The Forum: Journal of History


Madison Grant


The folk songs of the high seas traveled across hundreds of ships, changed in sound and lyric, and ultimately became known today as maritime folk music. Although many historians choose to analyze maritime history through physical artifacts, one less-appreciated aspect of the sea is known as the sea shanty. With modern musicians paying homage to their older nautical counterparts, the revival of shanty tunes sprung forth an almost lost appreciation into the lives of both historians and musicians alike. Referenced in this essay is the James Madison Carpenter Collection, an array of recorded and inscribed sources of shanty tunes that ultimately proved to be an invaluable source for maritime historians. This essay outlines how shanties developed, types of shanties, their significance, and how the Carpenter Collection revived the public’s appreciation for maritime folk music. Shanties have become an integral part of music today, adapting to modernity in the same manner that they adapted to each ship on the sea.