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James Madison Carpenter

Carpenter Folk Online: Connecting to Britain’s Heritage of Traditional Song & Drama

Carpenter Folk Online is an exciting new project to make the collection of James Madison Carpenter available to view, browse, and search online alongside the VWML’s ever expanding digital collections. This fantastic new resource forms the basis of an educational outreach programme to spotlight Britain’s cultural heritage.


The Collection

The James Madison Carpenter Collection is now available to view online.

It is an extensive collection of traditional songs and folk (mummers') plays recorded between 1927 and c.1943. The collection was made by Dr James Madison Carpenter (1888–1983) using a dictaphone machine and portable typewriter, meaning that a large proportion of the collection consists of sound recordings. Most of the items date from 1928–1935, when Carpenter carried out fieldwork in Britain (a large proportion from Aberdeen, Scotland); the remainder were gathered in parts of the US.

Carpenter sold the collection, which comprises papers, wax cylinders, lacquer discs, photographs and drawings, to the Library of Congress (LOC) in 1972. The collection was digitised, although never previously published.

In 1972 Alan Jabbour (the founding director of the American Folklife Centre at LOC) interviewed James Madison Carpenter about his experiences of his collecting work. The full audio recording can be streamed below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Recordings courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Interviewed by Alan Jabbour

27 May 1972

AFS 14,762-14,765

LWO 6918

Four 7’ reels of tape full track at 7.5ips. Interview with Dr James Madison Carpenter about his life and his collecting experiences in England and Scotland.

Recorded by Alan Jabbour, Booneville, Mississippi, May 27, 1972. Recording Project. Accessioned May 1972.

Recorded on a Nagra III tape recorder with dynamic microphone, using electricity from his wall outlet. Recorded in his present home, which is a duplex house in Booneville.


The Project

The Carpenter Folk Online project saw the digitised collection of James Madison Carpenter made available online on the VWML website. An earlier project entitled The James Madison Carpenter Collection Project and led by The Carpenter Team (a team of scholars based in the UK and US) produced a catalogue of the collection which received the Brenda McCallum Prize of the American Folklore Society in 2003. It was this data which formed the basis of the VWML’s online catalogue along with the digitised manuscripts, sounds recordings, and photographs. This important collection joined the VWML’s growing digital archive and was made cross-searchable with our other online collections. (The catalogue will also be published in hard copy through funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities (US) and the British Academy (UK), published by the University Press of Mississippi).

Alongside the digital archive, there were a series of Education events organised by EFDSS and the Elphinstone Institute in Aberdeen. This included workshops on how to access and search the collection, and creative learning projects with young people (holiday courses at Cecil Sharp House and with London Youth Folk Ensemble), adults (Cecil Sharp House Choir and The Mearns Singers), and Camden schools to introduce the collection to a new audiences.

Learning Resource:

Songs from the James Madison Carpenter Folk Collection

A new learning resource for teachers was also created for the online English Folk Dance and Song Society Resource Bank using a selection of material from the collection.


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

Songs, tunes and plays collected by James Madison Carpenter 1927–1943, across Britain and also in the US, were be creatively interpreted and performed by Cecil Sharp House Choir, The Mearns Singers (from North East Scotland), London Youth Folk Ensemble with members of New Camden Jazz Ensemble, interspersed with talks, historic images, sound recordings and films showcasing the collection.

Further events took place in April 2018 in Edinburgh and at The Elphinstone Institute, The University of Aberdeen.

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