Digitizing Folk Music History: Class Notes, 5/10/11

Archive Fever 1: What Was an Archive in the Folk Revival?

Smith’s Memory Theater.


  • Robert Cantwell, “Smith’s Memory Theater,” in When We Were Good, 189-240.
  • Robert Cantwell, “Darkling I Listen: Making Sense of the Folkways Anthology,” in If Beale Street Could Talk, 26-41.
  • Robert Cantwell, “The Magic 8 Ball: From Analog to Digital,” in If Beale Street Could Talk, 42-52.
  • Harry Smith, ed., Anthology of American Folk Music, Part 1, listen.
  • Optional:
  • Greil Marcus, “Uncle Dave Macon: Agent of Satan?,” in Harry Smith: the Avant-Garde in the American Vernacular, ed. Andrew Perchuk and Rani Singh (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2010), 175-185.
  • Kevin M. Moist, “Collecting, Collage, and Alchemy: The Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music as Art and Cultural Intervention,” American Studies 48, 4 (Winter 2007): 111-127.
  • Browse That Old Weird America Blog, http://oldweirdamerica.wordpress.com/.
  • Robert Cantwell, “The Ghost in the CD,” Village Voice, 1 August 2000.
  • VISITOR: Robert Cantwell.


Robert Cantwell


Robert Cantwell joined us. Thanks for visiting!

How do we talk about the Anthology of American Folk Music? What did you make of it?

-Music decontextualized from historical locations

-Nasal voices on Volume 1, hard to hear it powerfully after “the hype”

-The Anthology as mystical experience, almost religious, moving, reaching out and sweeping one up

Who was Harry Smith? See slides.

Listening to “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground”

The Anthology as archive, historical interpretation? Smith talked of “programming the mind”—might we relate the Anthology in some way to digital history? We’ll return to this topic.

Robert Cantwell’s “taxonomy of authenticity”:

  • Curatorial: expert confirms the “hand” of the artist
  • Anthropological: rooted in cultural locale
  • Political: representation confirmed or celebrated by some locus of social prestige (Hollywood, government, upper class, art world, etc.)
  • Aesthetic: experience of art sweeping you away into it, recognition, being “moved”


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