American Folklife Center

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The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC was created by Congress in 1976 "to preserve and present American Folklife" (Public Law 94-201 [1]). The center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, established at the Library in 1928 as a repository for American folk music. The center and its collections have grown to encompass all aspects of folklore and folklife worldwide.

The 20th century has been called the age of documentation. Folklorists and other ethnographers have taken advantage of each succeeding technology, from Thomas Edison's wax-cylinder recording machine (invented in 1877) to the latest CD or digital audio equipment, to record the voices and music of many regional, ethnic, and cultural groups in the United States and around the world. Much of this documentation has been assembled and preserved in the center's Archive of Folk Culture, which founding head Robert Winslow Gordon called "a national project with many workers." Today the center is working on digital preservation, Web access and archival management.

The center's collections include Native American song and dance; ancient English ballads; the tales of "Bruh Rabbit," told in the Gullah dialect of the Georgia Sea Islands; the stories of ex-slaves, told while still vivid in their minds; an Appalachian fiddle tune heard on concert stages around the world; a Cambodian wedding in Lowell, Massachusetts; a Saint Joseph's Day Table tradition in Pueblo, Colorado; Balinese Gamelan music recorded shortly before the Second World War; documentation from the lives of cowboys, farmers, fishermen, coal miners, shop keepers, factory workers, quilt makers, professional and amateur musicians, and housewives from throughout the U.S., first-hand accounts of community events from every state; and international collections.

The images, sounds, written accounts and more items of cultural documentation are available to researchers at the center's Archive of Folk Culture. There, more than 4,000 collections, assembled over the years from "many workers," embody American traditional life and the cultural life of communities from many regions of the world. Collections in the archive include material from all 50 states, United States trusts, territories and the District of Columbia. Most of these areas have been served by the center's cultural surveys, equipment loan program, publications and other projects. The current director is Elizabeth "Betsy" Peterson.

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  • Hickerson, Joseph C. Radio-Related Field Recordings and Broadcasts Involving Archive Archive of Folk Culture Collections, Personnel, and Radio Projects: Recordings in the Archive of Folk Culture through 1986, in series, LCFAFA [i.e., Library of Congress Folk Archives Finding Aids], no. 6. Compiled by Joseph C. Hickerson, with the assistance of Eric S. Haag ... [et al.]. Washington, D.C.: Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, 1990.