- 1933-1963 and undated
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
100 linear feet (90 boxes of discs, 17 boxes of original sleeves, and additional ephemera)
The collection constitutes the single-largest aggregate of Packard’s spoken literature recordings created in conjunction with the Harvard Vocarium record label and as a part of his pioneering vision for a “library of voices” at Harvard University. While the collection does not contain a complete inventory of his wide-ranging work, it does feature rare outtakes; original recordings never reproduced or intended for commercial release; Harvard-related lectures, sermons, language lessons, literary, theatrical, radio, and musical performances; and the voices of Harvard students and professors recorded in his role as Professor of Public Speaking. The collection also includes listening copies that Packard and Woodberry Poetry Room curator John Lincoln Sweeney created based on war-time (and post-War) exchanges they arranged with the Library of Congress, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Radio Éireann.
The Packard Collection is also a significant document in the study of material history, containing a substantial number of discs from all stages of the recording and production process.
The material formats represented and their approximate quantities are as follows: Lacquer on metal substrate, 600 discs Lacquer on glass substrate, 100 discs Aluminum transcription, 20 discs Metal parts (masters, mothers, and stampers), 70 discs Test pressings, 300 discs Shellac, 420 discs Vinyl, 1000 discs
Biographical / Historical
As early as 1928-29, Packard began to clamor for the creation of a library of voices. With the help of his colleague E. K. Rand, he coined the term “vocarium” to describe his vision for a place where “voices can be kept and studied.”
In 1933, his efforts led to the publication by Harvard University Phonograph Records of the first discs in what came to be called the Harvard Vocarium, one of the first poetry/literature recordings labels in the world. One of the authors featured in this preliminary commercial release was Harvard graduate T. S. Eliot, who recorded for Packard during his Charles Eliot Norton lectureship in 1932-33. The recording represents Eliot’s first published poetry reading.
From the mid-1930s, until the university discontinued its affiliation in 1955, the Harvard Vocarium made and, in many cases commercially released, the first (or earliest extant) recordings by Elizabeth Bishop, Randall Jarrell, Robinson Jeffers, Weldon Kees, Robert Lowell, Archibald MacLeish, Marianne Moore, Vladimir Nabokov, Anais Nin, Ezra Pound, Muriel Rukeyser, May Sarton, Robert Penn Warren, and Tennessee Williams.
In addition to his commercial venture, Packard actively recorded, commissioned, collected, and created “a repository of all the voices he could get a hold of, a kind of audio time capsule for posterity,” according to Vocarium discographer Josephine Packard. These recordings ranged from surgeries to Shakespeare, Haitian-Creole ritual performances to Japanese-language lessons, experimental radio plays to Scottish border-ballads. The breadth of languages he recorded in is equally remarkable—among them, Afrikaans, Catalan, Haitian Creole, Chinese, Danish, French, German, Russian, Sanskrit, Spanish, and Yiddish.
Packard found a practical repository and an organically evolving home for his “vocarium” in the recently opened Woodberry Poetry Room (then on the top floor of Widener Library), where master recordings were held and two phonograph players were subsequently installed for student use. As Packard later recalled: “My Vocarium was in there.” A 1938 Boston Sunday Post article hailed his efforts, announcing that “Harvard University, one of the most forward universities in the world, is breaking all precedent and founding a library for the voice—the Harvard Vocarium.”
With the Poetry Room’s move to the new Lamont Library in 1949, the “library service” (as Packard referred to it) was formalized, and custom-designed consoles were created to facilitate listening by 36 students at a time. During the first four months of the collection’s relocation to Lamont Library, “students signed for earphones in the Poetry Room over 4,000 times.” In the course of his 45-year career at Harvard University, Packard taught courses in rhetoric, oratory, “the oral interpretation of literature,” radio-broadcasting, and (in his final post at the Harvard Divinity School) the art of sermonizing. His innovative work at the Speech Clinic transformed the lives of students and faculty who sought his assistance for stuttering and other speech impediments. Through his pioneering Speech Clinic recording initiative, he also documented “almost every student who passed through Harvard” (according to Josephine Packard): once in their freshman year and once prior to graduation. During the research for this Finding Aid, we were able to assist the HUA Packard Collection in locating several significant discs, including the first recorded speeches by John F. Kennedy, Jr., and Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., all of which were made by Packard.
Packard’s recordings were made in a number of venues and makeshift studios across campus, including Holden Chapel, Memorial Hall, the Cruft Memorial Laboratory, the Lamont Forum Room, and the Germanic Museum. Packard retired from Harvard in 1965.
He died in Brunswick, Maine, on June 26, 1985. In 2002, the Harvard Vocarium was chosen as a part of the first annual selection of the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
I. Instantaneous Discs (Lacquer and Aluminum Transcription Discs) IA. Poetry and Literature IB. Theater, Music, and Radio IC. Speech and Oratory ID. Packard Family recordings IE. Unidentified recordings
II. Production Parts (Metal Parts and Test Pressings) IIA. Poetry and Literature IIB. Theater, Music, and Radio I IIC. Unidentified recordings
III. Mass Produced Discs (Shellac and Vinyl Discs) IIIA. Poetry and Literature IIIB. Theater, Music, and Radio IIIC. Speech and Oratory IIID. Miscellaneous
IV. Related Materials IVA. Original Sleeves IVB. Mock-ups and Album Covers IVC. Record Cases
Within each subseries I-III, recordings are further arranged alphabetically by the speaker's last name, with unidentified recordings falling at the end of the order.
- Instantaneous Discs (Lacquer and Aluminum Transcription Discs)
- Production Parts (Metal Parts and Test Pressings)
- Mass Produced Discs (Shellac and Vinyl Discs)
- Related Materials
Existence and Location of Copies
Approximately 50 discs have been transferred to digital format and those recordings will be made available for digital playback where indicated. Some previously cataloged Vocarium-related discs were transferred to phonotape reels in the 1950s and 60s and were digitized from that at-risk format during Harvard's first Library Digitization Initiative (2006-2011). Those digital surrogates can be accessed via HOLLIS (by searching under the author and year) and the Woodberry Poetry Room website.
Supervisor/Researcher: Christina Davis
Consultants: Adrien Hilton, Laura Larkin, Carie McGinnis, Josephine Packard, Susan Pyzynski, Elizabeth Walters, and Melanie Wisner.
To assist researchers in readily distinguishing between unproduced and commercially-produced recordings, the following titling conventions were observed:
For instantaneous discs and production parts, main title entries for each item were devised by the archivist and enclosed in brackets. These devised titles consist of the following segments:
1. the recording artist's name 2. the term "sound recording" 3. in some cases, a topical description
For commercially-produced vinyl and shellac discs, titles were taken directly from the disc labels.
Example 1: A title devised for a lacquer disc containing a recording of T. S. Eliot [T. S. Eliot sound recording]
Example 2: A title taken from the disc label of a commercially-produced disc T. S. Eliot: Reading His Own Poems
In instances when only a partial name is present on the item, or the name was inferred, a question mark was used to indicate uncertainty. Publisher: Publisher names were provided only for mass-produced (vinyl or shellac) discs, and were taken directly from the disc labels. The following variations on the Vocarium label appear on discs in this collection: The Harvard Vocarium Records Harvard Vocarium: Spoken Literature A Vocarium Disc Poetry for Enjoyment: A Vocarium Disc Vocarium Records: Spoken Literature
Dates are taken directly from the item itself. In some cases, the date on a given item may refer to a publication or production date (not the date of the original recording). In certain rare cases, when a date can be reasonably inferred but is not listed on the item, the date information has been provided in a curator's note.
Due to the fragility of the formats and the technological challenges presented by legacy audio, the contents of these recordings could not be verified through playback at the time of cataloging. Therefore, contents listings have been derived from annotations either on the items' original sleeves or disc labels. In instances where the titling information was fragmentary or partial (often the case for instantaneous discs and production parts), the archivist consulted an authoritative resource, such as a published book, for a complete title. For commercially-produced discs, titles were derived directly from the disc labels.
The terms "Side A" and "Side B" have been used throughout to designate the recto and verso of each disc.
Sleeve and Disc Label Annotations:
Handwritten annotations on sleeves and disc labels appear frequently throughout the collection, and often contain important identifying information about the recordings. In order to make these annotations searchable, transcriptions of the primary text have been provided. To view the complete annotations, researchers should refer to the digital surrogates or to the discs themselves.
The annotations were transcribed using a vertical bar “|” to indicate line-breaks or spaces. Terminology:
The following terms or numbers appear frequently on disc labels and original sleeve annotations throughout the collection. Provisional definitions are provided below: Hold Master: a lacquer disc created and retained in case the Master was damaged in transit or during production.
H.F.S. No.: a matrix number assigned to a recording by the Harvard Film Service.
Publication No.: a number assigned by the respective creator or agency (such as, the Harvard Vocarium or the British Broadcasting Corporation).
- Frederick C. Packard, Jr. sound recordings, 1933-1963 and undated (MS Am 3065): Guide.
- Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
- Description rules
- EAD ID
Part of the Houghton Library Repository
Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, literary and performing arts archives, and more. The library's holdings of primary source material are managed by an expert staff and shared with scholars, students and the public in the reading room.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA