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Guess Who’s Turning 1?


Pete Seeger Performs in the Library of Congress’s Coolidge Auditorium in March 2007. Photo by Robert Corwin, AFC Robert Corwin Collection.

It’s hard to believe, but October 30, 2014 is the first anniversary of Folklife Today! A lot can happen in a year, so we thought we’d take a little trip through the highlights of our first year.

I’ll begin with the sad things. Just three months after our debut, the great folksinger Pete Seeger died, and we published an obituary detailing his long and productive relationship with the Library of Congress. We also published an obituary for Judith McCulloh, a folklorist and editor who was a longtime member of our Board of Trustees. Both of these people had a huge impact on our archive and on the Center itself, and we’ll miss them!

Now for happier news. Several of our blog posts this year have been picked up, republished, or cited elsewhere on the web:

Three of my posts were shared on MetaFilter, a community-selected “best of the Web” blog. They were:

‘The Fox”: A Song for Pete and Capitol Hill,’ which talks about one of Pete Seeger’s favorite songs in the light of some sightings of a fox here on Capitol Hill;

Ring Around the Rosie: Metafolklore, Rhyme and Reason,” which examines the evidence (or lack thereof) that the popular nursery rhyme is inspired by the plague;

Turkey in the Straw,” which discusses a well known fiddle tune in the light of a recent controversy.

Kate Stewart’s post “Tracing the Long Journey of ‘We Shall Overcome’” was reprinted in Library of Congress Magazine. It’s a fascinating look at one of the iconic songs of the Civil Rights era.

My post about Albert Einstein and his love of folklore (one of my favorites, by the way) was cited on the popular blog “Brain Pickings,” where the asterisk indicates that the blogger made a correction based on accurate information reported for the first time in Folklife Today.

I asked each Folklife Today blogger for some of their favorite posts.

Stephanie Hall picked:

“Belief, Legend, and the Great Moon Hoax.”  A look at how our contemporary concerns about news hoaxes are not so modern after all. The challenge of this article was to present the cultural attitudes of the early nineteenth century concerning life on other worlds as well as literary hoaxes for modern readers.  The moon men of the 1835 hoax would hardly fool us today, but we are fooled by other things.

“Buffalo Gals.” This is about a song that folklife reference staff receive many questions about. “Is that a folk song? What does do the lyrics mean?”  This is a good example of how complicated the answers to those questions may be.  (A reader pointed out that there is a Joni Mitchell song, “Help Me” with a line about dancing with “the lady with a hole in her stocking.”)

Songs of the Abundant Ocean.”  Since this article was posted, the Center was visited by members of the family of the Bahamian American singer Theodore “Tea Roll” Rolle, whose rendition of “Sponger Money” was used as an example in the article.  We learned that the song “Sponger Money” was an occupational song for him, and that, unfortunately, sponge diving took his life.

The Life and Times of Boll Weevil.”  There is a pattern here – the articles I have written that bring together science and folklore were particularly interesting to write.

Family of Theodore Rolle visits the Folklife Reading Room.  Photo by Stephen Winick for AFC.

Family of Theodore Rolle visits the Folklife Reading Room on July 28, 2014. Photo by Stephen Winick for AFC.


Fisher 1Megan Harris picked:

Buttered Fresh Frozen Lima Beans.”

Ode to a Canned Peach.”

Both revolved around one of my favorite things in life: food.  They examined foodways in military culture, and illustrate the impact that food can have on a soldier’s experience. In researching the material for them, I was stunned to learn just how frequently members of the military mentioned food–especially very specific foods, such as canned peaches or Thanksgiving turkey! Not only were these posts fun to write, but they point to the heart of the Veterans History Project: to capture and document those small but important aspects of the military experience that otherwise might be lost to time.

I’d add that Megan’s post on Crossing the Line Ceremonies is one of MY personal favorites from the year!

Alan Lomax and Mable Hillary at the Sing for Freedom Festival and Workshop, 1965. Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004)

Alan Lomax and Mable Hillary at the Sing for Freedom Festival and Workshop, 1965. Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004)

Kate Stewart picked:

Photographs of the Southern Freedom Movement in the Alan Lomax Collection.” In May, Guha Shankar had met Tim Jenkins at our program about Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964. Jenkins is a former SNCC member who I believe came to all (or nearly all) of our programs in the series. Todd Harvey had come across some photos in the Alan Lomax collection of a Sing for Freedom event and one of another SNCC meeting from 1965 that included about 12 SNCC members singing. Guha showed them to Tim and also Charlie Cobb (one of speakers for the program), and they identified everyone in them.  I spent a lot of time doing the research for this pos. I also found the finding aid online for the Guy and Candy Carawan collection at UNC’s Southern Folklife Collection; they originally gave Alan Lomax the photos. I contacted the archivists there to ask some questions and when the post came out, they put it on their Facebook page which got lots of hits (anything about Lomax always does). I really love doing archival research and putting a post together. It’s probably the best part of my job!

Civil Rights Act of 1964 Exhibit Now Open.” This exhibit was long in the making–we spent a year going through our oral histories to find really good clips and had a hard time winnowing down our list for a final 30. It was a really interesting process for me; I really had no idea how much work goes on behind the scenes to put together a large exhibit. It was great to get to know the people who work in the Interpretive Programs Office, and it was amazing to see everything come together at the opening. It’s not only a very moving exhibit–the design is also very meaningful. You might notice that the color scheme matches not only the blue in the ceiling of the Southwest Gallery and but also the cover of the Mingus Ah Um album (one of my favorite of all time), which is featured in one of the cases.

Nicole Saylor picked:

Getting serious about collecting and preserving digital culture.” This post reveals our plan to crawl and archive websites that create and present the digital folklore of the 21st century. New types of folklore, from “memes” to reaction gifs to the latest viral listicle will only become more important to our understanding of folklore and culture.  It’s time to take archiving them seriously.

Folklorists partner with archives to create ‘living archives’ of folk arts documentation.” This interview with Maryland state folklorist Clifford Murphy reveals an effective strategy for state-based folk arts programs to improve their archival practices: partner with a state university system.  Murphy fills us in on the ins and outs of Maryland’s case.

Folklorist Harry Oster’s collection of 1950s-60s folk music ranges from English folksongs in Iowa to Delta country blues.” Just because we love today’s digital culture doesn’t mean we aren’t still entranced by the field recordings of the past.  In this post I was able to embed some terrific recordings from the AFC archive.

Lisa Taylor

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: No Need to be Afraid.” While preparing for a PTSD-Awareness Month event for VHP, I read tons of information on the topic and met several veterans with PTSD. While writing this post, it struck me that none of these veterans fit my previous notion of a ‘PTSD victim,’ a misconception that started more than 20 years ago. They were all just regular people who happened to have survived a traumatic event.”

Back-to-School: Veterans and the GI Bill.” I wrote this post while preparing to drop off my youngest daughter at college for the first time. Through all her trepidation over being seven hours away from home, I kept thinking about how easy she has it compared to so many other people who would probably much rather be on a college campus than on a battlefield.

We also published some notable guest posts in our first year. Here are just a few:

Which brings us to me.  I had the privilege of editing most of the posts above, and also coordinating the schedule of the blog.  I’d like to thank all the regular AFC bloggers, and all our guest bloggers this year as well, for making the blog platform work so well for AFC and VHP.  You have all been fantastic!

And I’d like to thank all of you, our readers!

As for my own posts, most of my favorites are above, but I should also mention these:

“‘He Coined the Word “Folk-Lore”‘: The ‘Old Folk-Lorist’ William John Thoms,” which outlined the contributions of a pioneering scholar.

A Pulitzer Prize for a Cowboy Poet,” which revealed the surprising collaboration between a Montana cowboy and a famous academic poet.

“A Boatload of Songs About Noah’s Ark” and “The Animals Marched In Two By Two: More Songs About Noah’s Ark,” which revealed just how many songs we have on certain themes.

All of these posts allowed me to use the resources of the Library of Congress to research and reveal fascinating stories from history and folklore. As Kate said, it’s the best part of my job!


Folklorists partner with archives to create ‘living archives’ of folk arts documentation

In April, Maryland Traditions, a program of the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC), transferred its archives to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Sustainability of folklore fieldwork collections is a pressing issue for many state folk arts agencies throughout the United States. I recently had the opportunity to talk with state folklorist Clifford Murphy about […]

October 27 — World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

The Following is a guest post by Judith Gray, ethnomusicologist and coordinator of reference in the American Folklife Center. In the last decades of the 19th century, Thomas Edison and his contemporaries in Europe created various devices for capturing sound [1]. These inventions, in turn, led to the creation of audiovisual archives. The first two […]

Disabled Veterans Never Cease to Inspire

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time that is set aside not only to raise awareness about disability employment issues, but also to celebrate the contributions of America’s workers who have disabilities. According to the United States Department of Labor, more than twenty percent of the nation’s workforce is comprised of people with […]

Guess Who’s Turning 100?

Whether you’ve been a follower of Folklife Today from the outset, or you’ve only recently joined us, we’d like you to help us celebrate a milestone: this is our 100th post! And what better way to mark that point on our journey than to announce a centennial celebration? So I’m pleased to announce AFC’s 2015 […]

Saddlemaker Ken Tipton

The following is part of a series of guest posts by Carl Fleischhauer of the Library of Congress’s Office of Strategic Initiatives.  Carl is a former staff member of the American Folklife Center and participated in many of the Center’s field collecting projects. All the photos embedded in this post were shot by Carl in […]

Happy Birthday, Navy! And, Crossing the Line Ceremonies

Happy Birthday, Navy! The United States Navy turned a whopping 239 years old on October 13th. On this day in 1775, the Continental Congress created the Continental Navy, thus establishing what would eventually become the United States Navy. To commemorate the occasion, I wanted to explore an intriguing and historic Navy tradition that is frequently […]