For more than 150 years, individuals have traveled the countryside with pen, paper, tape recorders, and even video cameras to document versions of songs, music, and stories shared by communities. As technologies and methodologies have advanced, the task of gathering music has been taken up by a much broader group than scholars. The resulting collections created by these various people can be impacted by the individual collectors’ political and social concerns, cultural inclinations, and even simple happenstance, demonstrating a crucial yet underexplored relationship between the music and those preserving it.
Collecting Music in the Aran Islands, a critical historiographical study of the practice of documenting traditional music, is the first to focus on the archipelago off the west coast of Ireland. Deirdre Ní Chonghaile argues for a culturally equitable framework that considers negotiation, collaboration, canonization, and marginalization to fully understand the immensely important process of musical curation. In presenting four substantial, historically valuable collections from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, she illustrates how understanding the motivations and training (or lack thereof) of individual music collectors significantly informs how we should approach their work and contextualize their place in the folk music canon.