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Milman Parry Finding Aid
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Albert B. Lord Songs

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About the Collection

The Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature
Widener Library Room C, Harvard University
Cambridge, MA 02138

Curators: Stephen Mitchell and Gregory Nagy
Assistant Curator: David Elmer

This page contains links to narratives about the Milman Parry Collection, information about the Collection's partners/supporters, details on scholarly access to the site, and other information.

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 world's 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... " Click here for complete article.

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..." Click here for complete article.

"Performance and Performer: The Role of Tradition in Oral Epic Song." By Casey Dué.

"The following video clips are excerpted from two lectures given by Professor Albert B. Lord. The first was given at Harvard University in July of 1989 as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar for secondary school teachers, directed by Gregory Nagy. The second was given at Skidmore College in 1990. In these lectures Professor Lord illustrates two inseparable aspects of the creation of "oral literature," as exemplified by the ancient Greek epics the Iliad and Odyssey: (1) the role of tradition and (2) the moment of performance. Within this overarching theme he explores a number of other topics including the learning process of traditional singers, the effect of published song books on the South Slavic oral tradition, the comparison of a dictated song and one composed in a traditional performance, and the mythic origins of epic. The following clip, which is in fact the peroration to the Skidmore lecture, serves here as a dramatic introduction to the themes of the rest of the clips." Click here for complete article and video clips.

"A letter on the importance of the Collection, by Bela Bartok." From The New York Times, Sunday, June 28, 1942.

"Since I arrived in the United States in October, 1940, many people have asked me, again and again, what I am doing here. When I explain that I am studying and transcribing the Milman Parry Records, as a commission from Columbia University, it appears that scarcely any one knows about the very existence of this collection, still less about its excellence." Click here for complete letter.

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 patrners, click on the links below to visit their websites.

Center for Hellenic Studies

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.

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