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Nearly 300,000 Lomax documents now accessible online

image of Alan Lomax holding a guitar with text

“Alan Lomax: The World’s Foremost Folk Song Collector” publicity brochure for the Keedick Lecture Bureau, ca. 1960

This is a guest post by the American Folklife Center’s Alan Lomax curator Todd Harvey.

Fans of folk music fire up your browsers! The second—and largest—phase of the Lomax family papers has just gone online at this link. This set of manuscripts joins ca. 25,000 items that went online last fall.

Researchers now have access to nearly 300,000 manuscript pages that chronicle the work of one of the most important families in American folk music. Through correspondence, field work, research documents, indexes, and writings, the Lomax family papers span the entire 20th century and provide unique insight into American vernacular music. Consistent with Alan Lomax’s “cultural equity” mantra, the collections also document language, storytelling, dance, and music of nearly 800 culture groups from around the world.

Cantometrics, coding, Coding Sheets, 0076-0100

Cantometrics, coding, Coding Sheets, 0076-0100

Because the material is complex in its diversity and organization, American Folklife Center staff members have created guides to specific facets of the collection. In the coming months these guides will be featured in Folklife Today.

Especially exciting are two groups of manuscripts: first are indexes, almost 300 folders that provide exceptional detail about Alan Lomax’s field recordings and those that his team gathered for the Cantometrics project;  second, the papers of Alan’s Performance Style projects, comprised of nearly 4000 folders created during a 30-year span beginning in the 1960s.

This post seems an opportune moment to celebrate the many people who have contributed. Acquisition of the Alan Lomax Collection was made possible through a cooperative agreement between the American Folklife Center, the Association for Cultural Equity, and through the generosity the John B. Lovelace family. This collection joins the material that Alan Lomax and his father, John A. Lomax, Sr., collected during the 1930s and early 1940s for the Library’s Archive of American Folk-Song, bringing together the entire seventy years of their work under one roof at the Library of Congress. The Bess Lomax Hawes collection was donated by her family in 2014.

text with handwritten notes

An annotated field recording log.

To the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE), the collection was part of a vibrant working office, organized to meet the needs of publishing and research. In 2004 the ACE staff helped transition it to the Library of Congress. From 2004 to 2014, three dozen American Folklife Center interns, volunteers, staff members, and Kluge Center fellows worked to arrange and describe the collection—work that continues today as AFC prepares the audio-visual series for permanent storage. Processing the manuscripts has meant transforming 400 banker’s boxes packed directly from file cabinets into an archival collection: boxes and folders whose content is known, categorized, and inventoried. During this decade of work we created a controlled vocabulary to facilitate access across all of the Lomax collections. The remaining balance will come online when the third installment launches later this year.

blue notebook cover

Alan Lomax’s field notebook from his Spain collecting trip.

In 2013, anticipating the Lomax Centennial year (2015), the Center proposed to Library administration a bold scanning and web-publishing project that would include the entire body of Lomax manuscripts. This initiated collaboration with the Conservation Division wherein a team of three conservators meticulously prepared everything for digitization. The Library contracted with a scanning firm and also used the in-house scan center. For the next two years we formed an assembly line that resulted in 350,000 scans now managed in the Library’s digital repository. The Digital Collections and Management Services Division took over the project last year and they have rendered that data coherent and beautiful.

Literally dozens of Library of Congress staff members have invested years of work with the hope that researchers worldwide could access these primary source materials. Researchers now have an unprecedented opportunity to make these materials useful, to bring new perspectives to them, and to create unexpected and delightful meaning from the Lomax family papers.

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