Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays -- Research Guide


The Collection

Songsters may be described as little books of lyrics (no notation) to popular and traditional songs. In America they were published from the 18th century through the end of the 19th century, with occasional appearances in the 20th century.

Charley Vivian's who stole the donkey songsterThe Harris Collection has one of the largest collections of songsters in any American library. Of the 648 songsters listed in the Lowens bibliography of songsters published before 1821, the Harris Collection has over 200, of which 40 are unlocated elsewhere. The earliest songster in the collection is The Select Songster compiled by Philo Musico (New Haven: printed by Daniel Bowen, 1786).

Songsters are often associated with theatrical shows and performances, notably Harrigan and Hart, the Hutchinson Family singers, and many lesser-known variety performers of the second half of the 19th century; often there are cover portra its of the performers in costume. Songsters are also noteworthy as repositories of ethnic humor and jokes (and many are associated with 19th century blackface minstrelsy), as well as comic, sentimental, and patriotic songs of all sorts.

Many songsters are associated with political campaigns; notable are those associated with the 1860 and 1864 Abraham Lincoln presidential elections. Patriotic songsters were very popular during times of war; the War of 1812 and the Civil War saw the publication of numerous songsters. In addition to songsters associated with the Union cause, there are more than a dozen very scarce Confederate songsters in the Collection.

Most of the songsters in the Harris Collection also exist on microfilm, produced as part of the Research Libraries Group's Great Collections Microfilming Project.

See Also:
» Sources for the Study of 19th and 20th Century Blackface Minstrelsy
» Microforms
» Music
» Nineteenth Century Literature

Illustration: Charley Vivian's who stole the donkey songster New York : R.M. De Witt, [1868?]

» Top of the page

Related Collections

The Little Mac songsterThe McLellan Lincoln Collection includes numerous songsters related to the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln. At the Providence Public Library there are also related songsters in the Caleb Fiske Harris Civil War Collection.

Other libraries with extensive collections of songsters include the American Antiquarian Association, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Library of Congress (Rare Book Division),Harvard University Library, the University of Pennsylvania Library, and the New York Public Library.

Illustration: The Little Mac songster. New York : Dick & Fitzgerald, [1862?]

» Top of the page

Related Internet Resources

» Top of the page

Essential References

Joe English's Irish comic songsterDamon, S. Foster
The negro in early American songsters
[n.p.] 1934

Devine, George J.
American songsters 1806-1815
(M.A. Thesis)
Providence: Brown University, 1940

Hixon, Donald L.
Music in early America: a bibliography of music in Evans.
Metuchen, N.J., Scarecrow Press, 1970

Jones, Frangcon L.
A study of American "Forget-me-not" songsters of the 1840's and 1850's

Krummel, Donald William
Bibliographical handbook of American music.
Urbana : University of Illinois Press, c1987

Lowens, Irving.
A bibliography of songsters printed in America before 1821..
(Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1976)
Cites 40 songsters held only by Brown University Library.

Miles, William.
Songs, odes, glees and ballads. A bibliography of American presidential campaign songsters
New York: Greenwood Press, 1990

Resources of American music history : a directory of source materials from Colonial times to World War II; D. W. Krummel ... [et al.]
Urbana : University of Illinois Press, c1981.

Thorpe, Alice Louise
American songsters of the eighteenth century

Toll, Robert C
Blacking up : the minstrel show in nineteenth century America / Robert C. Toll

New York : Oxford University Press, 1974

Illustration: Joe English's Irish comic songster.
Click on the illustration for a larger image

» Top of the page