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Lomax Family Manuscripts Go Online

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The following is a guest post from Todd Harvey, the curator of the Alan Lomax Collection at the American Folklife Center archive, Library of Congress.

The American Folklife Center today announces the online publication of the Lomax Family manuscripts. This phased project begins today, with access to 25,000 pages created primarily by Alan Lomax during the 1940s and 1950s at

During the next year over 350,000 pages from the 100 archival collections documenting the work of John A. Lomax Sr., Ruby Terrill Lomax, Alan Lomax, Bess Lomax Hawes, and John A. Lomax Jr. will become available to the public through the Library of Congress website. With this presentation, years in the making, the American Folklife Center is delighted to provide comprehensive online access to the papers of the first family of 20th century American Folklife.

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This photo of the Lomax siblings (Alan Lomax, Bess Lomax Hawes, Shirley Lomax Duggan, and John A. Lomax Jr.) is from the Bess Lomax Hawes collection.

The Library of Congress has enjoyed a long association with the Lomax family, beginning in 1933 with John A. Lomax’s appointment as Honorary Consultant and Curator of the Archive of American Folk-Song, and his son Alan’s appointment as “Assistant-in-Charge” of the archive in 1937. During their time at the Library, which ended in 1943, the duo made long, swooping trips through the United States and Caribbean, documenting American culture in its diverse manifestations. Alan’s dynamic career from the 1940s to the 1990s generated a large archive that the Library acquired after his death in 2002. The children of Bess Lomax Hawes, Alan’s equally accomplished sister, donated her materials to the Center in 2014.

Lomax’s notebook from his 1942 Library of Congress/Fisk University Mississippi Delta field trip was this charming composition book. You can see all the pages in the new online collection!

Our presentation of manuscripts complements an array of existing online materials. On the Library of Congress website listeners can already find disc recordings from Ohio (1938), Michigan (1938), and the South (1939). Our partners at the Association for Cultural Equity have presented thousands of Lomax sound recordings, photographs, and videos. The recent John W. Kluge Center Alan Lomax Fellow, Joshua Caffery, has placed the Lomaxes’ 1934 recordings from Louisiana online. And our institutional partners, the University of Kentucky and Berea College, have worked with AFC to present the Lomax recordings made in Kentucky, 1933-1942, which will go online next week. (We’ll make an announcement on this blog!)

For the first time, however, researchers now have online access to the writings of the Lomax family: the field notes, logs, and indexes related to these unparalleled collections, as well as their correspondence and their academic and creative writing projects.

Today you can flip through Alan’s 1942 field notebook made during his famed trip with a Fisk University team to the Mississippi Delta. Page 18 documents his interview of 29-year-old Muddy Waters. He writes, “Been knowing Son House since ’29. Learned how to play bottle neck from him by watching him for about a year.” (Look further to learn what Victrola 78 rpm recordings were in Muddy’s collection!)

Today you can look at the original road maps from Alan’s 1952-1953 field trip undertaken with Jeanette “Pip” Bell to all corners of Iberia. Why not spend some time with the annotated Basque country map? Finish your travels with a jaunt to the Association for Cultural Equity site to enjoy the recordings and photographs.

One of Lomax’s road maps during his trip to Spain, 1952-1953.

Perhaps your interest extends to Alan’s CBS radio scripts, or his undergraduate philosophy class notes, or his drafts for the unpublished Big Ballad Book. Again, all of these can be accessed by navigating with the site’s faceted subject index:

As substantial as they are, these 25,000 pages are only the beginning. Upcoming phases of the project will include the logs to Alan’s sound recording collections, Lomax family correspondence, Alan’s massive Performance Style studies, and the manuscripts of Bess Lomax Hawes. Everything will be accompanied by subject guides to assist researchers as they explore this unique corpus. We will let the readers of Folklife Today know when new increments become available.


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