In Austria, Vienna as its capital has always been a centre of Africa-related research. Thus it is hardly surprising that the Phonogrammarchiv, which has constantly been involved in this research, now preserves a key collection of language and music recordings from Africa (audio and video materials in more than 250 African languages), compiled since its foundation. The earliest sound recordings of an African language date back to 1905. Together with objects, photographs, films, handwritten and published documents, books, etc. kept in museums, archives, libraries and private collections, the Phonogrammarchiv’s quantitatively and qualitatively significant holdings reflect the long tradition of Austrian research on the “dark continent”.
In addition to the basic requirement of preserving these recordings and making them available in a digital format, their scientific value is essentially linked to the application of an adequate methodological apparatus. Among other things, this methodology helps in reconstructing the biographies of persons involved, in shedding light on their motives, on the organization and practical implementation of research trips, on the context of the creation and use of the sound recordings as well as on aspects of the history of technology.
Continuous scientific-historical research on the holdings promotes the understanding of historical contexts and connections, thus ensuring that the advice given to external users is sound in terms of both methodology and contents. The knowledge acquired in this way also benefits the Phonogrammarchiv’s database and catalogue; it is disseminated in lectures, courses and publications – such as the Africa series of the archive’s commented CD edition of The Complete Historical Collections 1899–1950 – and finally passed on to the interested public. Moreover, crucially, it is also made available to the actual subjects of the research (or their descendants and ancestral societies).