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After the Archive


Book chapter

Change log


McMurray, Peter 


The afterlife of an archive determines what that archive was in the first place. In other words, the way an archive preserves, processes, analyzes, and circulates its holdings—or fails to do so—plays a central role in constituting not just the what of the archive (its ontology) but also its when (the temporalities it contains and allows). In the 1930s, Milman Parry, a scholar of Homeric epic, traveled to the former Yugoslavia to collect oral poetry from the area, hoping to use this contemporary tradition to think about the feasibility of epic song—and specifically the Iliad and Odyssey—as an oral tradition more broadly. Parry’s student, Albert Lord, published their findings on the topic, creating a massive rethinking of poetry and literature more generally. But the archive they created through their audio recordings in Yugoslavia, recorded on aluminum discs, wire spools, and reel-to-reel tape, served for decades as a kind of necessary proof of their findings, but not an archive that allowed for significant new research. In the past decade, however, a number of family members of the singers who had recorded for Parry have begun to contact the archive seeking information about recordings in the archive. This contact has led not only to meaningful encounters between these families and the archive but also to small but significant expansions in the archive’s holdings through a kind of genealogical ethnography of the archive itself and its multiple, simultaneous (and often divergent) histories.



After the Archive


47 Language, Communication and Culture, 4705 Literary Studies

Is Part Of

The Oxford Handbook of Musical Repatriation (Frank Gunderson, et al, eds)

Book type

Reference work


Oxford University Press