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Collection Alan Lomax Collection of Michigan and Wisconsin Recordings

About this Collection

In 1938 the Library of Congress dispatched the pioneering folklorist and song collector Alan Lomax—already a seasoned field worker at age 23—to conduct a folk song survey of the Great Lakes region. He traveled in a 1935 Plymouth sedan, toting a Presto disc recorder and a movie camera. When he returned nearly three months later, having driven thousands of miles on barely paved roads, it was with a cache of 250 instantaneous discs and eight reels of film documenting the incredible range of ethnic diversity and expressive traditions primarily in Michigan.

The Alan Lomax collection of Michigan and Wisconsin recordings (AFC 1939/007) documents Irish, Italian, Finnish, Serbian, Lithuanian, Polish, German, Croatian, French Canadian, Hungarian, Romanian, and Swedish songs and stories, as well as occupational folklife among loggers and lake sailors in Michigan and Wisconsin. Lomax’s itinerary took him from Detroit through the Saginaw River valley to the northern counties of the Lower Peninsula, including Beaver Island. Crossing the Straits of Mackinac, he collected across the Upper Peninsula to the far northern Calumet area and then along the Lake Superior coast to easternmost Wisconsin.

The recordings in this collection and related collections in the American Folklife Center provide early documentation of the Upper Midwest’s rich culture. This collection is the result of a conscious decision by the Library of Congress to undertake regional documentation of American folk song in recognition that the voices of ordinary people have a place at the national library. The sound recordings in this online collection are presented in their raw form, as full disc sides without speed correction or other digital processing. The eight folders of manuscripts (primarily correspondence, song lists, and notes) and the films are not included at this time.