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The Bodleian Library has unparalleled holdings of over 30,000 ballads in several major collections. Broadside ballads are important source material for:
popular literary history
The Broadside Ballads project, undertaken with funding from the NFF Specialised Research Collections initiative, aims to make the ballads and ballad sheets available to the research community.
Broadside ballads were popular songs, sold for a penny or half-penny in the streets of towns and villages around Britain between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries. These songs were performed in taverns, homes, or fairs -- wherever a group of people gathered to discuss the day's events or to tell tales of heroes and villains. As one of the cheapest forms of print available, the broadside ballads are also an important source material for the history of printing and literacy. Lavishly illustrated with woodcuts, they provide a visual treat for the reader and offer a source for the study of popular art in Britain.
Tens of thousands of ballad broadsides are held in libraries in Great Britain, but the variety and quantity of these single-sheet songs has often posed problems for researchers. Many of their distinctive features, such as varying titles applied to the same text, make them difficult to find in normal library catalogues. Very few are signed by an author. Most lack even a year of publication. The Broadside Ballads Project seeks to facilitate access to the ballads held in collections at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.