Primary Source Texts: Google Books for Singers

Primary Source Texts: Google Books for Singers

Want a first edition of the Child ballads (1860) or Ritson's Ancient Songs and Ballads (1829)? A facsimile edition of The Universal Songster, or Museum of Mirth (1834) or D'Urfey's Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719)? How about a collection of full-text books on American naval song from 1800 to 1820? They're yours, in print, for the cost of the paper and your time. Download them to your own machine as PDF and have at it. Or leave them online: simply add them to your library and search them with a few clicks. All that's missing is that lovely musty smell of leather bindings.

Google Book Search is a feast for the desktop scholar. Visit the site to see all their amazing features--this isn't a how-to piece per se. Take away the news that it has never been easier to do your own primary source research. Find out for yourself where a song came from; where and how it was first collected and printed; what the collector said about its time and place; and see for yourself the original illustrations, from blackletter ballads to lithograph engravings.

If a book is in the public domain, otherwise out of copyright, or the author has given permission, you can read and download the entire book, in facsimile, as PDF. This covers a HUGE amount of material of interest to singers and collectors. In particular, the collection abounds with 18th and 19th century editions of books on music, folklore, theatre, dance, history, travel, and literature. It's a gold mine for singers in the folk tradition, historic reenactors, and others of our ilk.

My own library now holds the results of keyword searches for, among others: ballad; song, English; song, American; song, Scots; morris dance; Fool; wassail; naval history; and more to come. You can visit my ever-expanding library here:

noelegance's library

Try searching my library for any of these keywords, and enjoy what you find. Or create your own library, do your own searches, and then when you find a book you like, just click Add to My Library and it's saved for your perusal.

If you're looking for the words to a song and you've found it in a book, open the Google Book and choose View as Plain Text. Because these were scanned and OCR'd, the raw text can be pretty raw, but editing and cleaning it up is still faster if you need electronic text. If you just want hard copy, download the PDF and print just the page(s) you need, then delete the file. It will still be online the next time you need it, and doesn't eat up your hard drive with gigabytes of books.

It's a snap to clip images or text into a scrapbook with Google Notebook, or post them directly to your blog if you use Blogger. See below for some of my trasures brought to light as I dig down into the 350+ books I've collected so far. Just click to follow each link straight to the original online edition!


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