The James Madison Carpenter Collection Online Catalogue: A Searchable Online Catalogue of the James Madison Carpenter Collection, Held at the Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

By Millington, Peter | Folk Music Journal, Annual 2004 | Go to article overview

The James Madison Carpenter Collection Online Catalogue: A Searchable Online Catalogue of the James Madison Carpenter Collection, Held at the Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress


Millington, Peter, Folk Music Journal


The James Madison Carpenter Collection Online Catalogue: A Searchable Online Catalogue of the James Madison Carpenter Collection, held at the Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

Catalogued and encoded by Julia C. Bishop, David Atkinson, Elaine Bradtke, Eddie Cass, Thomas A. McKean and Robert Young Walser. Sheffield: The Humanities Research Institute Online Press, 2003. URL 3 June 2003: http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/carpenter/

Regular readers of this journal are probably familiar with James Madison Carpenter from the special issue on his collection that was published in 1998. He was a Harvard scholar with interests in folk song--primarily 'chanties' and ballads--but latterly also in folk drama. He undertook extensive field collecting trips in the Britain and America in the late 1920s and 1930s.

The size of his collection is awesome, with numbers for the different types of record present in their hundreds and thousands. In total, there are about 14,000 pages of material, including tune transcriptions, plus hundreds of photographs and sound recordings on Dictaphone cylinders and disc. These are some of the earliest field sound recordings of British and American folk song. To give an idea of scope, there are 4000 versions of Child ballads, 800 sea shanties and fore-bitters, 320 nursery rhymes/songs and singing games, 400 other songs, 500 folk plays, plus other assorted customs and traditions. Carpenter published very little of this material, but it became publicly accessible after it was acquired by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in 1972. Microfilm copies of the collection are held by the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House and by the Central Library, Aberdeen. However, usage of Carpenter's material has hitherto been limited because finding aids have either been limited in detail and/or not been widely available.

This situation changed in April 2003 with the launch of The James Madison Carpenter Collection Online Catalogue. This is the first fruit of an international project whose ultimate aim is to publish a critical edition of the collection. The project team is led by Dr Julia Bishop of the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition at the University of Sheffield, and comprises Robert Young Walser, David Atkinson, Elaine Bradtke, Eddie Cass, Ian Russell and Thomas A. McKean--all distinguished in their respective fields--with further expert help from Michael Heaney and Steve Roud. Staff at the American Folklife Center also provide significant support.

The catalogue's web site is very attractively put together, with well-crafted introductory pages describing Carpenter, his collection and the project, as well as guidance on how to use the catalogue and various reference lists of categories and sources.

Naturally, the search facility will be the key part of the online catalogue for most people, although they can also browse sequentially through the inventory if they wish. It is possible to search for words in all of the text, or in specific fields: Titles, All names, Contributors' names, Places, Dates, Genre, Page numbers, and Child ballad number or title. Genre categories mostly relate to folk-song styles, but also cover other art forms and traditions. …

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