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American Folklife Center Fellowships and Awards 2015

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The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress is pleased to announce the recipients of its fellowships and awards for 2015.  This year, AFC awarded support to eight researchers or teams in six states and the District of Columbia.  To find out how to apply for next year’s awards, please visit our research awards page at this link. Details about this year’s recipients are below.

Archie Green Fellowships

Archie Green wearing his Library of Congress Living Legend Award. Photo by Derek Green, August, 2007.

The Archie Green Fellowships were established to honor the memory of Archie Green (1917-2009), a pioneering folklorist who championed the establishment of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, and who was awarded the Library’s Living Legend Award and honored in the Congressional Record [pdf].  Green documented and analyzed the culture and traditions of American workers and encouraged others to do the same. Archie Green Fellowships are designed to stimulate innovative research projects documenting occupational culture in contemporary America. This year they went to three projects proposed by researchers in three different states: John McKerley, Jennifer Sherer, and a team from the University of Iowa Labor Center in Iowa; Christopher Mulé and a team of researchers based at the Brooklyn Arts Council in New York; and Nic Hartmann of the Southwest Folklife Alliance in Arizona.

John McKerley, Jennifer Sherer, and the University of Iowa Labor Center (Iowa City, Iowa) will conduct a project titled Remaking the Midwest: Documenting the Occupational Culture of Recent Immigrants to Iowa’s Meatpacking Industry. They will document the occupational culture of foreign-born workers to Iowa’s meatpacking industry. Over the last several decades, this industry has been transformed by technological and organizational change and the arrival of new waves of immigrants and refugees from across the globe. Using audio interviews, this project will explore the ways in which these men and woman have reshaped (and been reshaped by) the state’s work culture and community life. The project builds on a 40-year long partnership between the Iowa Labor History Oral Project at the University of Iowa Labor Center, the Iowa Federation of Labor, and the State Historical Society of Iowa.

Christopher Mulé of the Brooklyn Arts Council and his team will conduct the project Domestic Workers United. The project takes its name from Domestic Workers United (DWU) an organization primarily representing Caribbean, Latina, and African nannies, housekeepers, homeworkers, and elder caregivers. Working with DWU, the folklorists will document the experiences of domestic workers in the New York metropolitan area. As part of the project, the folklorists will train and mentor selected DWU members as fieldwork collaborators.

Nic Hartmann of the Southwest Folklife Alliance in Tucson, Arizona, will carry out the project The Crossroads of Confianza: A Study of the Fresh Produce Industry in Nogales, Arizona. For over a century, Nogales has served as the primary entry point for imported produce from Mexico. From produce brokers to truck drivers to customs inspectors, the heart of the industry is rooted in multigenerational family-owned businesses and local occupational customs. Today, with the rise of new shipping routes, drought, and other political and socioeconomic changes, the occupational traditions of Nogales have been placed in jeopardy. This study, conducted with the support of University of Arizona and the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, will document the rich variety of people involved in the fresh produce industry, while examining how social and economic changes are affecting the Arizona-Mexico borderland.

Gerald E. and Corinne L. Parsons Awards

Folklorist Gerald E. Parsons, Jr. (1940-1995) coordinated reference in the Library’s Folklife Reading Room. He was a fieldworker with many interests and he was especially enthusiastic about all things related to waterfowl hunting. In this photo he poles a New Jersey skiff on the Patuxent River near Upper Marboro, Maryland, while former Folklife Center staffer Carl Fleischhauer attempts to record the conversations of two hunters, who are railbirding nearby. Gerry established the The Gerald E. and Corinne L. Parsons Fund for Ethnography at the Library of Congress, named in honor of his parents. Photo by Paula Johnson, September 1984. (PFP84-BPJ-233888-2-25)

The Gerald E. and Corinne L. Parsons fund was founded by AFC reference librarian Gerry Parsons (1940-1995) in honor of his parents.  It provides support to increase awareness of the ethnographic collections at the Library of Congress and to make the collections of primary ethnographic materials housed anywhere at the Library available to the needs and uses of individuals and non-governmental organizations. This year, AFC selected three applications, from two states and the District of Columbia, to receive awards.

David Blake of Stony Brook University in New York will receive support for his research into Pete Seeger’s performances during Seeger’s 1950s music industry blacklist. Beginning with initial accusations of his Communist ties in February 1952 through his testimony in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, his conviction of contempt of Congress in 1961, and the reversal of his sentence in May 1962, Seeger’s career was precarious but prolific. Blake’s research will examine how Seeger’s college concerts during this period influenced the development of intellectual and critical approaches to folksong as part of the folk revival of the late 1950s and 1960s.

Cristina Benedetti, a PhD. Candidate at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, will conduct research on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., tracing connections between gatherings and how the historical “layering” of political performances in this space has contributed to its symbolic power. While many scholarly works about the Mall focus on the landscaped, sculpted, and built aspects of the Mall, Benedetti’s research investigates the ways that everyday people engage with this space, whether in protest, or for tourism, entertainment, commemoration, or leisure.

Sita Reddy, a Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., will research visual materials of yogis and fakirs, including ethnographic films. She will focus on colonial, postcolonial, and transnational representations of yoga’s encounters with modernity. She is particularly interested in the social practices, interactions, and ethnographic contexts around representations of yogi-fakirs as they travel through different media and institutional arenas.

Blanton Owen Fund Awards

Folklorist Blanton Owen (1945-1998) edits and assigns numbers to his color slides prior to adding them to AFC’s Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project collection, 1977-1981 (AFC 1982/009). Photo by Margaret Counts, BR8-10-20228/26A.

The Blanton Owen Fund was established in 1999 in memory of folklorist Blanton Owen by his family and friends to support ethnographic field research and documentation in the United States, especially by young scholars and documentarians. This year, AFC awarded support to two researchers in two states.

Andrew Flachs, a PhD candidate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, will conduct a multi-layered study of the historical and contemporary relationship of farming communities in the Lower Illinois River Valley to their natural environment and cultural past and present. Bringing together ethnographic methods (oral history and participant observation) with archival analysis of social organization, this project will make visible the man-made landscapes of power, economy, and history that have defined farmers’ relationship with the river.

Joseph O’Connell, an independent scholar in Raleigh, North Carolina, will conduct archival research and oral history interviews with individuals from a unique family-run troupe of cultural performers who toured the Midwestern United States ‎from the 1940s to the 1980s. The troupe was popularly known in the region as “Bertelle’s Birds,” but it was not widely documented. The proposed research focuses on the performers as a socio-religious phenomenon, examining the Quaker background of the show and the family’s vision of evangelizing through performing animals. The research and personal interviews will situate “Bertelle’s Birds” within the socio-cultural contexts that gave rise to the show in the mid-twentieth-century Midwest.

About the Center and the Library

The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to “preserve and present American Folklife” through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs and training. The center includes the American Folklife Center Archive of folk culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. For more information, visit the AFC homepage at

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution, is the world’s preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled collections and integrated resources to Congress and the American people. Many of the Library’s rich resources and treasures may also be accessed through the Library’s website at

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