Recordings housed at IU's Archives of Traditional Music added to National Recording Registry

  • April 9, 2014


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- More than 65 years ago, anthropologist George Herzog came to Indiana University Bloomington with a trove of field recordings he had made a decade earlier with Franz Boas, the father of modern anthropology, while doing research with Native Americans in British Columbia.

Those performances, captured on 22 aluminum discs, document the Kwakwaka'wakw’s language, game songs, mourning songs, love songs, lullabies and songs from the potlatch, one of the most elaborate traditions practiced among the peoples of the Pacific Northwest. The Library of Congress recently announced that the recordings, housed and preserved at IU Bloomington’s Archives of Traditional Music, have been added to the 2013 National Recording Registry.

This is the fourth collection tied to IU Bloomington that has been added to the registry, including Bloomington native and jazz legend Hoagy Carmichael’s 1927 song “Stardust.” Each year, the Library of Congress adds just 25 recordings to the registry; recordings that are culturally, historically or aesthetically significant and are at least 10 years old are chosen from nominations made by the public and the National Recording Preservation Board. Other items on this year’s registry include Jeff Buckley’s version of the famous ballad “Hallelujah,” the presidential recordings of former President Lyndon B. Johnson and Art Blakey’s “A Night at Birdland.”

IU President Michael A. McRobbie recently unveiled the $15 million Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative, which is aimed at preserving and making accessible in digital form the collections of video, recorded music, film and other material assembled by the university over its nearly 200-year history.

“The Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative is very important for our collections here, and IU will be the first university in the country to do media preservation on this scale,” said Alan Burdette, director of the Archives of Traditional Music. “This recognition by the National Recording Registry demonstrates the value of media collections at IU and underscores the need to preserve these unique or rare materials that are internationally significant and are otherwise irreplaceable.”

Boas conducted extensive ethnographic research in collaboration with the Kwakwaka'wakw -- who were then commonly referred to as the Kwakiutl -- and with chief Dan Cranmer, who had been jailed in Canada in 1921 for carrying on his people’s potlatch traditions. Herzog’s work was foundational for the field of ethnomusicology, and he came to IU Bloomington in 1948 as an anthropology professor, where he helped establish the university’s Department of Anthropology and sowed the seeds for the program in ethnomusicology.

Jason Baird Jackson, director of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures and associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, said the recordings reflect the tribe’s potlatch traditions, which are central to organizing and sustaining the Kwakwaka'wakw people’s political and social system, history and artistic expressions.

“Franz Boas was really amongst the first scholars to carefully document traditions of this sort and one of the first to use recording equipment, and so that -- in and of itself -- makes such field recordings very compelling and priceless,” he said. “We’re talking about documentation associated with one of the world’s most important and evocative cultural traditions, one that’s very important to the Kwakwaka'wakw today just as it is very important in the past.

“For the history of scholarship, Boas and Herzog were giants of 20th-century social science and humanities -- a fact that adds additional interest to this collection.”

Potlatch ceremonies validate new social or political statuses within the Kwakwaka'wakw through public exchanges of property and gifts as well as through oratorical, musical and dance performances. Up until the 1930s, potlatch traditions were suppressed in British Columbia. The Kwakwaka'wakw and other indigenous peoples are dedicated to cultural preservation efforts and increasingly collaborate with scholars and archives, drawing upon collections such as those at the Archives of Traditional Music. Like many Native American languages, Kwak’wala is now an endangered language, spoken fluently by fewer than 250 people.

The recordings of the Kwakwaka'wakw people brought to IU by Herzog were among the first collections to make up the Archives of Traditional Music’s holdings. The archives now holds more than 100,000 recordings from around the world, audio documents that contribute to the research and teaching activities in the departments of folklore and ethnomusicology, anthropology and linguistics as well as in the IU Jacobs School of Music.

Related Links

One of the original disc recordings of Kwakwaka'wakw chief Dan Cranmer

One of the original disc recordings of Kwakwaka'wakw chief Dan Cranmer, housed at Indiana University Bloomington's Archives of Traditional Music. | Photo by Alan Burdette

Print-Quality Photo

Residents from the Village of Quatsino in British Columbia during the late 19th century participate in a traditional potlatch ceremony.

Residents from the Village of Quatsino in British Columbia during the late 19th century participate in a traditional potlatch ceremony.

Print-Quality Photo

Media Contacts

Alan Burdette

  • The Archives of Traditional Music
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