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Indexing: Ballad Index 6.7 Released

14 May 24 - 03:03 PM (#4202502)
Subject: Origins: Ballad Index 6.7 Released
From: Robert B. Waltz

Mudcatters --

I am deeply relieved to announce that Ballad Index 6.7 is available. This is to be found at our (relatively) new home:

If you want to go straight to the Table of Contents, the full contents (with song descriptions) is here:

The short contents, without descriptions, is here:

Or you can go to the search page here:

The search engines won't be updated for the new content yet, and neither the Google nor the DuckDuckGo search is all that good anyway. If you try one engine and it doesn't find what you want, try the other. Sometimes they complement. Often, though, it's easier to try the song title you know in the Table of Contents and see where that leads you.

For the rest, I'll refer you to the What's New file, which I will append below. It lists, e.g., books newly indexed and the new long articles.

There are a few things I should comment on, however.

First, one of the major articles in this release (the second-longest, in fact -- about 20,000 words) is about "Mary Hamilton" (Child 173). There has of course been long discussion about whether this should be dated to the reign of Mary Queen of Scots or dated to the court of Peter the Great of Russia.

If you want the whole of my research, you'll need to read that article (, or at least the part at the end, "SO WHAT IS THIS SONG REALLY ABOUT?" But I will try to summarize.

* The ballad of "Mary Hamilton" is so invertebrate that there is NOTHING that can be considered common to all versions, except an infanticide. (Frankly, it's my personal guess that it is not, by origin, one song; I think two songs got mixed up. If I had every version of the song available, instead of just a few dozen, I might have tried to disentangle them. But THAT is a job for a Masters thesis -- maybe a Ph.D. thesis -- or at least for a different Ballad Index release. :-)
* The main reason for the link to the court of Peter the Great is the name "Mary Hamilton," because there was a Mary Hamilton in Russia who committed infanticide. However, (1) the story of the Russian Mary Hamilton does not match the ballad (e.g. she killed THREE children, and the King was not the father), (2) the book that told the story of the Russian Mary Hamilton in English was not published until about half a decade before the first known citation of a verse that is clearly a Mary Hamilton variant although it does not mention Mary by name, and (3) very many versions of the song do not mention the name "Mary Hamilton." The girl in the song is usually (not always) "Mary," but the name "Hamilton" is not used in a very large fraction of the texts
* The reason people don't think the song can refer to the court of Mary Stewart is that there is no record of any infanticide in the court of Mary Stewart, and there was not a Mary Hamilton among the Four Maries. This is true -- if you confine yourself to actual history. There were rumors of an infanticide by a palace servant in this period, though. And there were tales of Henry Lord Darnley sleeping with other women (after all, he had syphilis, and he had to get it somewhere). And then there were the writings of John Knox. Knox's version of the cardinal virtues of faith, hope, and love were pig-headedness, vengefulness, and misogyny; the only people who liked him were those who didn't know him. But, since most people never met him, they didn't realize that he was basically pure evil with a fancy coat of paint. So they paid attention to what he wrote. He hated Mary and all her court -- and he implied in his writings that one of the Four Maries (by process of elimination, probably Mary Livingston, the first of the four to wed) had a child out of wedlock. (She didn't, and she didn't get pregnant out of wedlock, either.) If you assemble John Knox's lies (and they were lies -- vitriolic lies), and throw in some court gossip, you could get basically this song.

It's certainly possible that the song was updated when the Russian story was published. This might explain its incoherence. But this is not necessary. All that is needed to supply the roots of the song can be found in Knox's version of the court of Mary Stewart, and ONLY a setting in the court of Mary Stewart can explain major aspects of the ballad.

My second and third points are basically apologies for problems in deciding what is a "traditional" song. One of the items indexed in this edition is Derek Piotr's "Fieldwork Archive" ( Piotr met a lot of people and recorded... just about anything they sang and a lot of things they said, and posted them. Some of this is very valuable and very interesting (e.g. he found a couple of grandkids of the great informant Pearl Jacobs Borusky), and some of it is just songs people heard on records, and some of it is so short as to be unidentifiable, and some of it isn't in English. And most of it (including the vast majority of the non-English material) is un-transcribed. It was very difficult to decide what should be regarded as "traditional folk song." I ended up indexing about two-thirds of what he had filed as of five months ago or so. At this point, the Ballad Index is arguably the best way of identifying things in the Piotr archive. But understand that I had to make a lot of very difficult decisions, and I probably made some of them wrongly.

Which brings me to the very largest new item in Version 6.7, which is an entry entitled "Tolkien Songs" ( I never dreamt that I would have any reason to include anything by J. R. R. Tolkien in the Index. Yes, there are a zillion Tolkien-derived filk songs and the like -- or, at least, things that their authors delude themselves into thinking are Tolkien-derived. I would never have indexed any of those. But Piotr had, from a known singer of traditional songs, a version of one of Tolkien's poems. Researching that caused me to discover that there actually appear to be three items of Tolkien's with (very faint) hints of traditionality. There are also quite a few songs by Tolkien, most not associated with Middle-earth, that he set to traditional tunes. Rather than try to spread all this stuff in fiddly notes across the Index, I've lumped everything in this "Tolkien Songs" entry (thanks to mudcat's Joe Offer for that truly brilliant suggestion)-- and done a monster research project to try to show just what Tolkien took from tradition and how he used it. The amount of Tolkien scholarship out there is immense (I have more than eighty volumes, though not all of them are worth the paper they're printed on -- e.g. a bunch of them are psychoanalytic. Or, as those of us who prefer short words to long would say, "garbage"). But none of it seems to have been done from this standpoint. It's not done -- I've only cited about fifty books so far. But it's a lot of time down what probably seems like a rabbit hole. Yeah, it is. :-( I am apologizing right now. On the other hand, we know that a lot of ballad scholars are also Tolkien fans. And I isolated it to keep it from infecting anything else. :-)

OK, the rest of this is the What's New information that you can find on the site.

Structural or Functional Changes
External links to the Roud Folk Song and Broadside Indices link to the new VWML site. Because changes are still happening to the VWML site, some links are problematic, especially for "V" items.
The Roud Folk Song Index in the Ballad Index software now uses color to show links to Ballad Index entries, Steve Gardham's Earliest Date entries, and Changed Number entries.

The Roud Index
This edition coordinates with Roud Index release 125, with some changes to reflect the new release 126 (which came out within one hour of the release of the new Ballad Index!).

Materials Added in this Edition

The following books were fully indexed in Version 6.7:
* Sabine Baring-Gould and H Fleetwood Sheppard, Songs of the West: Folk Songs of Devon and Cornwall Collected from the Mouths of the People, second edition
* Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Army Life in a Black Regiment
* Katherine D. Newman, Never Without a Song: The Years and Songs of Jennie Devlin, 1865-1952
* Roy Palmer, Songs of the Midlands
* Leonard Roberts, collector, and C. Buell Agey, Music Transcriptions, In the Pine: Selected Kentucky Folksongs
* Art Rosenbaum, Shout Because You're Free
* Stephen Sedley and Martin Carthy, Who Killed Cock Robin: British Folk Songs of Crime and Punishment
* Jean Thomas, Ballad-Makin' in the Mountains of Kentucky (indexing updated to reflect the fact that the two different printings have different paginations)
* Jean Thomas and Joseph Leeder, The Singin' Gatherin': Tunes from the Southern Appalachians
The following books were partially indexed in Version 6.7:
* (no author listed; most published by Irwin P. Beadle and Co), [Beadle's] Dime Song Book (#21 and up of the numbered songbooks)
* Mike Harding, The Mike Harding Collection of Folk Songs of Lancashire
* The Derek Piotr Fieldwork Archive (field recording collection; electronic)

There are also many recordings indexed by Ben Schwartz and by Paul J. Stamler.

This brings the total number of books indexed fully or partially to 487 (373 of them indexed in their entirety), with hundreds more cited in ADDITIONAL entries or the SAME TUNE field.
We now have 17422 different songs (289 more than in the last edition, which had 17133), under 31620 titles. At least 1336 songs were added or had their entries updated in version 6.7.
The Supplemental Tradition now contains full or partial texts for 1138 songs.
There are 872 songs for which the NOTES exceed 500 words; 382 with at least 1000 words of notes; 57 with at least 5000 words of notes. (Note: Some of these numbers have changed dramatically from the last version, for no reason I can see; I can only guess that, somehow, the way I'm getting the word counts has changed.)
852 songs have enough data in the notes to call for a bibliography of at least three items.

Fun statistics:
The five most popular songs:
1. Bonny Barbara Allan (184 references)
2. The Golden Vanity (142 references)
3. The Gypsy Laddie (139 references)
4. The Daemon Lover/The House Carpenter (120 references)
5. Lord Thomas and Fair Annet (119 references)
(The most popular non-Child Ballad? Frog Went A-Courting, with 115 references; it's #7. Next below it are John Henry [Laws I1], with 91, and Pretty Fair Maid (The Maiden in the Garden; The Broken Token) [Laws N42], also with 91 references; they're #15/#16.)

8277 songs -- somewhat less than half the song in the database -- have only one reference (or, in a few cases, none), meaning that 9145 have at least two.
13666 songs are listed as having unknown authors, meaning that 3756 songs have an author listed (not always with certainty).
16537 songs have at least one book reference
4032 songs have at least one recording reference
1463 songs have at least one reference to a broadside in a major collection (Bodleian, etc.)
188 songs have at least one manuscript reference
7362 songs have been found somewhere in the United States
4275 songs have been found in Britain (1958 in England, 2598 in Scotland; in other cases, it's not clear where in Britain)
2315 have been found in Ireland (including Northern Ireland)
2062 have been found in Canada
421 have been found in Australia
402 have been found somewhere in the West Indies
265 have been found in New Zealand

New substantial articles in this edition include:
* The Boggart. What is a boggart doing outside a Harry Potter book, anyway?
* Earl Crawford [Child 229]. David Lindsay, 11th Earl of Crawford, had a quarrel with his wife -- but not thisquarrel!
* Edinburgh Castle, Town, and Tower (The Black Dinner). In the chaos after the murder of James I, the death of the new Earl of Douglas makes things that much worse.
* Greencastle Jenny. John Greenleaf Whittier wasn't the only one to write a false poem about a Unionist idiot trying to get herself killed by Southern invaders.
* Mary Hamilton [Child 173]. Was she Scottish, Russian -- or fictional?
* Ormond the Brave. (Of course, he was also Ormonde the Indecisive.)
* Sir Andrew Barton [Child 167]. Just what did Andrew Barton do to inspire at least one, and perhaps as many as three, ballads?
* Tolkien Songs. J. R. R. Tolkien borrowed much from tradition. But did anything he wrote become traditional?

14 May 24 - 03:28 PM (#4202503)
Subject: RE: Ballad Index 6.7 Released
From: Joe Offer

Nice work, Bob. My favorite way to use the Ballad index is to use the short contents: Then I use CTRL-F to find a distinctive word or phrase from the song title. The Ballad Index contents page includes cross-references to alternate titles of songs, so you're likely to get what you want even if you don't have the exact title (that's a problem with the Digital Tradition title index).

For years, I have used the Ballad Index Bibliography as a buying guide for books for my own library. Books are so much more valuable if they're included in the Ballad Index, because you can find what you're looking for.


14 May 24 - 05:17 PM (#4202506)
Subject: RE: Indexing: Ballad Index 6.7 Released
From: GUEST,.gargoyle

Thank you Bob ...

Your scholarship is overwhelming.


You have created a true treasure.

14 May 24 - 06:40 PM (#4202508)
Subject: RE: Indexing: Ballad Index 6.7 Released
From: Robert B. Waltz

Gargoyle wrote: Your scholarship is overwhelming.

Thank you -- I think. :-)

What's funny is, to me, it's Steve Roud's scholarship that seems overwhelming. I'll never catch up with his indexing work, even though I've had help on the Ballad Index, notably by Ben Schwartz (about 20% of the books). Plus recordings done by Paul Stamler (who is responsible for probably 75% of the 78s cited). Me, I'm too likely to go off down rabbit holes.

But I'm autistic. If I go down a rabbit hole, I don't just look around and grab an empty bottle of marmelade and put it back. I open it up and do a whole chemical analysis. :-)

I'm glad it is useful.

Joe Offer wrote: For years, I have used the Ballad Index Bibliography as a buying guide for books for my own library.

I know at least one other person who did that -- claimed he had managed to gather 90% of the books in the Ballad Index in his own library, which is actually more than I had at the time! (I collect by bottom feeding, because it's what I have the budget for.)

But not everything that has gone into the Index has been all that good. Take two books in this release: The Sedley/Carthy volume Who Killed Cock Robin and the Baring-Gould Songs of the West. The latter is so irritating that Steve Roud and I spent a couple of days happily abusing it. (The texts are often dreadful rewrites of traditional songs, without real information about what the tunes were.) The former I indexed because Sedley has done good work, but it's basically pop-folk such as we would expect from Carthy.

Anyway, the point of this is, the TBI Bibliography is getting close to 500 items, ranging from the truly amazing to the ones that tempt me to throw them against the wall. Would there be any point in some sort of a Reviews entity, explaining a little about each book? E.g. describing the integrity of the songs, the quality of the notes, the fraction of tunes, things like that? There would be some books which I can no longer do it for, but it's an option, if there is demand.