We've got something new we think you're going to love! Today we're launching a new By the People campaign The man who recorded the world: On the road with Alan Lomax. The work of 20th-century folklorist Alan Lomax is the bedrock of our understanding of twentieth-century folk music. Discover rich folk traditions by transcribing his field notebooks and correspondence with family, fellow musicians, colleagues, and collaborators.

The Lomax campaign includes notes on performances and interviews with artists like blues guitarist Robert Johnson, folk singer Woody Guthrie, country musician Burl Ives, and blues singers Lead Belly and Muddy Waters. Lomax is credited with bringing all of these artists to popular public attention. The collection also documents Lomax’s extensive travels, including his time as a Library of Congress employee, and the toll his years of fieldwork took on his personal life.

According to Bob Dylan, “Alan was one of those who unlocked the secrets of this kind of music”. Now, we need your help to unlock these documents and make them available to musicians, music lovers, and researchers all over the world. Ride along in the back seat of Lomax's sedan on the way to interview Robert Johnson’s mother, or browse through Muddy Waters’ record collection to see what inspired the iconic bluesman.

We're starting off with materials from across America and the Caribbean, and will later release materials from Lomax's fieldwork in the British Isles, Spain, and the Soviet Union.  Read more about the campaign in our Folklife Today blogpost.

And then dig in to spend some time traveling along with Lomax!

Photo of Alan Lomax and Raphael Hurtault listening to playback of an audio recording. La Plaine, Dominica. June 1962
  • Greetings from Arlington, Virginia. I did a few pages today from the huge Lomax campaign. They were typed transcripts of taped or filmed interviews — the time codes are a giveaway.

    Call it cheating, but my first thought was,why not use OCR software to get a rough draft? (Not priactical for handwriting, but typescript is a lot easier. So I grabbed an image (screenshot or download both seem to work reasonably well) and loaded it into Abbyy FineReader, a commercial OCR program.

    A typical page gave me only a few errors to correct, plus I had to tweak formatting and add handwritten material. But I definitely felt it was faster than typing. Well, faster than MY typing anyway....

    I wonder if seeding these pages with an OCR'ed 'rough draft' was considered by the LOC folks? Or if they have any objection to the workflow I've described.

    I would also be interested in hearing from any other users who have started with an ORC transcription.


  • How interesting! His Official Personnel Folder for his work with the Library of Congress and the WPA are here at the National Archives at St. Louis and are some of my favorites. Lots of cool notes about the technology he was requesting to use for the first time and collaboration with Zora Neale Hurston!