2013 March 08—Alan Lomax, Harry Smith & the Proto-Digital Study of Folk Music

talk @ the northwestern university digital humanities lab.

Lomax Smith Talk Photo

I’ll be speaking at Northwestern’s Digital Humanities Lab this Friday. Topic: “Alan Lomax, Harry Smith, and the Proto-Digital Study of Folk Music.”


Alan Lomax’s controversial “cantometrics” study of folk music worldwide, begun in 1959, was an early use of quantitative data and digital technologies (punch cards) to study verncular music and culture. Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, created in 1952 for the famous Folkways label, offered a different mode of research: a whimsically annotated, quasi-mystical collection of rare American folk, blues, and ethnic commercial recordings from the 1920s and 30s. As two distinctive sonic and informational conceptualizations of how to organize musical traditions, these “proto-digital” projects offer valuable lessons for thinking about the representation of folk music within contemporary digital humanities research, particularly when it comes to assembling and interpreting what a digital archive can be and do.


Friday, March 8, 2013, 12-2pm.


Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities Conference Room, Kresge Hall, 1880 Campus Drive, #2-360, Evanston, IL 60208 (map).

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