Lomax Family Manuscripts now online at the AFC

November 12, 2015

The American Folklife Center has announced the online publication of the Lomax Family manuscripts. This phased project begins with access to 25,000 pages created primarily by Alan Lomax during the 1940s and 1950s at http://www.loc.gov/collections/alan-lomax-manuscripts/about-this-collection/.

During the next year over 350,000 pages from the 100 archival collections documenting the work of John A. Lomax Sr., Ruby Terrill Lomax, Alan Lomax, Bess Lomax Hawes, and John A. Lomax Jr. will become available to the public through the Library of Congress website. With this presentation, years in the making, the American Folklife Center has provided comprehensive online access to the papers of the first family of 20th century American Folklife.


Alan Lomax, Bess Lomax Hawes, Shirley Lomax Duggan, and John A. Lomax Jr. Photo from the Bess Lomax Hawes collection at the LOC

The Library of Congress has enjoyed a long association with the Lomax family, beginning in 1933 with John A. Lomax’s appointment as Honorary Consultant and Curator of the Archive of American Folk Song, and his son Alan’s appointment as “Assistant-in-Charge” of the archive in 1937. During their time at the Library, which ended in 1943, the duo made long, swooping trips through the United States and Caribbean, documenting American culture in its diverse manifestations. Alan’s dynamic career from the 1940s to the 1990s generated the archive overseen by the Association for Cultural Equity, which the Library acquired in its physical manifestation in 2004. The children of Bess Lomax Hawes, Alan’s equally accomplished sister, donated her materials to the Center in 2014.


Now you can flip through Alan’s 1942 field notebook made during his famed trip with a Fisk University team to the Mississippi Delta. Page 18 documents his interview of 29-year-old Muddy Waters. He writes, “Been knowing Son House since ’29. Learned how to play bottle neck from him by watching him for about a year.” (Look further to learn what 78-rpm recordings were in Muddy’s collection!)

You can look at the original road maps from Alan’s 1952-1953 field trip undertaken with Jeanette “Pip” Bell to all corners of Iberia. Why not spend some time with the annotated Basque country map? These documents can now be consulted online via the Library of Congress while you access the whole of Lomax’s Spanish recordings and photographs through ACE’s research center.


Perhaps your interest extends to Alan’s CBS radio scripts, or his undergraduate philosophy class notes, or his drafts for the unpublished Big Ballad Book. Again, all of these can be accessed by navigating with the site’s faceted subject index: http://www.loc.gov/collections/alan-lomax-manuscripts/about-this-collection/.

As substantial as they are, these 25,000 pages are only the beginning. Upcoming phases of the project will include the logs to Alan’s sound recording collections, Lomax family correspondence, Alan’s massive Performance Style studies, and the manuscripts of Bess Lomax Hawes. Everything will be accompanied by subject guides to assist researchers as they explore this unique corpus. Stay tuned for more.

Adapted from this Folklife Today post by Todd Harvey, curator of the Lomax Collection at the American Folklife Center.

Originally posted: November 2, 2015