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AFC Plans to Enhance Resources for Higher Education

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A woman stands in front of an electronic display about Armenian collections in the AFC Archive.
Tali Gelenian, a student at the University of Vermont, was a 2019 Bartis Summer Intern at the AFC. In this photo she gives a presentation on her work to the AFC staff. Photo by Stephen Winick.

Attention college and university teachers and students!

The American Folklife Center is planning to enhance and expand its outreach to higher education, making our resources more accessible than ever before to the college and university community. This is especially important as higher education adapts to increased demand for remote and online teaching brought about by the current pandemic. In the long run it will help instructors of all types, whether online or in a physical classroom, by providing them with resources to enrich their teaching and improve their students’ experience.

If you read this blog, you may know that the American Folklife Center’s online resources already include a lot of materials that can be helpful in the classroom or in online learning.  If your class includes a  folklife fieldwork project, oral histories, or other interview-based activities, for example, we offer Folklife and Fieldwork, a brief but thorough step-by-step fieldwork guide, in both English and Spanish. We also offer other educational resources for cultural documentation. These have been used by many teachers and students over the years, and are among our tried-and-true offerings.

We have webcast videos of American Folklife Center events going back more than 15 years, including lectures on all manner of folklife topics and symposia covering important issues in the cultural heritage and archiving fields. These are great for introducing students to new topics, giving them a broader range of perspectives, and generating discussion around issues in the field. It’s like having a stable of guest lecturers you can call on to fill in any gaps in your syllabus! Our videos also include concerts of many types of traditional music from a broad selection of ethnic cultural groups, so if you’re teaching a course with a musical component, there are bound to be examples in our concert webcasts.  Find our webcasts at this link.

A man stands in front of a chalkboard containing notes about folklore and folklife.
Peter Bartis teaches a workshop in 1977. Find the Archival Scan here.

Over many years, staff members at the Library of Congress, as well as guest scholars, have contributed scholarly writings in the form of introductions to the field of folklife, discussions of the changing directions of the field, in-depth articles about folklife topics, and writings intended to capture the imaginations of general audiences. Some of these have become very popular as assigned readings, including our article on the surprising history of the song “Kumbaya,” one featuring the truth about “Ring Around the Rosie,” and another telling the remarkable story–and presenting the stunning audio–of two formerly enslaved women who sang “Free at Last” for folklore collector Alan Lomax in 1934. In recent years, we have expanded this scholarship to multimedia presentations such as StoryMaps and Podcasts, all of which can be useful in your courses.

The heart of our online offerings, though, are fully digitized online collections of primary-source, archival documentation of folk traditions. These include audio recordings of traditional songs and music, oral histories and other interviews, photographs of material culture and cultural practices, and many pages of manuscripts, including notes, logs, book manuscripts, and other writings. If you’re teaching about current issues like civil rights, our collection of oral histories from the Civil Rights History Project makes compelling viewing at home or in class. If you’re interested in labor traditions, we have oral histories pertaining to work, both in the Occupational Folklife Project and in many other collections. If you’re teaching ethnic or regional studies, we have materials from all over the country, from many language and culture groups. And if you’re teaching courses touching on folk music or ethnomusicology, we have vast resources online. Exploring any of these collections and reporting back can be an assignment in itself, or the collections can inspire student research projects of all kinds. Find links to all this material in the list at the bottom of this post!

By now, I imagine you’re thinking “OK, there are hundreds of thousands of items online from AFC, but only one of me!  How do I find material I can use?”

Well, that’s where this announcement comes in. We’re developing online tools for instructors, to help you easily access our extensive digital collections and related resources. The first step will be a survey of our friends in higher education, to figure out how we can best help you. We’re also working on subject guides, a story map, and other tools to put what you need at your fingertips.

If you’re in higher education, we ask that you keep in touch. The easiest way is to subscribe to this blog by entering your email address at this link! When the survey is ready, we’ll post a notice here!

If you’re subscribed already, this post is part of a new series on higher education. When there are more posts in the series, you’ll find them at this link.

If you’d like to get in touch with us about your teaching, you can leave a comment on this post.

To get started looking through our collections, find some ways to get into them in the list below. But remember, we’re working on new tools especially for higher education, and we hope you’ll be using them soon!

Explore Folklife Collections at the Library of Congress Website



  1. I use AFC resources currently in my teaching and am excited for further development in this area! Would be happy to discuss!

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