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The history of EMBL in many voices

Stories from EMBL’s past are captured via the EMBL Archive’s Oral Histories programme

Photo of recording equipment.
The EMBL Archive's Oral Histories programme records diverse stories from the EMBL community. PHOTO: Shutterstock

The EMBL Archive is a living repository for the objects – both physical and digital – that embody EMBL’s scientific and institutional heritage, and the history of European molecular biology. But without the context of the stories behind them, some archival holdings can have little meaning. Our institutional memory is preserved not only in documentary heritage but also – and sometimes more vividly – in the personal stories and memories of the people who have experienced EMBL through its history.

As EMBL’s first archivist, Anne-Flore Laloë faced a big challenge when she arrived at EMBL Heidelberg in 2015: to capture and preserve as much of EMBL’s 40-year history as possible. Inevitably, there are gaps in the physical record, but there are many members of the EMBL community with recollections of EMBL as part of their personal history. Laloë realised the potential of this untapped resource and established the Oral Histories programme.

She’s now on a mission to record the memories of a broad cross-section of this EMBL demographic, in their own voices. Everyone has their own unique perspective and their own story to tell. “It’s a way to capture some of the diversity of EMBL voices,” says Laloë. “It’s also an alternative way of making our records accessible to the public. As a publicly funded organisation, EMBL is accountable to the public and to society.”

With each new recording – there are 35 to date – the oral histories collection becomes richer and more revealing. Laloë has spoken to different people with their own versions of the same stories. “You piece it all together,” she says. “It’s about getting the bigger picture. And now the public also have access to these stories and are able to connect the dots for themselves.”

Tags: Alumni, Audio, EMBL Archive, history

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