In dominant accounts, the eighteenth-century “ballad revival” brought a dead form back to life by digging up old songs and restoring their force and meaning. It also brought “the people,” as producers or consumers of ballads, to a kind of national public life but relegated them to an anterior temporal space. This essay offers a more differentiated history, examining Scottish and northern song collectors who differed from these formulations and provided distinct understandings of “the people” and of class. David Herd, for instance, used Scottish Enlightenment theories of sense and cognition to reverse the polarity; he did not see the collector revivifying the dead form of the ballad so much as ballads and songs themselves galvanizing the members of a nation. Joseph Ritson, an antiquarian dedicated to the most rigorous standards of authentication, also published “garlands,” collections of songs from various locales in his native northeastern England. Lacking the explanatory prefaces and footnotes that might make meaning available to broader or later audiences, Ritson's garlands targeted a decidedly ephemeral local community in the present. In the face of dominant antiquarian models locating “the people” out of time, Herd and Ritson offered alternative models through which to figure “the people,” rendering them as diverse, only contingently consolidated, but full participants in the here and now.

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