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The Center for Ethnomusicology


The Center for Ethnomusicology encompasses a graduate program, sponsorship of musical events at Columbia University, and a vast archive of musical recordings, scholarship, and instruments.

The Center for Ethnomusicology is a unique institution in the discipline and at Columbia University. Founded in 1967 by Professor Willard Rhodes and Professor Nicholas England as "The Center for Studies in Ethnomusicology," the Center was an institutional home to the prominent mid-century music collector Laura Boulton during the late 1960s and early 1970s. A major portion of Boulton's huge collection of field recordings from around the world (but especially strong in Native American and African materials) were purchased from Boulton by Columbia University in 1964. Boulton's collection (recorded between the 1930s and the 1960s) forms the core of the Center's archival holdings, a collection known as the "Laura Boulton Collection of Traditional and Liturgical Music." Some of Ms. Boulton's many recordings are also housed in other archives, at Harvard University, the Library of Congress, The University of Arizona, and the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music. In fact, Boulton's original recordings (on aluminum discs and reel to reel tape) from her Columbia deposit collection (on a variety of media) are now held at the Library of Congress, for safekeeping and access, and copies of almost all the materials at Columbia are also housed at Indiana, although Columbia University maintains the rights to these materials. The Center holds reel-to-reel copies of these originals and now digitally remastered copies of most of them. An additional set of bar-coded and cataloged reel-to-reel copies is now held by the Columbia library system at an offsite storage facility under archival climate-controlled conditions.

The Center also holds significant collections of historical recordings of American folk music (especially recordings made by Walter Garwick and George Hibbett), the Collection of Contemporary and Traditional Turkish music, a large collection of videotaped documents of Spanish Flamenco music, and the field recordings of many scholars who have been affiliated with Columbia's program in ethnomusicology as students or faculty members. The archive contains numerous significant commercially released folk and world music recordings, most of which are long out of print, and videotaped recordings of many of the coneSeveral current acquisition projects are now underway to add to the archive. From 1971 until 2003, the archive was directed by Professor Dieter Christensen, who oversaw extensive acquisition and systematization efforts. For most of those years the Center was also the home of the International Council for Traditional Music, of which Prof. Christensen was the Director General, and of the ICTM's flagship journal, The Yearbook for Traditional Music. (In 2001, the ICTM and its journal moved from Columbia to UCLA.)

In recent years, at first under Prof. Christensen's Directorship, then under the Directorship of Prof. Aaron Fox (2003-8), and now under the Directorship of Ana Maria Ochoa, the Center has been moving toward a new mission, and a new model for the dissemination and use of its archives and scholarly resources. As an archive of magnetic audio and video tape and a large volume of associated paper records, the Center, like all such archives, faces a challenging and pressing set of demands to preserve its holdings and to explore means of making its holdings available to the scholarly community, the university community, and the communities in which the music it curates was recorded, while observing uncertain and emerging technological and ethical standards. We are currently involved in a major project to digitize our entire audio collection, amounting to several thousand reel-to-reel tapes, with an eventual goal of making significant portions of this archive available over university and global networks for students, scholars, and communities with interests in this material. At the same time, we are working to "repatriate" selected portions of our archive to the communities from which the music was taken, under circumstances that are sometimes ethically disavowed by contemporary scholars. (See the "Digital Archive Project" link.)

The two projects, of course, are fundamentally related and are being undertaken in tandem. They also entail enormous labor and great expense, and will take us years to complete and require significant external funding. At the same time, we are seeking to acquire new collections under modern ethical standards and with agreements in place with source communities and researchers governing the digital publication of these materials. In the interim, researchers and students are always welcome to use the Center's holdings as they always have, by visiting our facilities in 701C Dodge Hall on the Columbia campus and working with the physical tapes (now mostly copied onto CDs) and paper collection records.

While our collection is completely cataloged in paper records, we have also begun to catalog the collection electronically, and a preliminary tape-level online catalog is available as a large searchable PDF document. (To read it you'll need the Acrobat Reader from Adobe Software.) This catalog details the accesion numbers for each tape in the archive, the name of the collector, a rough description of the area of the world or the culture from which the recording was collected, and occasionally notes on the location of duplicate copies or the condition of tapes. It is by no means a complete finding aid for our collection. Visitors to this site may find it useful as a way of determining if we have holdings in a particular musical culture or style, or made by a particular collector. But you must visit the Center to work with these recordings and to view the contents of particular tapes. Inquiries from credentialed scholars and students concerning the contents of particular tapes, and especially from representatives of communities whose musical heritage may be held in our archive, are welcome and will be answered as promptly as possible. There may be a charge for labor and materials if such a request entails research by Center staff (whenever possible such charges will be waived, however, if a request concerns potential heritage or intellectual property claims).

The Center also houses a significant collection of musical instruments, including the Leonard C. Holvik Collection of traditional Japanese instruments. Many of these instruments are in need of significant repair work, and the Center is actively seeking funding to begin this work. If you are interested in supporting this work, please contact Prof. Fox.

What Else Happens at the Center

The Center is more than an archive of tapes and instruments. It is also the hub of the graduate program in ethnomusicology at Columbia, and a fountain of musical activity on the Columbia campus. We support the work of our graduate students and enrich the content of our undergraduate classes by sponsoring talks and performances by major scholars and musicians. We provide tools for and training in field research in ethnomusicology (for example, equipping our students with audio and video recording equipment), and we provide a technologically sophisticated facility for working with audio, video, and other kinds of documentary material, including several audio/video computer workstations, an image-processing workstation, and a separate, well-equipped Digital Media Lab (CEDMeL) in which Center staff and trained graduate students work to digitize our archive, produce digital teaching materials, and support research and teaching in our program, department, and university with high-quality media production work. The Center's main facility, in 701C Dodge, is the headquarters of the graduate program, where you can always find students studying, writing, and holding meetings. The room is equipped with technology to enable visiting speakers to present sophisticated audio-visual materials and computer-based projects,