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. Most of the items date from 1928–1935, when Carpenter carried out fieldwork in Britain; the remainder were gathered in parts of the US.
The collection is important for a number of reasons. It is one of the few folk song collections made in Britain during the inter-war period and the first to make extensive use of sound recording. It also contains many sea shanties recorded from the last generation of British and American (including African American) sailors who had used these worksongs at sea. There are rare and unique items of traditional song and drama in the collection, and some exceptionally prolific but previously unrecorded performers.
Although Carpenter edited some of the corpus, it was never published. He 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. More.
The James Madison Carpenter Collection Project was initiated in 2001 by a team
of scholars based in the UK and US. We have produced an online catalogue of the collection (joint recipient of the Brenda McCallum Prize of the American Folklore Society, 2003). Since 2004 we have been preparing A Critical Edition of the James Madison Carpenter Collection, largely funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (US) and the British Academy (UK). The edition is a multivolume work, arranged by genre, intended to to enhance access to the collection for scholarship and performance, and to promote its use and appreciation.
Latest News: The Carpenter Project team is pleased to announce that A Critical Edition of the James Madison Carpenter Collection is to be published by the University Press of Mississippi in hard-copy and electronic formats. The first volumes of the edition, containing the folk plays, have been submitted to the press for publication in 2016. Subsequent volumes will focus on the maritime songs, the ballads, and the dance tunes, customs, and lyric songs in the collection.
Carpenter Collection online access latest news: In October 2014, the Library of Congress and the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) approved the online
presentation of the Carpenter collection as part of The Full English Digital Archive. This will involve the use of the Carpenter team's catalogue data. Funding is currently being sought to undertake this work.