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Maud Karpeles (1885-1976): A Retrospective of Her Newfoundland Fieldwork, 1929 and 1930

Authored by Dr. Anna Kearney Guigne, Maud Karpeles (1885-1976): A Retrospective of Her Newfoundland Fieldwork, 1929 and 1930, follows the journey of Maud Karpeles from England to Newfoundland as she travelled to the then-British colony in both 1929 and in 1930 to “prospect” for British folksongs.

“Karpeles is often depicted as a colonialist collector, driven to find English folksongs in Britain's oldest colony,” says Guigné. “I prefer instead to view her as a woman adventurer who faced many challenges in her folksong quest. As she quickly learned, travel in Newfoundland was complicated, and the living conditions were harsh. She made her way by foot, ferry, open boat, car, and train, often being dumped off in places late at night to find her way. Having spent 46 weeks in the Appalachians, where living conditions and heat were also challenge, undoubtedly she could speak from experience regarding flies, food, and sanitary conditions. And yet, she seems to have been a good sport singing to crowds, playing cards and visiting, all of which comes out in the diaries.”

Karpeles forged new territory travelling to many remote parts of Newfoundland in search of songs of British origin. The songs and music she diligently recorded in 1929 and 1930, and later presented in Folksongs from Newfoundland (1934 and 1970), were present in the living tradition, not as is often assumed, fossils from an earlier age.

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