From 1928 to 1935 James Madison Carpenter collected shanties, forebitters, sea songs, ballads, dreg songs and other folklore in the United States, England, Scotland and Wales. The maritime materials in this collection comprise some 650 songs and fragments – a truly astonishing corpus. Shanties documented by other collectors and scholars are well represented in the Carpenter collection with renditions of “Blow the Man Down” from no fewer than 32 singers and 26 versions of “Whiskey Johnny”. Also included are a number of shanties and forbitters not found in other collections either published or archival as well as the elusive oystermen’s Dreg Songs of the Firth of Forth (see “Dreg Songs Lost . . . and Found” in Folk Life: Journal of Ethnological Studies, 35/1, May 2015, pp. 19-25 and the Dregs Songs Project blog).
Beginning in 2002 the Carpenter Project team has worked to catalogue, transcribe and, we hope, publish this remarkable collection including not only the maritime materials but the folk plays, ballads, bothy songs and other genres that Carpenter collected. The first phase of this work was an online catalogue now hosted by the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Sheffield.