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Sea Songs and Shanties: Resources in the American Folklife Center

This research guide focuses on activities such as fieldwork, interpretation, and programming regarding sea songs and shanties as these are documented in the collections of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.


John Fenn, photographer. Ship’s Company Chanteymen (l-r: Stephen Winick, Michael Bosworth, Myron Peterson, Dallas Valley), onstage in the Coolidge Auditorium. September 20, 2018. Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

This guide provides an introduction to doing research on sea songs and shanties in the American Folklife Center collections. Recordings made along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as on various inland waterways of the United States provide documentation of the song traditions of mariners and those working on the water. Gathering and sharing such songs has been an interest of the Center's Archive from its beginning, with cylinder recordings made by the Archive founder, Robert Winslow Gordon, in the late 1920s, on through the double-album sampler entitled "American Sea Songs and Shanties," first released by the Library in 1952, and containing songs from California, New York, and Wisconsin documented by Sam Eskin, Alan Lomax, and Helene Stratman-Thomas, 1939-51. Interest in the song genres continues today as the Archive grows with additional collections and concerts the Center sponsors; these in turn are mined for podcasts and blogs, links for which are found in this guide.

In addition to the materials you find in this guide, there are some AFC collections rich with sea songs and shanties that are online elsewhere:


The following guide offers general research strategies for use of the American Folklife Center collections.