About the American Folklife Center
The twentieth century has been called the age of documentation, and 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 digital audio equipment, in order to record the voices
and music of many regional, ethnic, and cultural groups, in the United
States and around the world. Much of this priceless documentation has been
assembled and preserved in the American Folklife Center's Archive
of Folk Culture, which founding head Robert W. Gordon, in 1928, called "a
national project with many workers." As we enter the twenty-first
century the American Folklife Center is working on the critical issues
of digital preservation, Web access, and archival management.
The collections of the American Folklife Center 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 the minds of those who endured one of the most
harrowing periods of American history; an Appalachian fiddle tune that
has been 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 United States; first-hand
accounts of community events from every state; and international collections
from every region of the world.
All of these images, sounds, written accounts, and a myriad more items
of cultural documentation await researchers at the Center's Archive of
Folk Culture, where over 4,000 collections, assembled over the years from "many
workers" embody the very heart and soul of our national traditional
life and the cultural life of communities from many regions of the world.
The collections in the Center's Archive of Folk Culture include folk cultural
material from all fifty states, as well as United States trusts, territories,
and the District of Columbia. Most of these areas have been served by the
American Folklife Center's cultural surveys, equipment loan program, publications,
and other projects.
Folklife is an integral part of all American lives and an essential part
of the National Library. The story of America is reflected in the cultural
productions of ordinary people who live everyday lives, from cooking and
eating meals, to the activities of work and play, to religious observances
and seasonal celebration. Folklife includes the songs we sing, the stories
we tell, the crafts we make. The American Folklife Center was created in
1976 by the U.S. Congress to "preserve and present" this great
heritage of American folklife through programs of research, documentation,
archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition,
publication, and training. The American Folklife Center was made permanent
in 1999. The Center includes the Archive of Folk Culture,
which was established in the Library of Congress in 1928, and is now one
of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States
and around the world.
On this Web site you will find not only an introduction to the activities
of the American Folklife Center and its Archive of Folk Culture but also
news about programs and activities, online presentations of multiformat
collections, and other resources to facilitate folklife projects and study.
The American Folklife Center aims to be the national center for folklife
documentation and research, and this Web site offers a virtual destination
for those who cannot visit the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.