Scientific Collections


The Lautarchiv of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

A speech in English and Sanskrit given by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Thakur (older spelling: Tagore) at the University of Berlin in 1921, Korean songs of protest against the Japanese protectorate recorded in WWI German prisoner of war camps and the standardized Wenker sentences spoken in North Frisian dialect are but three examples that testify to the bandwidth of the recordings held by the Humboldt-Universität’s Lautarchiv.

The Lautarchiv currently holds an acoustic collection of around 10.000 shellac records along with wax cylinders, tapes, gelatin and aluminum discs that mainly document a large number of languages and dialects and the voices of famous public figures of the German Reich and the Weimar Republic. They also hold written and photographic documentation and historic recording and reproduction equipment.

The recordings, made since 1909, provide an overview of nearly 100 years of phonetic, linguistic and anthropological research in Berlin and show developments in scientific collecting and archiving. Their cultural and science history context, not to mention their political context, is registered in the recordings, as it were, and is existentially evident in particular in the recordings made in WWI and WWII prisoner of war camps. As the recordings were, to a large part, made in circumstances of this kind the Lautarchiv is seen as a “sensitive collection” requiring appropriate and respectful handling of the recordings and corresponding behavior toward the speakers.

The shellac recordings have been digitized since 1999. They are catalogued in the “Kabinette des Wissens” (Cabinets of Knowledge) database and can be researched online.

Projects already undertaken show that interdisciplinary and, above all, intercultural projects with people from the speakers’ countries of origin bring about one new attribution of meaning after another. The aim is to index the recordings successively and make them accessible for research.

We look forward to hearing from you if you are involved in research and teaching projects or planning to deal with Lautarchiv recordings in an editorial, journalistic, curatorial or artistic capacity to develop new perspectives and make new groups of people aware of them.