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Botkin Lectures to Go!: African American Online Cultural Resources

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The following is a guest post from AFC Folklife Specialist Nancy Groce.

Photograph of Diana Baird N'Diaye, a folklorist and Smithsonian curator. She is standing at a podium while delivering her 2013 Botkin lecture.
Diana Baird N’Diaye, folklorist and Smithsonian curator, presents at her 2013 Botkin lecture (see below for link). Photo by AFC staff.

A previous Folklife Today blog, “Botkin Lectures to Go!,” drew readers’ attention to an engaging and readily accessible AFC resource:  the more than 100 AFC Botkin Lectures on a wide variety of folklore and folklife topics that are currently available free-of-charge through the Library of Congress.  As we pointed out, these talks could be used as supplementary educational materials for the classroom, included in public programming, or just enjoyed for personal enrichment.  In conjunction this month’s celebration of African American History Month, this blog highlights some of the outstanding Botkin Lectures that feature African American folklife, history, and culture as well as a number of complementary performances produced as part of AFC’s renowned Homegrown Concert Series that featured African American music and dance and ensembles from African immigrant communities throughout the United States.

Since 2003, the American Folklife Center has sponsored the prestigious Benjamin A. Botkin Lecture Series. Curated by AFC staff, the Botkin Lecture Series annually invites 10-12 prominent scholars, researchers, authors, and experts from across the United States and around the world to the Library to present public talks on a wide variety of folklife related topics.

Over the years, the Botkin Lecture Series has featured numerous exceptional presentations on African American culture. For example, the AFC “catalog” of past Botkin videos available for online viewing includes these four excellent talks on African American musicians and performing artists:

African American material culture and verbal arts can be explored through the AFC online videos of two memorable Botkin Lectures, including:

Readers can learn more about African American occupational culture, oral history, and genealogy by viewing these two outstanding Botkin lectures:

Oral history documentation has always been an important component of the AFC’s activities as well as a significant part of our archival holdings and this is also reflected in the Botkin Lecture Series. In recognition of AFC prominence in this field, on May 12, 2009, the U. S. Congress passed The Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-19) authorizing a national initiative by the Library of Congress (LOC) and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The legislation instructed us to “conduct a survey of existing oral history collections with relevance to the Civil Rights movement to obtain justice, freedom and equality for African Americans and to record new interviews with people who participated in the struggle, over a five year period beginning in 2010.” Videos of the more than 100 powerful oral history interviews collected during this important joint LOC/Smithsonian Civil Rights History Project can be accessed here.

In addition, to these online oral history interviews, and leading up to the 2016 opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History on the National Mall, the American Folklife Center joined with Smithsonian staff to present the lecture series “Many Paths to Freedom: Looking Back, Looking Ahead at the Long Civil Rights Movement.” Talks and lectures related to this special initiative currently available on the AFC website include:


In addition to the Botkin Lectures, AFC staff also curates the popular Homegrown Concert Series, which annually presents a dozen or more free public concerts by outstanding practitioners of traditional music and dance representing the diversity and vitality of folk cultures and grassroots community arts throughout the United States. Like the Botkin Lectures, AFC’s Homegrown Concerts are presented as “open documentation sessions,” which are video recorded both to enrich the LOC collections and for later posting on the LOC/AFC website. To make sure that we are getting the very best artists from across America, we work closely with state and local folklorists and community experts who advise us on artists and regional performance traditions.

African American and African immigrant groups have been a mainstay of AFC’s Homegrown Concert Series programming since its inception. Dynamic performances celebrating African heritage that might be of interest to educators, public programmers, and individual listeners include


The AFC staff is hard at work planning the upcoming season of Botkin Lectures and Homegrown Concerts . We would love to welcome you in person at these events here in Washington! However, we also hope you will explore the Center’s trove of online resources featured in this article, both for your programming and classroom needs as well as for your personal enrichment and for just plain enjoyment. Please sign up for the RSS feed to get announcements about upcoming events, or check the events announcement page to ensure you know what’s coming up.




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