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Francis Child, Cecil Sharp, and the Spread of the Academic Tradition to America (Exhibit Case 8)
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An exhibit of material from the collection of Lewis Becker, Professor of Law, Villanova University School of Law. March 13, 2006 – April 28, 2006 Falvey Memorial Library Villanova University

Francis Child, Cecil Sharp, and the Spread of the Academic Tradition to America (Exhibit Case 8)

Francis James Child (1825-1896), an American and a professor at Harvard University, authored a definitive collection of English and Scottish Ballads. His work, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, was originally published in 10 paperbound parts from 1882 to 1898.  The tenth and final part was released posthumously.  All ten parts were eventually published in five volumes in 1898.  Professor Child’s contribution was important because he collected ballads from all sources and listed them, along with all of their variants.  He ultimately selected a total of 305 ballads for inclusion. It is not clear what selection method he employed or why certain ballads were rejected.  His emphasis was on the anonymous and the traditional. He did no field research, but he read all of the available literature and asked the public - the educated and upper class public - for ballad contributions. His collection did not include songs in Irish or Scottish Gaelic, and very few of the songs Child identified were found to be traditionally sung in Ireland.


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Child, Francis James. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads.  10 pts.
Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1882-1898

Sharp, Cecil James. English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. 2 v. 2nd ed.
London: Oxford University Press, 1932

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The first edition was published in 1917

Cecil James Sharp (1859-1924) was English and a significant collector of English songs and dances. He came to America and found in the Appalachians a vibrant existing tradition of English ballads and songs that had been dying out in England.  The songs, brought to America by the ancestors of the Appalachian settlers, were then handed down and survived in a closed community prior to the days of radio and television.

The works of Child and Sharp seems to have sparked American interest in collecting traditional ballads and songs.

Smith, Reed. South Carolina Ballads.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928

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Scarborough, Dorothy. A Song Catcher in Southern Mountains.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1937

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Flanders, Helen Hartness. Ancient Ballads Traditionally Sung in New England. 4 v.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1960-1965

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Fuson, Harvey. Ballads of the Kentucky Highlands.
London: Mitre Press, 1931

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In addition to collecting songs unique to a specific state or region, scholars also began collecting traditional songs grouped along occupational lines

Huntington, Gale. Songs the Whalemen Sang.
Barre [MA]: Barre Publishers, 1964

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Rickaby, Franz. Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy.
Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1926

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Larkin, Margaret. Singing Cowboy. A Book of Western Songs.
New York: Knopf, 1931

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