Forces Shaping the growth of Archives

Archives, as we know them today, grew from two traditions of collecting: one was the accumulation of paper records by governmental bodies; the second was located in the gathering of unpublished papers by libraries especially during the nineteenth century. The first (the public archives tradition) was transformed by the 1899 creation of the Public Archives Commission of the American Historical Association; the latter (the manuscript tradition) continued to grow into departments in libraries called Special Collections and most often concerned itself with the papers of businesses, organizations, families, and writers. In other words, the two archival traditions concerned public and private papers.

In the mid to late twentieth century, these two traditions began to merge, as more and more social historians began to ask how the records of government and the private papers of individuals and groups worked in tandem to tell the story of the past. At the same time, this paradigm shift in knowledge was accompanied by technological changes (first such advances as the telegraph system, the telephone, the typewriter, record players, film, duplicating machines, and finally computers). The twentieth century brought also a sense of urgency about the preservation of records. Not only did technology change the form of records but two world wars and consequent reporting on the loss of documents created a concerted effort to save existing records and manuscripts, to safeguard their survival from future times of destruction.

The archives of music grew within these boundaries. In addition, the archives of music have always been influenced by a realization that no paper record and indeed no recording can exactly duplicate the sounds we hear. This sense of the inimitability of sound, as well as a realization that not all musical traditions survive the test of time, were what motivated John and Alan Lomax, father and son, to set out in the early 1930s to record work songs, reels, ballads, and blues. They worked in conjunction with the Library of Congress’s Archive of American Folk Song, established in the institution’s Music Division in 1928. With a different concern but an equally pressing one, the International Association of Music Librarians was founded in 1951 largely in response to the loss of documentary musical heritage of many European countries.

In New Orleans, music collections were established in the 1930s and 1940s, especially in local colleges and universities. In addition, jazz enthusiasts began as early as the 1930s to collect recordings, memorabilia, and memories (in oral histories) of musicians. The New Orleans Jazz Club was organized formally in 1948 and their collection became a part of the State Museum in 1977. Overlapping these efforts were those of other music enthusiasts who collected gospel music and other church and folk music, as well as materials concerned with this music. In 1958, some of these enthusiasts assisted in the establishment of the Hogan Jazz Archives at Tulane University. With a grant from the Ford Foundation, William Ransom Hogan, chair of the Tulane Department of History at the time, worked with others, notably William Russell, to collect oral history interviews with pioneers of jazz, their families, and fans. To accompany the interviews, the Hogan Archives also began collecting photographs, sound recordings, books and articles, vertical file materials, and artifacts.