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
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.
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.
Home About the Collection
About the Database 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
Milman Parry Collection © 2012