The English Traditional Ballad : Theory, Method, and Practice book cover
1st Edition

The English Traditional Ballad
Theory, Method, and Practice

ISBN 9780754606345
Published August 21, 2002 by Routledge
328 Pages

USD $160.00

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Book Description

Ballads are a fascinating subject of study not least because of their endless variety. It is quite remarkable that ballads taken down or recorded from singers separated by centuries in time and by hundreds of kilometres in distance, should be both different and yet recognizably the same. In The English Traditional Ballad, David Atkinson examines the ways in which the body of ballads known in England make reference both to ballads from elsewhere and to other English folk songs. The book outlines current theoretical directions in ballad scholarship: structuralism, traditional referentiality, genre and context, print and oral transmission, and the theory of tradition and revival. These are combined to offer readers a method of approaching the central issue in ballad studies - the creation of meaning(s) out of ballad texts. Atkinson focuses on some of the most interesting problems in ballad studies: the 'wit-combat' in versions of The Unquiet Grave; variable perspectives in comic ballads about marriage; incest as a ballad theme; problems of feminine motivation in ballads like The Outlandish Knight and The Broomfield Hill; murder ballads and murder in other instances of early popular literature. Through discussion of these issues and themes in ballad texts, the book outlines a way of tracing tradition(s) in English balladry, while recognizing that ballad tradition is far from being simply chronological and linear.

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; General editor's preface; Introduction: accessing ballad tradition; The lover's tasks in 'The Unquiet Grave'; Comic ballads and married life; Incest and 'Edward'; Motivation, gender, and talking birds; Magical corpses; and the discovery of murder; An English ballad tradition?; Bibliography; Discography; Index of ballads and songs; General index.

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David Atkinson has published widely on ballads in scholarly journals and conference proceedings. For the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library he has catalogued the Maud Karpeles manuscript collection, and compiled an introductory bibliography and discography of English folk song (which is available online). He is a member of the editorial board of Folk Music Journal, and secretary/editor of the Kommission für Volksdichtung (International Ballad Commission). His central research interests are in ballads and folk songs, extending into theories of tradition and revival. He is currently part of a team working on the James Madison Carpenter Collection of folk song and music, drama, and speech, based at the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition, University of Sheffield.


'This is an exceptionally detailed and generally fascinating book...there's plenty here which is very worthwhile and enjoyable.' Musical Traditions '...David Atkinson's latest contribution is so welcome. (He) surveys the field with disarming use of accessible language...This is a book for students, and I'll be recommending it to mine, but it is also a book for singers and lovers of song... Every bookshelf should have this one.' English Dance & Song magazine, 'This is a valuable, well-documented, fascinating monograph that should be in the collection of any library whose users are interested in ballad studies.' Notes 'I know of no better work on traditional balladry than this. Atkinson is a thoughtful, perceptive, and very knowledgeable ballad scholar... a godsend to graduate students in folklore or cultural studies.. Highly recommended.' Canadian Folk Music Bulletin '... one of the most detailed studies of balladry to have appeared so far. It deserves careful study and offers, in exchange, a wealth of factual material about this fascinating subject.' Folk Music Journal