From The Archives: Sea-Shanties in Portsmouth

May 28, 2014

An archive is only as good as the data it captures. This is a thorny issue that archivists grapple with perennially. There wasn’t a lot of information about this week’s story in our records. Our database listed only: the name of the reporter who produced the piece (Raquel Maria-Dillon, whose work has been featured earlier on this blog), the original broadcast date of the story (5/9/03), and in the space reserved for a more detailed description: “A look at a group that gets together in Portsmouth to sing Sea Shanties.”

When given such sparse information, the archivist must try to glean additional information from the audio itself. This is difficult to do with an “audio postcard” as this piece is, because the reporter isn’t directly telling a story, instead the reporter is capturing an experience. To be sure, this week’s audio speaks for itself telling a bit about the history of sea-shanties, their practical uses on tall ships in the 19th century and the people preserving the tradition today.

Credit NH State Council on the Arts

And there’s some great music here, just not a lot of details. The first voice is that of Tom Hall, which answered a lot of questions about the story behind the story. Hall passed away in November, 2013, but had been hosting monthly sea-shanty sessions at The Press Club in Portsmouth for years. Seacoast online has a nice profile of him from 2010, and of his memorial service back in March.

So Maria-Dillon apparently attended one of the monthly sessions and spoke some of the attendees/participants. Now all this information can go back into our archive to give us a more complete picture of what this audio documents.