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JMC The James Madison Carpenter Collection

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The James Madison Carpenter Collection
James Madison Carpenter Collection (JMC)

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Titles: Original Collection Materials

Scope and Contents of the Papers

The James Madison Carpenter Collection consists of manuscript materials, sound recordings, and graphic materials that document primarily British and American folk music, dance, and British ritual drama. The materials span the years 1928-55, with some dated 1972 and 1987. The bulk of the material was collected between 1928-35 by Carpenter during fieldwork in England and Scotland; other material was collected in the United States between 1937 and 1941 by Carpenter and his Duke University students. Through this effort, Carpenter amassed a collection of an estimated 1,000 ballad texts and 850 tunes of the Francis Child canon; 500 sea songs (including chanteys); 1,000 other ballads and songs (texts and many tunes) from Britain and America; 200 children's singing games, riddles, and nursery rhymes (texts and many tunes); 300 British folk plays (texts and some tunes); miscellaneous folktales, African- American spirituals, Cornish carols, and so forth; and approximately 500 related photographic images and 40 drawings.

Two hundred twenty-three 12-inch discs of songs, sea shanties, folk plays, folktales and other material some copied from cylinders (AFS Cyl. 4501-4679) recorded in England and Scotland, others recorded in North Carolina and Mississippi, ca. 1929-1940.

Collection Overview

The James Madison Carpenter Collection spans the years 1928-1987, with the largest portion dated 1928-35. It is arranged into two groups or series. Series I, the bulk of the collection, consists of the materials purchased from Carpenter and includes manuscripts, sound recordings, and graphic materials. It contains the results of Carpenter's fieldwork, his subsequent work on the collection, and documentation of other professional activities. Series II consists of material about the collection, primarily generated by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. It includes manuscript material, sound recordings, and graphic materials. It is an open series.

Through multi-format documentation Carpenter captured approximately 1,000 ballad texts and 850 tunes of the Francis Child canon; 500 sea songs and chanteys; 1,000 other ballads and songs (including bothy ballads and dreg songs) from Britain and America; 200 children's singing games, riddles, and nursery rhymes; 300 British folk plays; miscellaneous folktales, African-American spirituals, Cornish carols, and so forth; and 500 related photographic images and 40 drawings.* Although Carpenter used his collections as the subject of numerous lectures in colleges and universities, he never was successful at publishing his findings.

The collection represents not only the results of Carpenter's fieldwork, but also documents his fieldwork process. Traveling throughout Britain and Scotland in a small roadster (an Austin Seven), he searched for singers and dancers. While Carpenter found many of his best informants through chance and circumstance, he purposely tracked down some of the singers and performers documented by Francis Child, Gavin Greig, and Cecil Sharp. One of his most prolific informants, Scottish singer Bell Duncan, gave him 300 songs and ballads, of which 62 balads were previously collected by Child. Using a dictaphone powered by a six-volt battery, Carpenter recorded his informants on wax cylinders. He also typed the text with a manual typewriter while the singer dictated. Later he transferred many of the recordings to 12-inch acetate discs, and also taught himself music notation to transcribe approximately 1,000 of the recorded tunes. To record the folk plays, Carpenter usually enlisted several informants to recite the entire ritual drama, thus obtaining multiple versions of each one.

While Carpenter's focus was on the spoken and sung word, his collection includes some documentation of dance and related dance activities (see Appendix A). Many of the mummers' play texts, particularly the sword dance plays, include references to and some description of dance. The sound recordings include fiddle tunes used in morris dance. In addition, photographs depict morris dance (with broom dancing), sword dance, the Helston Furry dance, and dancing at May Day and English Folk Dance Society festivals.

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Biography of James Madison Carpenter

James Madison Carpenter (1888-1984) was born in Booneville, Mississippi. He received both a bachelor of arts degree (1913) and a master of arts degree (1914) from the University of Mississippi. He furthered his graduate training at Harvard University, where he came under the tutelage of Professor G.L. Kittredge, a ballad scholar. At Harvard, Carpenter became interested in British and American folk songs; his dissertation, "Forecastle Songs and Chanties," was completed in 1929,

From 1929 to 1935 Carpenter traveled throughout England and Scotland primarily as a Harvard Fellow, collecting folk songs, folk plays, and other folklore materials. Upon his return to the United States, Carpenter taught himself to notate the tunes he had recorded, and transcribed approximately 1,000 tunes in the next few years. At the same time Carpenter became a college lecturer, giving presentations based on his research at institutions such as Harvard, Wellesley, Vassar, Smith, Radcliffe, Amherst, and the University of Vermont. In 1938 he taught English at Duke University, and continued his collecting of folk songs and children's games, often as part of his curriculum. After five years at Duke, Carpenter taught for one year at William and Mary and then became chairman of the English Department at Greensboro College. His tenure at Greensboro lasted ten years; he formally retired from the department in 1954. Carpenter returned to his hometown of Booneville in 1964, where he  lived until his death in 1984.