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The James M. Carpenter Collection goes online

The American Folklife Centre, Vaughan Williams Memorial Library and the James Madison Carpenter Collection Project team are pleased to announce the addition of the James Madison Carpenter Collection to the VWML Digital Archive.

Now, thanks to an agreement between the English Folk Dance and Song Society and the American Folklife Centre, supported by funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the collection has been integrated into the VWML digital archive and made freely available to all. This long-awaited event means that researchers, performers, genealogists and more can search the collection and view or listen to the digital versions of the originals online. Furthermore, due to the nature of the VWML digital archive, searches can be made across an ever-expanding number of (primarily British) field collections, and the Roud Folksong and Broadside index. On the website you can look for the same song in a particular region, the same performer collected by several collectors, locate the items on a map, perhaps view a photograph of the informant, view notations of the music, or listen to a recording.

The Carpenter collection is a major collection of traditional song and drama. It also includes items of traditional instrumental music, dance, custom, narrative and children's folklore. Carpenter collected material in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the USA between 1927 and 1955. The bulk of the collection was made in Britain between 1929 and 1935, after the early collectors such as Sharp and Greig, and before the BBC and other collectors returned to the field after the war. The rest stems from his visit to Britain in 1928 researching sea shanties, and from various places in the United States during 1927-28 and 1935-55. The original collection materials comprise approximately 15,000 pages of manuscript and typescript, 179 dictaphone cylinders, 220 12-inch acetate discs, 40 drawings and approximately 560 photographs. Some of the more unique items include: dreg songs (songs used by oyster dredgers of the Firth of Forth); recordings of fiddle players Sam Bennett, John Robbins and William Wells; some rare and unique tunes for Child ballads; a very substantial number of folk play texts, and the drawings of characters from folk plays by the Gloucestershire folk artist, George Baker. The photographs range from Scottish castles to mummers and village children dancing around a maypole.

In conjunction with the website, the project included the production of festival workshops, archive study days, adult and youth performances, and educational programmes in English and Scottish schools, and a launch at Cecil Sharp House, held in March. The aim is to bring the collection to new audiences and help them explore the riches of the VWML digital archive for themselves. This will include some of the descendants of Carpenter’s 800-odd contributors who will play a key role in telling the story of these performers and their worlds, through photographs, memories and family history research.

Last but not least, the online presentation of the Carpenter collection as part of the VWML website is a major step towards the completion of a critical edition prepared by the Carpenter Project team. It is intended that the critical edition, to be published by the University Press of Mississippi, will complement the digitised collection and, at some point in the future, be able to interact with it.

See website here

E. Bradtke