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   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

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January 22, 2004


MUNFLA: Digitizing the past

(L-R) Patricia Fulton, archivist; Pauline Cox, archival assistant; Paul Gruchy, archival assistant, CBC Project; and John Drover, archival assistant, CBC Project.

(L-R) Patricia Fulton, archivist; Pauline Cox, archival assistant; Paul Gruchy, archival assistant, CBC Project; and John Drover, archival assistant, CBC Project.


By Deborah Inkpen
Memorial’s Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA), which contains the largest audio archive in Atlantic Canada, is undertaking several projects to digitize a number of its collections.

Founded in 1968 by Dr. Herbert Halpert, then head of the Department of Folklore, the archive is comprised of extensive collections of Newfoundland and Labrador folksongs and music, folk narratives, oral history, folk customs, beliefs and practices, childlore and descriptions of material culture. It has special collections of Newfoundland vocabulary, proverbs and riddles, and houses material for a projected linguistic atlas of the province.

It is also home to the Q67 questionnaire that was taken by roughly 1,000 MUN students over Christmas 1967 and used as a resource for the Dictionary of Newfoundland English and Family Names of the Island of Newfoundland.

“Newfoundland and Labrador popular culture is an increasing element in MUNFLA's holdings, including commercial recordings, radio broadcasts, and recordings of local theatrical performances,” said Patricia Fulton, archivist at MUNFLA. “The archive is in the process of reformatting many of its collections digitally and one of the projects it is undertaking is to digitize its CBC holdings.”

Ms. Fulton began work at MUNFLA 22 years ago, as a graduate student assistant, and continued on in various positions after finishing her master’s degree at Memorial. She said the CBC broadcast materials have grown so significantly over the years that they “really are a sub-archives” of MUNFLA.

“Most of the materials were originally gathered from the CBC station on Duckworth Street in St. John’s but some were also sent from the national archives of Canada which were dubbed from CBC transcription tapes. We have about 13,000 audio tapes that we will be reformatting digitally.”

Ms. Fulton said the project was undertaken to preserve the materials and to make them more widely available to researchers. Funded by the CBC, two employees, Paul Gruchy and John Drover are both working on the project that originally began in the fall of 1999 for two years and then was resumed in October 2003. The CBC is funding similar projects across Canada.

Another of the archive’s major projects is the digitizing of a collection deposited in 1970 by the estate of MacEdward Leach, who founded the Department of Folklore at the University of Pennsylvania. As early as 1949, and throughout his career, Mr. Leach collected folksongs, ballads and instrumental folk music in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Jamaica, and the Southern Mountains of the United States. In fact, he made several trips to Newfoundland during which he collected more than 600 songs and other folklore. The collection consists primarily of audio recordings and field notes made in Newfoundland, Labrador and Nova Scotia during Leach's field trips.

The project to digitize the music collection also includes the development of a Web site, co-produced by MUNFLA and Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media, and Place (MMaP). Dr. Beverley Diamond, Canada Research Chair in traditional music/ethnomusicology, is the director of the project and the team includes Ian Brodie, Stacey MacLean, Rhiannon McKechnie, Joy Ricketts, and Ayako Yoshimura.

“It’s really quite an opportunity for us, on two levels,” said Ian Brodie, project manager on the MacEdward Leach project. “First of all, we are immersing ourselves in a collection that is pivotal to the history of Newfoundland and Cape Breton folksong collecting, but from which little has been published. Many people have worked on it over the years, but more for the purposes of cross-comparison with their own collections.

“We are attempting to study the collection in its own right, trying to capture Leach’s experience. On the other hand, the creation of a Web site is a new form of publication, and we have to contend with creating a site that is accessible to the broadest number of people.” The work involves struggling with technical parameters (levels of resolution for both pictures and sound files that give as clear a sound or image as possible with as low a bit rate as possible) and pedagogical parameters (providing context and explanatory detail for the collection that is accessible to an upper-elementary level student but relevant for university students and professional researchers.)

“It’s a balancing act, and we have four months to do it.”

Ms. Fulton said archives are an invaluable resource for researchers, often yielding unexpected treasures. “The digital projects underway at MUNFLA will facilitate access to this wealth of material and that is a very satisfying prospect.”


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Next issue: February 5, 2003

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