Fonds - John Widdowson fonds

Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

John Widdowson fonds

General material designation

  • Graphic material
  • Sound recording
  • Textual record

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Title notes

  • Variations in title: Previously known as the Halpert and Widdowson Collections
  • Source of title proper: Title based on contents of the fonds

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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • 1963-1999, predominantly 1963-1967 (Creation)
    Widdowson, John

Physical description area

Physical description

117 cm of textual records
246 audio reels
2 audio cassettes
14 photographs: b&w

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Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

John David Allison Widdowson (1935- ), folklorist and linguist, has done extensive fieldwork and research in sociolinguistics, dialectology and English cultural tradition in both urban and rural areas of England and Newfoundland. He was born in Sheffield, England and attended Bridlington School, Bridlington, East Yorkshire, England from 1946 to 1954. His secondary education led him to Oxford where he obtained a BA (1959) and an MA (1963) in English Literature and Language. In 1966, Widdowson also completed a study of dialectology in the MA programme at Leeds. Before finishing his thesis, he was offered a teaching position at the English Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN).

Widdowson arrived in Newfoundland in 1962 and continued work on his MA thesis. A research question related to a "proverbial" comparison led him to seek the advice of his colleague, Herbert Halpert. The item he was probing turned out to be the Newfoundland expression "boogieman." During their meeting, Halpert showed Widdowson his collection on "frightening figures." This sparked his interest in this topic, and particularly in Newfoundland folklore.

Shortly after, Widdowson began taking folklore courses, and while he was the first student to enroll in the doctoral programme in the Department of English, his thesis actually dealt with a folklore topic. During the summers of 1963-67, Widdowson joined Halpert in fieldwork in rural Newfoundland. Their collection of material formed the foundation for the Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA). When the Folklore Department at MUN was established in 1968, Widdowson began a series of his annual research fellowships in language and folklore. He completed a PhD in 1972 and, in 1974 was appointed as Head of the Folklore Department and Archivist. He also served as acting Head in 1977-78. In 1985, Widdowson was named honorary research associate in folklore and language at MUN. Although Widdowson maintained a close research association with Newfoundland and MUN , he also spent 30 years as a faculty member of English Language, Folklore and Culture of the University of Sheffield. In 1974, he became the founding director of a research project - the Survey of Language and Folklore -which subsequently, in 1976, became the Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language and, in 1997, the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition. He remained director of the centre until he retired in 2001.

Widdowson was elected to the first executive of the Canadian Oral History Association in 1974 and became the co-director of the Institute for Folklore Studies in Britain and Canada in 1986. From 1987-90, he was the president of the Folklore Society. As well, he became the curator of the Traditional Heritage Museum in 1989 and has been a full member of Folklore Fellows International since 1993.

Widdowson also published circa twenty books, and over 60 articles in learned journals. Some of the more significant publications with which he was associated include: "If you Don't be Good...:" (1977), an article on verbal social control in Newfoundland; Linguistic Atlas of England (1978); Dictionary of Newfoundland English (1982, revised 1990), with Strong and Kerwin; Studies in Linguistic Geography: the Dialects of England in Britain and Ireland (1985); Studies in Newfoundland Folklore, Community and Process (1991); Survey of English Dialects: The Dictionary and Grammar (1994); and Folktales of Newfoundland (1996). Widdowson was also the founding editor of the journal Lore and Language.

Widdowson's work earned him several prestigious including: two Certificates of Merit, Regional History Award of the Canadian Historical Association; in 1984 for his contribution to the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, and, again in 1987, for Canada's Folklore-Folklife Series. As well, in 1992, he received the Jubilee Award of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Widdowson was given an honorary doctorate degree by the University of Edinburgh in 1999 and by MUN 2000.

Custodial history

Scope and content

Fonds consists of folkloric material collected as a result of field trips to various communities, outports and bays in Newfoundland; predominantly Notre Dame Bay, White Bay, the Baie Verte Peninsula and Placentia Bay. The material in the fonds was collected by Widdowson (1963-99) and several collaborators: Herbert Halpert (1964, 1974-75), Clyde Williams (1964), Pierce Power (1964), Walter Lyver (1964), Fred Earle (1964-67), John Hewson (1964), Harold Paddock (1966), Paul Smith (1969), Violetta M. Halpert (1974-75), Lawrence G. Small (1974-75), William J. Kirwin (1979), and Cecil J. Reynolds (1984?). Widdowson also acted as co-depositor with Gwen Seary (1985).

The material in the fonds was collected on 246 audio reels, 2 audio cassettes and 14 folklore survey cards. As well the fonds contains fieldwork notes, informants' biographical sheets, song sheets, partial and/or full audio transcriptions and correspondence.

The majority of the material in the fonds deals with the folklore genres of oral history, song, tale, dance, beliefs, child lore, custom, food ways, language, proverbs, riddles, material culture, and personal experience narratives. Much of the material collected by Widdowson and his co-collectors was used in the creation of The Dictionary of Newfoundland English and Folktales of Newfoundland.

The fonds also consists of miscellaneous items such as a toast by Dr. E.R. Seary (1973); a methodical discussion of MUNFLA (1975), lectures (1975), a transcript of an oral history presentation (1974); a speech on MUN's future (1975); a recording of a BBC radio broadcast [1979?]; and the personal papers, writings and collections of Mr. Cecil Reynolds (1976-86). As well, the fonds contains a small amount of published documents and photocopied material that were deposited due to a connection with the collector or informant and/or its folkloric content.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

Material in the fonds was deposited, periodically, by John Widdowson.


Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Location of originals

Availability of other formats

Sound recordings are available on CD and audio cassette reference copies.

Restrictions on access

There are some restrictions on access, arising from agreements made between informants and collectors. Information may be obtained from the archivist. Material in MUNFLA is available primarily for research and has copyright protection.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Finding aids

Summary listings are available for the fonds. Also in existence is an index that lists accession numbers according to depositors. As well, MUNFLA has indices listing folklore genres, place names, song titles, informant's names and photographs which permit users to access the fonds.

Associated materials

Herbert Halpert fonds; Halpert and Widdowson fonds

Related materials


No further accruals are expected.

Accompanying material

There is also a piece of material culture: a Telefunken Magnetophon tape recorder that was used by Widdowson in the 1960's.

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Dates of creation, revision and deletion

Created - May 21, 2013

Language of description

  • English

Script of description


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