Traditional Drama Forum - No.11 ISSN 1743-3789 October 2004

News Feature

James Madison Carpenter Collection

In Traditional Drama Forum, No.10, we were able to announce the award from the British Academy to enable work on transcribing the re-mastered Carpenter cylinders to proceed. June brought even better news for the continuing work on this Collection. The American institution, the National Endowment for the Humanities, has awarded the American Folklore Society a grant of $150,000 to facilitate the first phase in the creation of the critical edition of the James Madison Carpenter Collection which was always the ultimate objective of the team of English and American scholars, David Atkinson, Elaine Bradkte, Eddie Cass, Tom McKean and Bob Walser led by Julia Bishop. In the June edition of American Folklore Society News which carried the announcement of the award the Carpenter Collection is described as 'one of the most significant collections in the American Folklife Center's Archive of Folk Culture….For Britain, the Collection is one of the most extensive and diverse ethnographic gatherings ever made, the first to use sound recording consistently, and the first by an academically trained collector. It bridges the gap between the turn-of–the-century and mid-century folksong revivals, and has singers in common with these earlier and later collections. It contains some rare and unique items of balladry, important variants of better known ballads, multiple rather than conflated versions of shanties, recording made of well-known fiddle players while in their prime, and is the first folk play evidence based on performers' rather than upper-class observers' testimony.'

The Carpenter team outside the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen, 2004
The Carpenter team outside the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen, 2004
Left to right – David Atkinson, Bob Walser, Tom McKean, Julia Bishop, Elaine Bradtke, Ian Russell & Eddie Cass
Photo courtesy of the Elphinstone Institute

Work on this new phase will start in the autumn and, is planned to last eighteen months. It is hoped that the final phase, during which the essential scholarly apparatus of the critical edition will be completed, will follow on immediately if the necessary funding is obtained. Whilst the first phase of the team's work is being undertaken, it is hoped that efforts to contact descendants of Carpenter's informants can be made prior to the publishing of his material. Once this work has been carried out, it will be possible to access the digitized images on the Library of Congress website from the on-line catalogue of the collection at www.hrionline.ac.uk/carpenter/. This will make the Carpenter Collection fully accessible to scholars for the first time and will supplement the critical edition which, it is hoped and again depending on the necessary funding, will be the eventual outcome of the work due to start in the autumn.

Eddie Cass


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