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American Folklife Center: Library of Congress, An Illustrated Guide


Carrie Grover playing the fiddle
Carrie B. Grover, Gorham, Maine, 1942.
(The Eloise Hubbard Linscott Collection. Photo probably by Eloise Hubbard Linscott)

The Eloise Hubbard Linscott Collection of New England folksongs and folklore comprises the life's work of an amateur collector devoted tothe preservation of the traditional music of her region. The collection includes dictaphone cylinders, acetate discs, and audiotapes, along with field notes, transcriptions, photographic images, and other materials. A number of the discs were made with a disc-recording machine borrowed from the Library of Congress in 1941. At first, Linscott sought to gather the songs she learned as a little girl, so that she could teach them to her young son. As friends and neighbors learned of her project, the collection of songs grew and eventually resulted in a book, Folk Songs of Old New England, published in 1939. The collection includes the performances of several New England fiddlers, including Carrie B. Grover, the only woman among them.

Most of the ethnographic documentation in the American Folklife Center’s Archive of Folk Culture was created in field situations by folklorists, ethnomusicologists, anthropologists, and other cultural specialists, working either as private individuals or for the Library of Congress or other federal, state, or local agencies.

The purpose of ethnographic fieldwork is to make a systematic record of human cultural activity in its natural context, and the resulting collections may include sound recordings (in many different formats), field notes and other manuscript materials, photographs, videotapes, and ephemera. The earliest field documentation in the Archive of Folk Culture dates from the 1890s; the most recent collections were made only a short time ago. Folklife has been defined as the "traditional, expressive culture shared within various groups," and documented in the archive is an immense variety of folklife expression, from every region of the United States, as well as from many people and cultures worldwide.

Making a survey of the visual resources of the Archive of Folk Culture was a daunting task. Folklife Center specialists were helpful in offering suggestions from the vantage points of their areas of interest and expertise. Also of great help were the many books, newsletter articles, and finding aids on particular collections, as well as a list of photographic resources in the archive prepared by Carol Moran. A number of collections are available in online versions, as part of the Library’s program called American Memory: The National Digital Library. But, finally, it was necessary to open boxes and search through files to make a selection of representative and engaging images from the three million-item collection.

Quilt by Constance Finlayson
Cover image: "Echoes from the Prairie," quilt by Constance Finlayson, Carrollton, Missouri, completed June, 1991. The 1992 Missouri State Winner, Lands' End All-American Quilt Contest.
(The Lands' End All American Quilt Contest Collection)

Constance Finlayson made twelve blocks of antique patterns to surround a central medallion, an eight-pointed star, in her winning quilt design. She used "scraps and pieces" of cotton fabric from around the house, in the tradition of the resourceful pioneer women. Doing all the work by hand, Finlayson described her techniques as "based on those who had gone before me — a link that bound us together." In 1997 the American Folklife Center acquired documentation from the 1992, 1994, and 1996 Lands' End All-American Quilt Contests, including images of approximately 180 winning quilts form across the United States.
This image and related collection materials are available online as part of the presentation Quilts and Quiltmaking in America 1978-1996.

As work on the book proceeded, several members of the American Folklife Center’s board of trustees suggested that a CD sampling of sound recordings might be included and, indeed, would further "illustrate" and illuminate the collections. Ralph Eubanks, director of publishing, accepted the proposal, and center staff worked together to create an audio sampling keyed as nearly as possible to references in the text of the book.

I would like to thank Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center, for her support and encouragement; and founding director Alan Jabbour for his essays on the Folk Archive and the Folklife Center, which served as the basis for the history chapter in this guide.

For their help in making suggestions, reading text, and preparing captions, I would like to thank the following: Peggy Bulger, Jennifer Cutting, Judith Gray, Stephanie Hall, Todd Harvey, Joseph C. Hickerson, Michael Taft, David A. Taylor, and Nora Yeh. In addition, David Taylor suggested folklife expressions as the organizing principle for the guide and was an especially discerning final reader. Todd Harvey took on a number of assignments, particularly in the area of caption writing. Contributing to the production of the CD were Jennifer Cutting, Judith Gray, Ann Hoog, and especially Jonathan Gold, who served as audio technician. Evelyn Sinclair, Publishing Office editor, colleague, and friend, guided this project from the start.

James Hardin
Editor, American Folklife Center

The Library of Congress » American Folklife Center
( October 29, 2010 )
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