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Josiah Combs Collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: BCA 0071 SAA 071

Scope and Contents

These are correspondence, manuscripts, collected ballad texts, tune transcriptions, and other spoken lore collected by folksong, folklore and language scholar Josiah H. Combs. This material reflects both Comb’s strong interest in folksongs and his later work in American language studies.

Listen To Josiah Combs' Singing and Dulcimer Playing Recorded in 1940


  • created: 1910-1960


Conditions Governing Access

Records can be accessed through the Reading Room, Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Hutchins Library, Berea College.

Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions on use of this material other than federal copyright regulations. Please cite all materials.


3.00 ms_boxes

Language of Materials



Born in Hazard, Kentucky, Josiah H. Combs (1886-1960) grew up in Hindman where he learned many folksongs from family members, especially his mother. In 1902 he entered the newly established Hindman Settlement School, where his songs came to the attention of school director, Katherine Pettit (who sent the words of several of these songs to folk music scholar George Lyman Kittredge who arranged for their publication in the Journal of American Folklore.) After being Hindman’s first graduate (1905), Combs went on to attend Transylvania University. There he began a fruitful scholarly collaboration and friendship with Dr. Hubert G. Shearin. In 1911 the two published A Syllabus of Kentucky Folk Songs, which included over 333 titles from eastern and central Kentucky. Its positive reception by scholars and the general public led to the 1915 sequel, Twenty Mountain Songs. Combs’ other published works include The Kentucky Highlanders (1912), All That’s Kentucky (1915), and Folk Songs of the Kentucky Highlands (1939). From 1911 to 1918, Combs taught in high schools and colleges in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. He also presented many public lectures and song recitals, accompanying himself on the dulcimer. After World War I Army service, he taught English and Spanish at West Virginia University (1922-24). During this time he continued his lecture / recital activity and commenced working toward his doctorate at the Sorbonne (University of Paris). In 1925, Combs successfully defended his thesis, Folk Songs du Midi des Etats-Unis (Folk-songs of the Southern United States) in which he explored the origins of Appalachian songs and ballads as revealed in the language, names, and customs of the people he collected them from. After 1925 Combs continued to be active in folksong scholarship; however, his scholarly energies were mostly devoted to the study of the American language. Much of his work in this area remains in manuscript including, the monograph, The Language of the Southern Highlanders. Combs’ academic career included professorships at the University of Oklahoma (1926-27), Texas Christian University (1927-1947), and Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia, where he retired in 1956.

Arrangement Note

The collection is arranged in seven series: Series 1 - Biographical, Series 2 - Thesis Work, Series 3 - Balladry and Folk Songs,  Series 4 - Appalachian Linguistics, Series 5 - Scatology and Ribaldry, Series 6 - General Writings, Series 7 - Miscellaneous

Related Materials

Hindman Settlement School Collection

Hindman Settlement School Records

Leonard Roberts Papers

John F. Smith Traditional Music Collection

D. K. Wilgus Folklore Collection

Other Descriptive Information

The collection was placed in the Berea College Southern Appalachian Archives on October 5, 1994 by Norris Combs, Josiah's nephew, and opened for research in 1996. The ballad texts are photocopies of originals retained by Norris Combs. All other items are Josiah Combs’ originals. Extensive correspondence and a large number of additional ballad texts originating with Josiah Combs are to be found in Berea College’s D.K. Wilgus Folklore Collection, SAA 67.

Collection Number: BCA 0071 SAA 071

Processing Information

Original finding aid was created in 1996.  The finding aid was updated in January 2015 and January 2016.

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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Berea College Special Collections and Archives Repository

Hutchins Library
100 Campus Drive
Berea Kentucky 40404 US