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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 will form the basis of an educational outreach programme to spotlight Britain’s cultural heritage.

The James Madison Carpenter Collection 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; 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 in 1972. The collection has since been digitised, although never previously published.

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 is this data which will form the basis of the online catalogue along with the digitised manuscripts, sounds recordings, and photographs. This important collection will join the VWML’s growing digital archive and will be cross-searchable with our other online collections. (The catalogue will also be published in hard copy later in the year through funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities (US) and the British Academy (UK), published by the University Press of Mississippi.)

The online digital collection is set to be launched in the late summer of 2017, and afterwards there will be a series of Education events organised by EFDSS, and the Elphinstone Institute in Aberdeen. This will include creative learning projects with young people (holiday courses at Cecil Sharp House and with London Youth Folk Ensemble), adults (including Cecil Sharp House Choir), and Camden schools to introduce the collection to a new audiences. A new learning resource for teachers will also be created for the online EFDSS Resource Bank using a selection of material from the collection.

The project will culminate in a celebration concert at Cecil Sharp House on Tuesday 27 March 2018 featuring material from the Carpenter Collection.

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