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Celebrate AFC’s 40th with Photos of “MyTradition”

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Note: This is part of a series of blog posts about the 40th anniversary of the American Folklife Center.

Basic CMYKTo celebrate the 40th anniversary of the American Folklife Center and its congressional mandate to “preserve and present American folklife,” we’re inviting people to share photos of their own folklife traditions.

Do you prepare a family recipe that goes back for generations? Do you sing, dance, tell stories, sew, quilt, craft, or make things by hand as part of a family, ethnic, regional, or occupational tradition? If so, we’d love your photos! We’re looking specifically for photos of a folklife tradition in which you participate yourself. The photo doesn’t necessarily have to include you, but that would be nice—and selfies are welcome.

The process is simple: take some photos of your folklife tradition, then upload one or more to Flickr with the tag “MyTradition” and a Creative Commons license.

At the end of 2016, the Library of Congress will harvest photos that have both the tag and a license, and add them to the AFC’s collections.

Members of the Northern Wind Dancers from Pueblo, Colorado, at a Colorado Springs Native American Inter-Tribal Powwow and festival. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith. Rear, left to right, Jarod Figueroa and his father, Raul Figueroa. Front, left to right, Joey Big Man Cyrus (Raul’s nephew); David Figueroa (nephew); Takoda Figueroa (son); Tehya Figueroa (daughter); Mitch Big Man Cyrus (niece); and Mia Cyrus (niece). All trace their heritage to the Assiniboine Sioux Tribe of Montana. For them, Native American dance is “MyTradition.”

We’ll get into the meaning of “folklife tradition” below. But for now, here’s the step-by-step:

  • Once you’ve thought of a folklife tradition you’re part of, take some photos of it.
  • Sign up for a free Flickr account—unless you have one already!
  • Select one or more of your favorite “MyTradition” photos, launch the uploader, and load the photos to the uploader. (Just click the “upload” button at Flickr and follow the directions.)
  • With each photo include a brief description, including the photographer’s name.  (Use the “add a description” space under each photo in the uploader.)
  • Make sure you add the “MyTradition” tag–note that we’ve written it as just one word. (Use the “add tags” tab on the left in the uploader.)
  • Add a Creative Commons license. (Under the “owner settings” tab on the left in the uploader, you’ll see “License,” and to the right of that, “edit.”  Click “edit” and you can select a Creative Commons license from a list.  We like the “Attribution Creative Commons” and “Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons” best.)
  • Hit the “Upload Photos” button on the top right of the uploader.

That’s all there is to it!  Of course, if you participate in more than one tradition, you’re welcome to submit photos of more than one.

Note: if you forget to do any of these steps while uploading, you can always add the tag and license to the photo once it’s uploaded. But please do it right away!


"Room!  Room!"  Stephen Winick as Father Christmas.  Photo by Angela Napili.  Used by permission.
Each year, I help write and direct a Christmas play based on old British and Irish traditions. Here I am performing as Father Christmas.  Looks like mumming is “MyTradition!” Photo by Angela Napili. Used by permission.

More about Folklife Traditions

How can you be sure if what you’re doing counts as a “folklife tradition?” For one thing, if something you do is usually referred to as “folk,” such as folk music, folk dance, folk art, or folk costume, they are quite probably folklife traditions. But if you’re still not sure, that’s where our anniversary comes in. AFC was founded 40 years ago by an inspiring piece of legislation called The American Folklife Preservation Act. In this law, Congress actually included an explanation of what was covered under “American folklife”:

The term “American folklife” means the traditional expressive culture shared within the various groups in the United States: familial, ethnic, occupational, religious, regional; expressive culture includes a wide range of creative and symbolic forms such as custom, belief, technical skill, language, literature, art, architecture, music, play, dance, drama, ritual, pageantry, handicraft; these expressions are mainly learned orally, by imitation, or in performance, and are generally maintained without benefit of formal instruction or institutional direction.


Mae Bongalis strings beans for drying. The dried beans are known as leather britches. For Ms. Bongalis, canning and preserving foods is “MyTradition.” Photo by Lyntha Scott Eiler, October 5, 1996.

Although our legislation primarily asks us to preserve “American folklife,” we also have collections from all over the world, and welcome photos from beyond our borders. So if you think something you do might be folklife, try to answer these questions:

  1. Is the tradition something I share with a group that’s important to me, especially a family, ethnicity, occupation, religion, or regional group?
  2. Is it an expressive tradition, especially one of the ones mentioned above?
  3. Did I learn it mainly by word of mouth, by imitating someone who did it, or by performing it along with others?

If you can answer yes to these questions, it’s folklife!

If you need more examples, follow this link to the AFC’s A Commonwealth of Cultures, which has an explanation of folklife and more examples of folklife photos.

The Balkan singing group Slaveya performing at a National Folk Organization event. The group includes several Library of Congress employees, including AFC’s Theadocia Austen. For them, Balkan singing and costume are “MyTradition.” L-r: Anne Harrison, Katie Kathryn, Tzvety Weiner, Theadocia Austen, Betsy Smith Platt, Karen Chittenden and Helen Fedor.  Courtesy of Theadocia Austen.


More about Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons licenses grant people permission to use your photos, within certain limits. When adding a license to your photos, you get to choose those limits.

Generally, people have to credit you as the author. But there are other options too: do people have to use the whole photo exactly as you uploaded it, or can they crop, color, and otherwise alter them?

For our collection, we’ll harvest photos licensed under any of the Creative Commons licenses, but we prefer one of the licenses that permit derivatives. We foresee that it might be useful for ethnographers to crop the photos to call attention to specific details, and a license that permits derivatives will allow them to do this. Our favorite license is the simplest and most permissive: “Attribution Creative Commons.” But to ensure you permit derivatives, just make sure the license you’re selecting from the list on Flickr is one of these:

  • Attribution Creative Commons
  • Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons
  • Attribution-NonCommercial Creative Commons
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Creative Commons

Read more about the different licenses here.

Jennifer Cutting, who thought up the “MyTradition” tag for AFC, plays English and Celtic folk music on the button accordion. For her, that’s “MyTradition.” Photo by Irene Young.

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