The Milman Parry Collection, 1933–35

In the summer of 1933, Milman Parry, a Professor of the Classics at Harvard University, visited the former Yugoslavia to study its traditions of  oral poetry in order to test his ideas about the composition of the Iliad and Odyssey.

Parry returned to Yugoslavia from June 1934 to September 1935 and was assisted principally by Nikola Vujnović (a singer from Stolac) and Albert Lord (a former student at Harvard and future curator of the Milman Parry Collection). During those 15 months, they collected over 12,500 individual texts, mostly in written form, but many of them recorded on double-sided aluminum discs. These sound recordings of poetic performances represent a significant milestone in the collection of oral poetry, since the recording device they used, which consisted of two turntables connected by a toggle switch, allowed Parry and his assistants to record songs without interruption and indefinitely by alternating between turntables. These recordings, preserved on over 3,500 aluminum discs, were transcribed into ninety-five notebooks. 

In addition to heroic songs (junačke pjesme) and lyric songs (ženske pjesme), Parry and his team also recorded numerous conversations with singers and collected songbooks that were in circulation during their time in Yugoslavia.

The Milman Parry Collection On-Line Database is hosted by Harvard Library. The site serves as a digital inventory of the collection’s holdings and an archive for material that has been digitized. At this moment the database only contains the materials catalogued in Matthew Kay’s The Index of the Milman Parry Collection 1933-1935 (New York: Garland, 1995), namely the heroic songs and interviews collected by Parry, as well as those collected by Lord 1950–1951. The MPCOL intends to expand coverage to include all of the materials collected by Parry, including published songbooks and the ženske pjesme. The links below will direct you to saved searches on the On-Line Database.


Dictated and Autograph Texts: ca. 800 notebooks (14 cm. x 14 cm., 70 sides in each)

Sound Recordings: 3,500 double-sided aluminum discs with a playing time of ca. 4 minutes each

Transcriptions of Sound Recordings: 95 notebooks (14 cm. x 14 cm., 120 sides in each)


Records & Accounts