The purpose is to present recently discovered recordings of resistance songs, composed and sung by people with learning difficulties whilst segregated in long-stay institutions. Interviews were conducted to record songs and biographical material. Songs were also extracted from hospital closure archives which included audio tapes from reminiscence groups. Songs from five institutions, covering a period from 1910s-1970s, were traced, transcribed and analysed. Using a grounded theory approach, shared themes were identified across settings. People with learning difficulties provided historical context to accompany each song recording.
Although thousands of people with learning difficulties lost their liberty through admission to long-stay institutions, the surviving songs proved hard to trace as many of this generation are becoming increasingly frail and dying. Our results highlighted a substantial risk of the songs and music being lost forever.
This new material constitutes an essential element of the history of the self-advocacy movement. The songs clearly show that people were speaking up for themselves, demonstrating resistance and resilience, long before the terms advocacy and self-advocacy came into common usage.
Analysis of the songs also underlines important parallels with other social movements such as the Black civil rights and women's movements. The findings have attracted considerable interest from non-disabled song historians and music archivists. Further research into the history of these songs offers exciting potential for people with learning difficulties to engage in new areas of collaborative research alongside those working in mainstream arts and musicology.
NB Research findings could be shared in presentation or poster format. However, our research data includes video and audio tape recordings of people with learning difficulties performing the songs from the institutions.
If you woud like to get in touch with the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group, please contact:
Chair of the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group
School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care
Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies
The Open University
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