British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Earliest Shakespeare sound recording recovered

‘To be or not to be …’ as recited in the early 1880s crackled to life on computer speakers at the Library of Congress on Tuesday, 13 December.

The early audio recordings on Volta discs – which revealed recitations of Shakespeare, numbers and other familiar lines – had been packed away and deemed obsolete at the Smithsonian Institution for more than a century. But new technology has allowed them to be recovered and played.

For more information about this exciting recovery of historical recordings made by Alexander Graham Bell and others see here. A sample of the recording can be downloaded from here.

Recovering sound from six Volta discs is the first step in an ongoing project by the Smithsonian, Library of Congress and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to preserve and catalog the museum’s early recording collection and to provide increased access to the collection and its contents for both the academic community and the public.

For more information, visit:

Experimental physicist Carl Haber in the newly designed preservation laboratory at the Library of Congress (Photo: Rich Strauss, Smithsonian)

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