A Descriptive Catalogue of the James M. Carpenter Collection of Traditional Song and Drama

The James Madison Carpenter Collection of Traditional Song and Drama is one of the most important and extensive collections of its kind. The bulk of it comprises British material which Carpenter (1888-1983), a Harvard graduate, gathered in the period 1928-35. The remainder comprises material gathered from various parts of the USA and probably dates from immediately after this period. Carpenter documented folksongs of all kinds, including sea shanties, Child ballads, carols, bothy ballads, blues ballads, spirituals, nursery rhymes and children's singing games, as well as mummers plays, instrumental tunes, customs, folktales and dialect. He typed these from the dictation of contributors and also recorded many on Dictaphone cylinders.

The Collection was never published and was eventually purchased by the Library of Congress where it was microfilmed but never published or thoroughly catalogued. The aims of the project were to gain intellectual control over the Collection, make all the data easier to search and browse by scholars, performers and the general public, raise its profile and link it to the digitised images and sound files of the Collection materials at the Library of Congress in order to promote use of the Collection. The objectives of the project were to produce an item-level catalogue, and mount it online.


Principal investigator
Dr Julia Bishop
Principal project staff
Dr Julia Bishop; Dr Ian Russell
Start date
Sunday, July 1, 2001
Completion date
Saturday, February 1, 2003
Source material
The digital resource was produced from digital surrogates of the papers, photographs, and sound recordings in the Carpenter Collection. These are held at the Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. At present (Sept2005) the catalogue is a stand-alone facility, but it contains the necessary information to link directly to these digital surrogates mounted on a server at the Library of Congress once the necessary permissions have been obtained.

Bishop, Julia C., David Atkinson, Elaine Bradtke, Eddie Cass, Thomas A. Mackean, Robert Young Walser. The James Madison Carpenter Collection Online Catalogue. http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/carpenter/.

Cass, Eddie. "‘Ethel Rudkin and the Plough Plays of Lincolnshire." Folk Life 41 (2003): 96-107.