Northcote Whitridge Thomas Archive (Pitt Rivers Museum)

Oxford, United Kingdom
Archives (Recorded music archives)


Pitt Rivers Museum


South Parks Road
United Kingdom

Online presence

From European children's songs to Bayaka women's songs of the Central African Republic, the Pitt Rivers Museum website gives a great introduction to the several thousand hours of archival sounds held at the Museum. It also includes information about other field recordings and their collections.

Northcote Whitridge Thomas (1868–1936) was a British anthropologist who conducted field research in Nigeria and Sierra Leone between 1909 and 1915. He recorded songs, music and spoken word on hundreds of wax cylinders and assembled a major artefact collection, which he presented to the University of Cambridge's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. His thousands of field photographs were divided between the Royal Anthropological Institute (negatives) and Cambridge (albums).

The Pitt Rivers Museum holds a collection of 448 wax cylinder recordings of Edo and Igbo peoples recorded by Thomas which he donated in 1914. The British Library Sound Archive holds an even larger selection of over 700 of Thomas's recordings.

Many of the wax cylinder recordings are of good quality. The recordings were done using different languages, including Igbo, Bini (Edo), Ibo in Nigeria, and Mende, Fuuta Jalon and Susa in Sierra Leone. He has recorded examples of instrumentation, including flutes, trumpets and balangi (a type of xylophone in Sierra Leone). The collection also includes examples of male and female solo, group songs, antiphonal call and response songs.

Some of the examples on the website include solo singing, flute, wind instrument, xylophone playing, and Ibo male shouting war songs.

The museum is available to the public, scholars and other audiences.

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