When professor Jason Luther wants students in his Intro to Writing Arts class to learn about multimodal composition, he has them go to the Internet Archive for inspiration.
Students peruse 78rpm records going back to the early 20th century to find just the right one for their assignment. There is no lack of material with more than 300,000 recordings from 1898 through the 1950s preserved. They are available to the public because of the collaborative Great 78 Project.
Although the students are enrolled at Rowan University in New Jersey, many are participating remotely from their homes this year because of the pandemic, and the materials are conveniently available digitally to them from anywhere.
“If the [Great 78 Project] didn’t exist, I don’t think I would have this curriculum at all,” said Luther, assistant professor for Writing Arts in the Ric Edelman College of Communication & Creative Arts at Rowan. “What I really like is the research challenge. It’s really powerful. So many times students have recovered the lost histories of these songs.”
Luther developed the project in 2018 as part of the “Technologies and Future of Writing” module in the writing course. Students have just eight classes to complete the 1-3 minute podcasts, in which they learn to master a mix of audio tools and editing skills using Audacity and WordPress. The course covers issues of compatibility and ownership, along with instruction on the economy of writing like a critic about lyrics and culture. For one recent class session, he invited Liz Rosenberg of the Archive to be a guest speaker and talk about the organization’s work and the Great 78 Project.
In the future, Luther said he would like to find more ways to incorporate some of the Archive’s collection into his curriculum. For instance, he may have students use primary source documents from independent publishers over time to craft something tangible, such as an actual history from those materials that could be passed along. “That’s one of the neat things about accretion,” he said. “We have the creativity, but then there’s also documents on the Archive that are helping us understand the 78s themselves. It’s such a vast resource.”
Incorporating materials from the Internet Archive into your course curriculum is easy. Each semester we hear from instructors doing so worldwide. Let us know how you are weaving Internet Archive media into your classes by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On January 1st, 2021, many books, movies and other media from 1925 will enter the public domain in the United States. Some of them are quite famous — jump ahead to see lists of those well known books and movies that you can enjoy on the Internet Archive — or take the scenic route with me.
What does this all mean? Essentially, many items created in 1925 in the US that are still under copyright will become free and open for people to use in any way they see fit in the new year. But check out Duke Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain article for a more in-depth explanation.
As part of this yearly ritual, I explore our collections to unearth these newly freed items, and I invariably run across a few things that hit a nerve. This year, it started with this intertitle in “Isn’t Life Terrible?” Less than 20 seconds into this 1925 film, and suddenly I’m dumped back into 2020.
Rude, right? I don’t even have a front yard to enjoy during shelter in place.
Gondolas still glide under the Bridge of Sighs, and the Tower of Pisa is still leaning, but the 1925 version of the Colosseum certainly lacks today’s fake gladiator photo ops.
Looking at the past with the eyes of today
Every toe dipped into the past has the potential to surprise or shock. The story of a pantry shelf, an outline history of grocery specialties is only mildly interesting on the surface. Essentially, it’s a sales pitch to food manufacturers encouraging them to advertise in a set of women’s magazines. The book contains short case histories of successful food brands like Maxwell House Coffee, Campbell Soup, Coca Cola, etc. (all of whom advertise with them, naturally).
The book gives you a glimpse of why people were so enthusiastic about mass produced, packaged foods. Unsanitary conditions, bugs in your sugar, milk going bad over night; things modern shoppers never think about.
It puts this glowing praise of Kraft Cheese into perspective: “…a pasteurized product, blended to obtain a uniformity of quality and flavor, a thing greatly lacking in ordinary types of cheese.” (page 149)
That’s pretty entertaining if you’re a cheese lover. I think most people would agree that Kraft cheese is no longer on the cutting edge.
But keep poking around and you find a much deeper cultural divergence. While The story of a pantry shelf is extolling the virtues of the home economics training available at Cornell, you stumble across this horrifying sentence (page 12).
I was not expecting to read about orphaned babies being used as “learning aids” while flipping through stories about Jell-O. Intellectually, I know that attitudes towards children have changed over the years — the Fair Labor Standards Act, which set federal standards for child labor, wasn’t even passed until 1938. But this casual aside tossed in amongst the marketing hype still packs an emotional punch. It’s important to remember how far we have come.
Even writing that was forward-thinking for the time, like the booklet Homo-sexual life, is terribly backward according to today’s standards. It’s from the Little Blue Book series — we have many that were published in 1925, and the publisher was quite prolific for many years. The series provided working class people with inexpensive access to all kinds of topics including philosophy, sexuality, science, religion, law, and government. Post WWII, they published criticism of J. Edgar Hoover and the founder was subsequently targeted by the FBI for tax evasion. But in 1925, they were going strong and one of their prolific writers was Clarence Darrow.
Controversies of the Age
Darrow was writing about prohibition for the Little Blue Book series in 1925, but that is also the year he defended John T. Scopes for teaching evolution in his Tennessee classroom. The Scopes Trial generated a huge amount of publicity, pitting religion against science, and even giving rise to popular songs like these two 78rpm recordings from 1925.
Like the Scopes trial, prohibition had its passionate adherents and detractors. This was the “Roaring 20s” — the year The Great Gatsby was published — with speakeasies and flappers and iconic cocktails. And yet the pro-prohibition silent film Episodes in the Life of a Gin Bottle follows a bottle around as it lures people into a state of dissolution.
And the most unchanging part of this particular season, of course — children still anticipate the arrival of Santa Claus with questions, wishes and schemes.
The silent film Santa Claus features two children who want to know where Saint Nick lives and how he spends his time. We follow him to the North Pole (Alaska in disguise) to see Santa’s workshop, snow castle, reindeer, and friends and neighbors. Jack Frost, introduced around 14:20, appears to be wearing the prototype for Ralphie’s bunny suit in “A Christmas Story” (but with a magic wand). Stick around for the sleigh crash at 20:45, and right around 22:20 Santa wipes out on the ice.
And just in case you’re still doing your holiday shopping, I feel like I should pass on a recommendation from this ad in a 1925 The Billboard magazine: Armadillo Baskets make beautiful Christmas gifts. And you can still buy vintage versions online – trust me, I looked. You’re welcome.
Discogs has cracked the nut, struck the right balance, and is therefore an absolute Internet treasure– Thank you.
If you don’t know them, Discogs is a central resource for the LP/78/CD music communities, and as Wikipedia said “As of 28 August 2019 Discogs contained over 11.6 million releases, by over 6 million artists, across over 1.3 million labels, contributed from over 456,000 contributor user accounts—with these figures constantly growing…”
When I met the founder, Kevin Lewandowski, a year ago he said the Portland based company supports 80 employees and is growing. They make money by being a marketplace for buyers and sellers of discs. An LP dealer I met in Oklahoma sells most of his discs through discogs as well as going at record fairs.
The data about records is spectacularly clean. Compare it to Ebay, where the data is scattershot, and you have something quite different and reusable. It is the best parts of musicbrainz, CDDB, and Ebay– where users can catalog their collections and buy/sell records. By starting with the community function, Kevin said, the quality started out really good, and then adding the market place later led it to its success.
But there is something else Discogs does that sets it apart from many other commercial websites, and this makes All The Difference:
The Great 78 Project has leveraged this bulk database to help find the date of release for 78’s. Just yesterday, I downloaded the new dataset and added it to our 78rpm date database, and in last year 10’s of thousands more 78’s were added to discogs, and we found 1,500 more dates for our existing 78’s. Thank you!
The Internet Archive Lost Vinyl Project leverages the API’s by looking up records we will be digitizing to find track listings.
A donor to our CD project used the public price information to appraise the CDs he donated for a tax write-off.
We want to add links back from Discogs to the Internet Archive and they have not allowed that yet (please please), but there is always something more to do.
I hope other sites, even commercial ones, would allow bulk access to their data (an API is not enough).
We have been digitizing about 8,000 78rpm record sides each month and now have 122,000 of them done. These have been posted on the net and over a million people have explored them. We have been digitizing, typing the information on the label, and linking to other information like discographies, databases, reviews and the like.
Volunteers, users, and internal QA checkers have pointing out typos, and we decided to go back over a couple of month’s metadata and found problems. And then we contracted with professional proofreaders and they found even more (2% of the records at this point had something to point out, some are matters of opinion or aesthetics, some lead to corrections).
We are going to pay the professional proofreaders to correct the 5 most important fields for all 122,000 records, but can use more help. We are pointing these out here in hopes to interest volunteer proofreaders and to share our experience in continually improving our collections.
Here are some of the issues with the primary performer field: before-the-after that we have now corrected from the June 2019 transfers (before | after) that we hope to upload in the next couple of weeks:
Jose Melis And His Latin American Ensemble | Jose Melis And His-Latin American Ensemble Columbia-Orchestra | Columbia-Orchester S. Formichi and T. Chelotti | S. Formichi e T. Chelotti Dennis Daye and The Rhythmaires | Dennis Day and The Rhythmaires Harry James and His Orchestra | Harry James and His Orch. Charles Hart & Elliot Shaw | Charles Hart & Elliott Shaw Peerless Quartet | Peerless Quartette
Some of the title corrections:
O Vino Fa ‘Papla (Wine Makes You Talk) | ‘O Vino Fa ‘Papla (Wine Makes You Talk) Masked Ball Salaction | Masked Ball Selection Moonlight and Roses (Brings Mem’ries Of You) | Moonlight and Roses (Bring Mem’ries Of You) Que Bonita Eres Tu (You Are Beutiful) | Que Bonita Eres Tu (You Are Beautiful) Buttered Roll | “Buttered Roll” Paradise | “Paradise” Got a Right to Cry | “Got a Right to Cry” Blue Moods | “Blue Moods” Auf Wiederseh’n Sweerheart | Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart George M. Cohan Medley – Part 1 | George M. Cohan Medley – Part 2 Dewildered | Bewildered Lolita (Seranata) | Lolita (Serenata) Got a Right to Cry | “Got a Right to Cry” Joe Liggins and His Honeydrippers Blue Moods | “Blue Moods” Body and Soul | “Body and Soul” Mais Qui Est-Ce | Mais Qui Est-Ce? Wail Till the Sun Shines Nellie Blues | Wait Till the Sun Shines Nellie Blues Que Te Pasa Joe (What Happens Joe) | Que Te Pasa Jose (What Happens Joe) SAMSON AND DELILAH Softly Awakens My Heart | SAMSON AND DELILAH Softly Awakes My Heart I’m Gonna COO, COO, COO | (I’m Gonna) COO, COO, COO
Good news: we have funding to preserve at least another 250,000 sides of 78rpm records, and we are looking for donations to digitize and physically preserve. We try to do a good job of digitizing and hosting the recordings and then thousands of people listen, learn, and enjoy these fabulous recordings.
If you have 78s (or other recordings) that you would like to find a good home for, please think of us — we are a non-profit and your donations will be tax-deductible, digitized for all to hear, and physically preserved. If you are interested in donating recordings of any type or appropriate books, please start with this form and we will contact you immediately
We are looking for anything we do not already have. (We are finding 80% duplication rates sometimes, so we are trying to find larger or more niche collections). We will physically preserve all genres, but our current funding has directed us to prioritize digitization of non-classical and non-opera.
We can pay for packing and shipping, and are getting better at the logistics for collections of a few thousand and up. These are fragile objects and we are having good luck avoiding damage.
The reason to highlight the donors is twofold: one is the celebrate the donor and their story, but the other is to help contextualize these recordings for different generations. These stories help users find meaning in the materials and find things they want to listen to. This way we can lead new listeners to love this music as the original collectors have
Working together we can broaden this collection to works from around the world and different cultural groups in each country.
If you are a private individual or an institution and have records to contribute, even if they are not 78s, please start with this simple form, or email email@example.com, or call +1-415-561-6767 and we will contact you immediately. Thank you.
Following eighteen months of work, more than 50,000 78rpm record “sides” from the Boston Public Library’s sound archives have now been digitized and made freely available online by the Internet Archive.
”This project and the very generous support and diversity of expertise that converged to make it possible, all ensure the Library’s sound collections are not only preserved but made accessible to a much broader audience than would otherwise ever have been possible, all in the spirit of Free to All.” said David Leonard, President of the Boston Public LIbrary.
In 2017, the Boston Public Library transferred their sound archives to the Internet Archive so that the materials could be reformatted digitally and preserved physically. Working in collaboration with George Blood LP, using their specialty turntable and expert staff, these recordings have been digitized at high standards so that others can use these materials for research. This is now the largest collection within the Great 78 Project, which aims to bring hundreds of thousands of 78rpm recordings to the Internet.
The records within BPL’s collection represent early twentieth century music and sound recordings from both popular and obscure artists. 78s were made from shellac, a resin secreted from female beetles, and are incredibly brittle and delicate; records can break from simple handling. Digitizing these records is therefore the best way to preserve not only the music on the recordings but also the original artifact itself, ensuring the continued availability of the resource into the future.
After the recordings were digitized, volunteers with the Internet Archive and the Archive of Contemporary Music linked the sides to published discographies using a mix of manual techniques and custom algorithms to find dates and context. As a result of these activities, more than 80% of the sides now have dates or links to contemporaneous reviews. Additionally, more than 250 have been matched to sheet music and displayed alongside the music, based on the digitized collections from Connecticut College.
As a result of project activities, more than 750 different labels are represented in the collection, spanning from 1901 to 1966. Highlights of the collection include early American jazz and blues recordings, such as 11 sides from the renowned Paramount Records, originally founded by the Wisconsin Chair Company.
At an event at the Boston Public Library last month, Brewster Kahle, the Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive, presented the digital files from the 50,000 sides to David Leonard, the President of the Boston Public Library. With the return of the digital files, BPL was able to unlock access to the materials in a form that won’t damage the originals, ensuring the long-term viability of the 78s and the music recorded on them. The project was featured on-air during the Boston Public Radio program the next day, including samples from the recordings.
How can you get involved?
The Internet Archive invites other individuals and institutions to participate in this program by:
Donating 78rpm records to the Internet Archive, where the they will be preserved and digitized as funding allows (and funding for mass digitization is now available);
Digitizing your 78’s with the same careful but cost-effective technologies from George Blood LP and then contribute the digital files, but retain the physical discs.
We would like to emphasize that “reformatting” library collections by donating the physical objects to the Internet Archive can be a model for cost effective modern access and physical preservation. To learn more about library reformatting, please contact Chris Freeland, Director of Open Libraries.
This project was funded by the Kahle/Austin Foundation.
Commercial radio broadcasting began in the 1920s, bringing entertainment, news and music into people’s homes. Now, instead of needing to play a 78rpm disc on your phonograph, you could just tune in to listen to popular songs.
But why are we focusing on 1923? Because for the first time in 20 years, new works are entering the public domain in the United States (read more: 1,2, 3). And those works were all published in, you guessed it, 1923.
In honor of World Day for Audiovisual Heritage (October 27) we’d like to take you on a brief tour through seven decades of digitized music and audio recordings from 1900 through 1970. We’ve been working to digitize 78rpm discs for the Great 78 Project to preserve the heritage of the first half of the 20th century, and now we’re turning our eyes toward vinyl LPs that have fallen out of print in the Unlocked Recordings collection.
1905 – A Picnic For Two
1906 – Talmage on Infidelity (very judgy)
1912 – Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold
1916 – I’ll Take you Home Again, Kathleen
1920 – I Want a Jazzy Kiss (as opposed to a bluesy kiss)
1937 – A Cowboy Honeymoon (hint: includes yodeling)
1939 – The Red Army Chorus of the U.S.S.R. (when we were pals)
1945– Don’t you Worry ‘Bout That Mule” (spoiler alert – he ain’t goin’ blind)
1947 – Everything is Cool (so sayeth Bab’s 3 Bips & a Bop)
1950 – When both accordions and Hi-Fi were hip
1950 – “They’re all dressed up to go swinging and, Man, they’re a gas!” (Sonny Burke from the back cover)
1957 – Amongst fierce competition, this gem wins Most Nightmare Inducing Cover Image
1958 – Dance music from Israel
1959 – This intensely sleepy version of “Makin’ Whoopee” will send you to sleep in the lounge.
1960 – My next story is a little risque (and so is the one after that)
1961 – Recorded live at the Second City Cabaret Theatre, Chicago, Ill.
1961 – Easy winner for the worst song opening we’ve ever heard, enjoy Tiger Rag from The Percussive Twenties.
1962 – Significant improvement on the Tiger Rag from the Doowackadoodlers
1963 – “Adults only” saucy comedy
1966 – Organ-ized wins best pun, as well as having “Popular songs arranged for organ” by “Brazil’s #1 Organist”
1966 – The music stylings of Mrs. Miller are not to be missed – personal favorites are “Hard day’s night” and “These boots are made for walkin'”
1966 – The “You Don’t Have to be Jewish” Players are falling in love
To preserve or discover interesting 78rpm records you can download them to your own machine (rather than using our collection pages). You can download lots on to a mac/linux machine by using a command line utility.
Option 2: if you want to preserve the FLAC and MP3 and metadata files for the best version of the 78rpm record we have. (if you are using a Mac Install homebrew on a mac, then type “brew install parallel”. On linux try “apt-get install parallel”)