New project brings major folk song collection to UK

James Carpenter folk

The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library Digital Archive has launched a new project to incorporate a pivotal early 20th century collection of British songs into its folk music database.

The digitised collection of James Madison Carpenter (pictured above), which has previously only been accessible by visiting the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, will become free to access online for the first time.

Carpenter’s work includes a wealth of traditional songs, ballads and folk plays collected from performers in Scotland, England and Wales by the Harvard-trained scholar, mostly in the period from 1929 to 1935.

As well as more than 2,000 items of traditional song and 300 folk plays, it contains some items of traditional instrumental music, dance, custom, narrative and children’s folklore.

The project is being delivered by the Elphinstone Institute, the centre for the study of Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology at the University of Aberdeen, in partnership with the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), which runs the archive at Cecil Sharp House in London.

A new learning resource for teachers will be created for the online EFDSS Resource Bank using a selection of material from the collection.

EFDSS will also deliver a series of creative learning projects with young people, adults, and in schools to introduce the collection to a new audience.

The project will culminate in a celebration concert at Cecil Sharp House in March 2018 featuring material from the Carpenter Collection.

Laura Smyth, director of the archive, said: ‘The Carpenter Collection will be a fantastic addition to our digital archive with collected materials from the early 1930s – a period with little activity from English based collectors.

‘It also features a large number of audio recordings, allowing us to get even closer to the original performances.’

Dr Julia Bishop, leader of the James Madison Carpenter Collection Project, added: ‘The Carpenter Collection has been hidden for so long. This is a wonderful opportunity to return it to the communities and places where so much of it originated.’

The project was made possible thanks to a grant of more than £63,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Follow-on Funding Scheme.

Read our recent interview with Laura Smyth.