg, the recordings of which began during the war in connection with the autograph collection of Ludwig Darmstaedter. The second collection is made up of voice portraits of people who were not well-known or prominent individuals, but exemplary speakers of particular languages and dialects. Between 1915 and 1918, in German prisoner of war camps, the state-funded Königlich Preußische Phonographische Kommission (Royal Prussian Phonographic Commission) produced sound recordings of a range of languages, dialects and ethnic groups for the purposes of linguistic and musicological research.


Sound archives

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ISSN: 1904-500X

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