The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #143842   Message #3324559
Posted By: John Minear
18-Mar-12 - 11:15 AM
Thread Name: Origins: Child Ballads in 18th c. America?
Subject: RE: Origins: Child Ballads in 18th c. America?
Steve, I appreciate your suggestion that the Indiana Ballad List serve might be able to help answer some of these questions. I have not followed up on this yet for several reasons. I think I assumed, perhaps falsely, that the information I was looking for here was straightforward and probably fairly common knowledge by now, at least in those circles which have continued to have serious interest in the "Child" ballads. And I suppose that I have been spoiled by all of the wonderful access to obscure information now being provided on the internet by things like Google and Google Books. So, I did not really expect this to be a complicated query. And, I know from past experience that there are certainly folks on Mudcat that are familiar in some depth with these kinds of concerns. I prefer to explore these issues in this somewhat more accessible venue with a broader base than what one finds on an academic list service. I should say that I am not an academic and that I make no claims to being any kind of scholar when it comes to ballads. And I would also say that while I've never joined the ballad list service, I have listened in on this discussion occasionally and I have not always been excited by the results of academic conversations. I would also assume that there are folks here on Mudcat who also are a part of the Indiana Ballad List, and that if they happened to see this thread and were aware of useful information from that other venue, they would have perhaps made that available here.

But maybe my assumptions are not very accurate. I do know that there are people on Mudcat that can address these kinds of questions as well as anybody anywhere else can. Whether or not they have noticed this thread or are interested in participating in this discussion is another matter.

I have basically asked three questions so far, which I would assume are basic to any study of the so-called "Child" ballads in America:

1. Can any of these ballads be documented as being present in America in the 18th century (1700s), and especially can any of them be documented as being here in America prior to 1775 and the beginning of the American Revolution?

2. Which of the Child ballads have been documented in the Child Collection itself as having been around in England, Scotland and/or Ireland in the 1700s?

3. And, what is the "latest" available tally on Child Ballads that have been found in America, other than contemporary "covers" that have been recorded of these songs? Is there anything more recent than Coffin's study and it's update?

I had assumed that there would be obvious listings for these latter two questions and that someone would surely have conveniently published them online somewhere and they would be easily accessible. I am still hoping that this is the case. I don't want to have to, and I am certainly not expecting anyone else to, go through the Child Canon and read the fine print and pull out all of the examples of ballads collected in the 1700s. That's a lot of work and I had assumed that it had already been done. If not, why not? Is that time frame not an important one?

And I am fairly certain that there must be updated lists of all known Child ballads found in America. I may even have them in my own printed files. I was being internet lazy on this one and hoping someone could more or less instantly produce such a list. I know there have been some regional studies, but are there recent studies that include all of North America in a more comprehensive assessment? Have there been any significant discoveries of additional ballads in the last fifty years? And have there been significant critical revisions of earlier discoveries, such as any number of those examples that show up in the John Jacob Niles' collection?

Maybe no one has actually tabulated the documentation for the existence of these ballads in 18th century America. Again, if not, why not? Is this not important information? Once again, I know that just because there is no written evidence that this does not conclusively prove that something didn't exist. But I also know that we can't get anywhere these days in a discussion of this material without some kind of written documentation. We can make general assumptions that probably should and maybe do hold true, but when we build arguments on this basis we float off into thin air fairly quickly. For now, if I can't actually document the presence of a particular ballad in North America in the 1700's before the American Revolution from the historical literature, I am going to have to assume that it probably, for all practical purposes, simply was not here.

I really don't want to get into all of the very difficult debates about "oral" and "written" traditions. I am aware of how complicated this discussion is in a number of different areas and disciplines. I would be happy with some written and datable documentation of anecdotal family or community oral traditions. But at some point, even this needs to be written down. I don't have the capacity to go and personally interview survivors of such oral traditions. And when I have had the opportunity to talk to such folks, I find that I am on fairly thin ice almost immediately. Oral traditions seem to remain "oral" for reasons of political, religious or personal control. To keep something exclusively oral today is perhaps to do so for exclusionary purposes. You see, how murky this gets almost immediately when I try to discuss it at all. I am not proposing discussions in this direction. I'm simply looking for some straightforward historical, factual data, on what's available at this point.

It may also be the case that I don't know how to conduct data searches on existing websites where this kind of information might be found. I have checked out all of the websites suggested but have not found a way to gather the data other than one bit at a time. I would welcome suggestions here.

If these things that I have inquired about above are not readily at hand, that's good to know, and at some point the work will yet be done. I'm not going to have the time to do that work myself at this point, nor am I asking anyone else to do it. I will continue to wonder why it hasn't been done by now.

And if not on Mudcat, why not?