The Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature

Widener Library Room C, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138

Curators: David Elmer, Stephen Mitchell, and Gregory Nagy.

An Introduction to the Collection

“The Milman Parry Collection is the largest single repository of South Slavic heroic song in the world. It comprises the following separate collections. All of these are currently housed in Widener Library, Room C. Milman Parry did not set out to establish one of the worlds preeminent collections of oral epics that he did so was a by-product of his main purpose. By the early 1930s, he was carefully planning to set, as he himself wrote, “lore against literature” in a rational and scientific search for the mechanisms of oral poetry…”

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Essays and a Letter on the Collection

“Four Generations of Oral Literary Studies at Harvard University. Child’s Legacy Enlarged: Oral Literary Studies at Harvard Since 1856.” By David E. Bynum.

“Poetry and storytelling began so long ago in prehistoric time that no one can scientifically even guess how or when they originated. But one thing is certain. Our biological ancestors did not cease to be a mere species of animal and become mankind until the capacity for rhythmic language and narration had evolved in them. In myth the world over, these mental powers are said to be god-given and divine. They are at the very least indispensable to any practical definition of humanity…”

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Collection Partners and Access Policy

The Collection’s Partners

The partners of the Milman Parry Collection provide funding and support for the Collections’ publications and projects. For more on the partners, click on the links below to visit their websites. Center for Hellenic Studies and Ilex Foundation

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.