Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature

A unique repository of Balkan oral traditions.
Nikola Vujnović, pension "Viktorija," Dubrovnik. Photo by Milman Parry, between 1933 and 1935. View Details.
Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature

In the early 1930s, Milman Parry, a professor of Classics at Harvard, sought to test his theories regarding the composition of the Homeric poems by observing living traditions of oral poetry in then-Yugoslavia.

The songs he collected, on phonograph discs and in notebooks, form the core of the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature.

In addition to being one of the world’s most comprehensive archives of South Slavic oral traditions, the Parry Collection also contains uniquely important subsidiary collections documenting numerous other Balkan oral traditions. These include:

  • the collection of Albanian epics gathered by Albert Lord in the mountains of northern Albania in the fall of 1937;
  • Lord’s own collection of South Slavic materials made in 1950 and 1951, including some recordings of singers Lord had met in the company of Parry in the 1930s;
  • the Whitman-Rinvolucri Collection, which contains a variety of materials relating to the Greek tradition of shadow puppet theater as practiced in the 1960s;
  • and the James A. Notopoulos Collection, which includes hundreds of recordings from the 1950s of folk music and narrative poetry from the Greek mainland and the Greek islands.

Accessing These Materials

The Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature provides access to the online collection.

Access to additional collection materials, located in Widener Library Room C, is by appointment only.

Qualified scholars who wish to use the collection should contact the curators well in advance of intended visits. Prior notice of several weeks or more will ensure that researchers are able to access the material which will be most useful to them.