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Debus (Allen G.) collection
PA Mss 121  
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The Allen G. Debus collection focuses on early entertainers, pioneer recording artists, vaudeville, minstrelsy, and the popular musical forms of the late 19th and early 20th century. The collection includes sheet music, photographs, correspondence, ephemera, and other primary source documents, as well as a sizeable collection of early 78 rpm disc and cylinder players.
"Allen George Debus (1926-2009) was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of George Walter William and Edna Pauline Schwenneke Debus. Raised in nearby Evanston and educated in the Evanston public schools, Debus nurtured—in the museums in and around Chicago and with the encouragement of his parents and his great aunts—boyhood and ultimately lifelong interests in history, paleontology, Egyptology, early recorded music, and science. After earning a B.S. in chemistry in 1947 from Northwestern University, he followed his history professor, John J. Murray, to Indiana University and earned an M.A. there two years later for a thesis on "Robert Boyle and Chemistry in England 1660-1700." A year at work as a salesman in his father's business, Modern Boxes, Inc., was followed by a return to Indiana for what would have been a second Master's degree in chemistry. Debus married fellow chemistry graduate student, Brunilda López Rodríguez, on August 25, 1951, and the newly married couple left Indiana for jobs as research chemists at Abbott Laboratories in Chicago with Debus just one course shy of finishing his degree. Five years later Debus entered the doctoral program in the history of science at Harvard, and completed a Ph.D. thesis in 1961 that would eventually become his first book, The English Paracelsians (Olbourne Press, 1965). Also in 1961, the Debus family, which now numbered five—sons Allen, Richard, and Karl had been born in 1954, 1957, and 1961, respectively—made the shift from graduate student life at Harvard to professorial life at the University of Chicago where he taught in and led the history of science program for the next 35 years. Outside of his academic life, Debus was equally at home in the flea markets of the Midwest, feeding his interest in the history of early recordings and where he amassed an impressive and remarkably complete collection of popular acoustic 78rpm and cylinder recordings as well as phonographs and sheet music. He began serious research into the early decades of recorded sound particularly vaudeville, minstrelsy, musical theater and popular song. He had long running correspondences with pioneer artists including Jack Norworth, Al Bernard, Joe Belmont, Gus Van, and Will Oakland and attended at least one John Bieling Day and thus visited with Billy Murray, Irving Kaufman and others. He was longtime friends with Jim Walsh and wrote guest columns in Hobbies Magazine beginning in the 1940s and later had his own column "Current Collectors' Records." Together with Brian Rust, he published The Complete Entertainment Discography: From the Mid-1890s to 1942 (Arlington House Publishers, 1973; 2d ed., Da Capo Press, 1989), and, in 1979, the Smithsonian Institution brought out a three-record Boxed set in its Smithsonian American Musical Theater series of the Music of Victor Herbert drawn from Debus's extensive collection and with his annotations, programming notes, and a sixteen-page booklet entitled The Early Victor Herbert: From the Gay Nineties to the First World War." [Adapted from an Eloge in the Journal ISIS by Dr. Karen Parshall, University of Virginia with contributions by David Seubert and Richard Martin.]
34.2 linear feet (5 cartons, 2 document boxes, 1 half-size document box, 23 flat boxes)
Copyright has not been assigned to the Department of Special Research Collections, UCSB. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Special Research Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Department of Special Research Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which also must be obtained.
The collection is open for research.