About the Collection

About the Database and Finding Aids
Collection Database
Milman Parry Finding Aid
Albert B. Lord Finding Aid

Milman Parry Songs
Albert B. Lord Songs

Singers and Tales in the 21st Century


Photo and Film Gallery

Contact Us

Welcome to the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature On-Line


Remembering Albert Lord

The Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature proudly marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of its first curator, Albert Bates Lord (September 15, 1912 - July 29, 1991). Through years of painstaking curatorial work and his own efforts as a collector in the field, Lord built on Milman Parry's recordings to create a world-renowned archive of South Slavic and Albanian oral traditions. In books such as his landmark volume The Singer of Tales, he introduced the world to the richness of these and other traditions. 100 years after his birth, Lord's influence continues to be felt. For a range of perspectives on the lasting vitality of his work, see Singers and Tales in the 21st Century.

At Harvard, Lord was particularly well known for his popular General Education course, "Oral and Early Literature" (also known as "Hum 9"). As part of the commemoration of the centennial of Lord's birth, the Parry Collection is making available a recording of one of Lord's Hum 9 lectures, originally delivered on October 26, 1976. In this lecture, Lord discusses the technique of oral composition-in-performance, the value of the South Slavic tradition as a comparandum for the Homeric epics, and the Hesiodic Theogony. Click here to listen to Lord's lecture (right click to download clip).

John Miles Foley 1947-2012

We mourn the loss of John Miles Foley, a leading voice in the study of oral traditions. Founder of the journal Oral Tradition and of the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition, and author of numerous books and articles, Professor Foley contributed enormously to the investigation and understanding of orality. As a featured speaker at Harvard’s 2010 conference on the legacies of Milman Parry and Albert Lord, Professor Foley drew on his deep knowledge of South Slavic epic traditions. The published proceedings of that conference will be dedicated to his memory.

Singers and Tales in the 21st Century:
The Legacies of Milman Parry and Albert Lord

On December 3-5, 2010, the Milman Parry Collection hosted a symposium to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Albert Lord's seminal Singer of Tales, and the 75th anniversary of the death of his mentor, Milman Parry. 29 speakers from around the world honored the legacies of these two pathfinding scholars by presenting original research, and live performances spotlighted the continuing vitality of oral traditions in the 21st century.

To view complete video recordings of the presentations and performances, follow the Singers and Tales in the 21st Century link in the navigation menu at left, or click here.

Photos of Parry-Lord Expeditions Now Available

Over 750 photographs documenting the fieldwork of Parry and Lord in the 1930’s and 1950’s have just been digitized, and are now accessible through Harvard’s Visual Information Access (VIA) system. The creation of this important new digital collection was made possible by the Photograph Preservation Program at the Weissman Preservation Center, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. To browse the photographs, visit the VIA search page, and enter “Milman Parry” as the search term.

The Return of the Song

On July 3-6, 2008, the Milman Parry Collection and the University of Tuzla jointly hosted a conference on the Milman Parry Collection in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina.. The conference, titled "The Return of the Song" ("Povratak Pjesme") was organized by Aida Vidan of Harvard University and Mirsad Kunić of the University of Tuzla. Click here for the program with paper titles. The conference was a great success, and we look forward to the publication of the proceedings.

Listen to Milman Parry’s Field Recordings On-line!

The first of the recordings slated for digital reformatting as part of our ongoing digitalization project are now available. Use the Collection Database or the Milman Parry Songs page to access digital materials. Check back here for links to additional songs as they become available.

Jón Sigurðsson Biennial Prize

Gísli Sigurðsson, author of The Medieval Icelandic Saga and Oral Tradition, A Discourse on Method, has received the Jón Sigurðsson biennial prize for scholarly publications in the field of Icelandic literature, history, law and politics. Jón Sigurðsson was the national hero of the Icelandic independence movement in the 19th Century and an active scholar in all the above fields as well as in political economy. The prize is worth 600,000 Icelandic Kroner or around $10,000, and Gísli received the award at Uppsala Palace in Uppsala, Sweden.

More on Milman Parry Publications
Visit the Harvard University Press web site for ordering information.
More on Icelandic national hero Jón Sigurðsson

This site serves as a portal to database and finding aids as a part of the Harvard University Library Digital Initiative (LDI).

Please Note: The Collection Database is on-line and functional, but the Milman Parry and Albert B. Lord Finding Aids are not yet available. Please check back here for news of their launch.

The Website and the Collection

The legacy of pioneering comparatists Milman Parry and Albert Lord, the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature comprises a uniquely comprehensive repository of South Slavic and Balkan oral traditions.

By following the navigation links to the left, visitors to this site can access the following:

  • information about the contents and history of the Milman Parry Collection (About the Collection)
  • description of the Collection's current digitalization project, with links to the electronic database and archival resources created in the framework of that project (About the Database)
  • index to all materials currently available in digital format, with links to those materials (Milman Parry Songs and Albert B. Lord Songs)
  • description of past and present publications of the Milman Parry Collection (Publications)
  • selected photos and film clips from the Parry archive (Photo & Film Gallery)
  • information on how to get in touch with the curatorial staff (Contact Us)

The Library Digital Initiative

The Milman Parry Collection has seen many recent advances in connection with its current digitalization project, The Singer Continues the Song: Text and Music from the Milman Parry Collection. Originally developed by Dr. Matthew Kay, the project moved into production with the award of a generous challenge grant from Harvard's Library Digital Initiative (LDI) in July 2002. The Singer Continues the Song has two distinct goals: first, to make available to the general public a wide selection of the original manuscripts and audio recordings contained in the Parry archive; second, to develop a new set of tools which will improve access to archived materials.

The digitalization project includes material from two major collections contained within the general framework of the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature (MPCOL): the Milman Parry Collection proper, consisting of materials collected by Parry in the years 1933-35, and the Albert B. Lord Collection, assembled by Lord in 1950-51. Although over 200 texts have been selected for digitization from the former collection alone, this is still only a small portion of its roughly 12,500 individual items.

Texts were selected for digitalization on the basis of Albert Lord’s 1960 classic The Singer of Tales (2nd ed. 2000), which remains the most widely known presentation of the MPCOL and its contents. Every song cited by Lord or referenced in notes will be made available in digital format. The majority of songs from Albert Lord’s own collection will also be digitized; other songs will be included as funding permits.

The digitalization project's second major goal, the creation of new access tools, coincided well with LDI's stated purpose of improving the digital infrastructure of the Harvard library system. The partnership with LDI has resulted not only in the creation of digital finding aids for both the Parry and Lord Collections, but also in the development of a new electronic database.

The MPCOL database is based on Matthew Kay's The Index of the Milman Parry Collection 1933-1935 (New York: Garland, 1995). At present it includes records only for the heroic songs and interviews in the Parry Collection and for the Albert B. Lord Collection, but MPCOL intends to expand coverage to include as well the Parry Collection's lyric songs and Lord’s 1937 collection of Albanian epic.

Go to About the Database, Milman Parry Songs, and Albert B. Lord Songs for more on the LDI project.

Collection Access Policy

Access to the collection is by appointment only. Qualified scholars who wish to use the collection should contact the curatorial staff well in advance of intended visits. Prior notice of several weeks or more will ensure that researchers are able to read and audition the material which will be most useful to them.

The Milman Parry Collection, housed in room C of Harvard University's Widener Library, is currently not set up for browsing. The curators hope to expand access by making digitized portions of the collection available on the internet in the coming years.

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