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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Preserving Lorenzo Dow Turner's Recordings

It’s National Preservation Week, so it’s a good time to update you on the preservation and digitization of field recordings made by linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner. The recordings were made in West Africa, Brazil, and the United States, and contain songs, stories, and poems. In addition, the recordings include a 1947 lecture by Dr. Turner, featuring poet Langston Hughes (listen to Hughes reading "Madam and Her Madam"). The materials were formerly inaccessible due to the obsolete nature of the recording medium and the obvious chemical instability of the discs.

Palmitic acid residue on acetate coated aluminum disc.
Data on this disc was successfully transferred after a cleaning.

This disc is delaminated, but we were able to transfer data from the backside.

Data was transferable from this disc despite a little uneven surface.

In 2010, an award from the Collections Care and Preservation Fund allowed Anacostia Community Museum Archives to conserve and reformat approximately 80 of 110 acetate (lacquer) and aluminum discs created during the 1930s through 1950s. Once the discs were cleaned, a physical assessment was completed and the audio was digitized. Unfortunately, some of the discs could not be transferred due to delamination of the lacquer layer. Approximately 15 % of the discs had palmitic acid residue on the surface caused by deterioration of the lacquer layer. Other discs were warped or had uneven surfaces, but data was transferable.

The first phase of the project produced master digital audio files, reference CDs, and MP3 files, which will allow cataloging of the materials and will make them accessible to researchers, scholars, and the general public.

The original discs were re-housed in acid- and lignin-free record envelopes and placed in appropriately sized boxes. The archives staff created special spacers for support. We are fortunate that the majority of the disc labels contain descriptive information which will assist us when we begin the cataloging phase of the project. 

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives


  1. When and how can we access these digital audio files? Does this mean we'll be able to access them online, as well? Or only if we're on-site (as most of us are trying to access by distance).

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  3. Currently researchers are unable to access the audio files online because the audio files require cataloging for greater discoverability. However, if you contact us directly at we can assist you with gaining access to the materials.