Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives
Guide to the Josiah Combs Papers
Accession Number: 71
The Josiah Combs Papers, 1910-1960
Bulk dates: 1921-25 and 1941-1957
1.2 Linear feet
Online Catalog Record (BANC)

Series I - Biographical
Series II - Thesis Work, 1925
Series III - Balladry and Folk Songs, 1910-1959
Series IV - Appalachian Linguistics, 1915-1960
Series V - Scatology and Ribaldry
Series VI - General Writings, 1921-1957
Series VII - Miscellaneous

3 Manuscript Boxes

Access and Use

Acquisition 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’s D.K. Wilgus Folklore Collection, SAA 67.

Preferred Citation: Josiah Combs Papers, Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, KY.


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 early in his career and his later focus (after 1925) on American language studies.

Related College Archives: Biography

Josiah H. Combs (1886-1960) was born in Hazard, (Perry County) Kentucky. He grew up in Hindman, (Knott County) Kentucky 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. She sent the words of several to folk music scholar George Lyman Kittredge who arranged for their publication in the Journal of American Folklore.

Combs was Hindman’s first graduate and in 1905 went on to attend Transylvania University, in Lexington, Kentucky. 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).

For a time after finishing at Transylvania (1911-1918), 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). This came in 1925 when he 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.

Although after 1925 he continued to be active in folksong scholarship, his scholarly energies were devoted largely 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.

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