The Archives' holdings document the history of ethnographic sound recording, from wax cylinders made during museum expeditions in the 1890s to recent commercial releases on compact disc. The core of the collection consists of more than 3,000 field collections–unique and irreplaceable recordings collected by anthropologists, linguists, ethnomusicologists, folklorists, and others throughout the world. Extensive holdings of Native American, African, and Latin American music and spoken word, and several large collections of early jazz and blues 78s are just some of the strengths of our holdings. The list below contains a few samples and highlights. Choose an item from the list to learn more about the collections and hear or see a sample recording. Full IUCAT catalog records for these collections can be found by following the active links from the accession numbers on the highlight pages.

Lama dancer, China, Berthold Laufer Collection

Berthold Laufer and the Jacob H. Schiff Chinese Expedition. 1901-1902. Berthold Laufer's phonograph cylinder recordings from Beijing and Shanghai. They are the earliest sound recordings made in China and include recordings of Bejing opera, folks songs, and popular drama.

Detail of a totem pole in Alert Bay, British Columbia, 1914. Photograph by Edward Curtis.

Boas and Herzog Recordings of Dan Cranmer. 1938. Songs sung by Kwakwaka'wakw Chief Dan Cranmer who worked with Boas on the creation of a Kwak'wala dictionary. Added to National Recording Registry for 2013.


Hoagy Carmichael singing and playing the piano

Hoagy Carmichael Collections. 1920s-1981. Over 3500 recordings, photographs, and personal effects from the life of popular songwriter, jazz musician, and actor Hoagy Carmichael.

Lawrence Gellert making a recording

Lawrence Gellert. 1920-1940. African American songs of protest from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. At a time when segregation was embedded in the law and the culture, Gellert documented more than 600 songs by African Americans, and half of them can be called songs of protest.

A view of Sabino Canyon, Arizona

Doriane Woolley McCullough. 1938. Akimel O'odham, Sacaton, Arizona. Woolley recorded the major Akimel O'odham song series at the Gila River Indian Reservation and produced over 800 pages of song texts, translations, and music transcriptions.

Alan Merriam

Alan and Barbara Merriam. 1951-1952. Belgian Congo. Alan Merriam (1923-1980) and his wife Barbara recorded a large number of ethnic groups in eastern, west central, and Ituri Forest areas of the Congo (present-day Democratic Republic of Congo) and Ruanda-Urundi.

Raute man with drum

Annapurna Bech Memorial Collection. Nepal. 1965-1968. Terence Bech recorded over 260 hours of performances and life histories on more than 400 tapes, transcriptions, photographs, and field notes. The collection documents a wide variety of ethnic groups including Tibetans in exile.

Lorenzo Dow Turner Gullah transcription

Lorenzo Dow Turner Collection. 1932-1933. Lorenzo Dow Turner (1890-1972) was an African American linguist who became known as the father of Gullah studies following the 1949 publication of Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect. This collection documents sermons, work songs, stories, spirituals, and slavery accounts of 50 Gullah speakers.