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Navigating AFC Collections Geographically: Southwest

Silhouette of tall cacti with a sunset in the background.

Saguaro Cactus near Tucson, Arizona. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2008. Forms part of: Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The following is a guest post by American Folklife Center Reference Librarian Alda Allina Migoni.

Staff at the American Folklife Center continue to use new digital tools to support remote discovery and access for our resources by users of all kinds. Whether you are a community scholar, a teacher, an academic researcher, a creative artist, or a curious consumer of local culture we hope that our geographically-oriented research guides offer an entry point into the rich collections and resources maintained at the Center! Find the full menu  of  Library of  Congress Research Guides at this link.

In this post, we focus on the guides for the Southwest, comprised of  Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. According to the introductory text for The Southwest Region  volume of the Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures, the Southwest as a region can be geographically ambiguous, sometimes understood to extend to the southern border of Colorado, southern Utah, the Pacific Coast of California, and expanding as far east as western Oklahoma. As such, the Southwest is a place of vast biodiversity, ranging from arid desert to pine covered mountaintops. Known for its natural wonders and its diversity of cultures and languages on the borderlands, the American Folklife Center’s collections reflect the region’s many traditional arts. As stated in The Southwest Region:

Critical to the Southwest is a comprehensive knowledge of how the various cultures in the Southwest—Native American, Mexican American, African American, and Euro American, and so forth—have been affected by and have altered the natural environment… The harsh Southwestern landscape has historically led Southwesterners to glorify an American individualism long celebrated in our national documents; frontier attitudes have often characterized Southwestern culture.” (p. xix).

Our research guides for each state and territory provide information about collections related to that state or territory—including links to those materials available online—as well as tips for searching the Library’s online catalog. In addition, we’ve gathered other American Folklife Center resources related to a given state or territory, such as blog posts, podcast episodes, online finding aids, and webcasts of public programs. Here are some of the items you’ll find in the Southwest Region guides:

The American Folklife Center Collections: Arizona resource guide highlights several collections featuring Native American traditions and storytelling. This includes a recording from the American English Dialect Recordings: The Center for Applied Linguistics (ACF 1986/022) featuring a conversation with an Arizona man who discusses health care among Navajo communities and family traditions. Also featured is a video of a 2019 performance of Navajo Traditional Dance by the Jones Benally Family Dancers, held at the Library of Congress. Visit the guide for additional public programming webcasts, including a performance of Dineh Tah Navajo Dancers, R. Carlos Nakai: American Indian Flute Music from Arizona, and a conversation with the Jones Benally Family.

The guide American Folklife Center Collections: Nevada, explores the Paradise Valley Folklife Project, an American Folklife Center field survey conducted 1978-1982 presented online as Buckaroos in Paradise: Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945 to 1982. This collection, with its extensive audiovisual documentation, gives insight into a distinctive northern Nevada ranching community. Included in the online collection are oral histories discussing foodways in the state and the day to day of ranch life, including topics such as wrangling horses and driving cattle. A video featured in the guide is a 2012 performance with Paraguayan Folk Harp Ensemble from Nevada recorded at the Library of Congress.

The American Folklife Center Collections: New Mexico research guide features Hispano Music and Culture of the Northern Rio Grade: The Juan B. Rael Collection. This online collection features the work of scholar and linguist Juan Bautista Rael who documented Hispano culture and music in the summer of 1940, with a focus on religious ceremonies, folk songs, and dramas. Visit the guide to listen to one such recording, a Valse de Cadena (Chain Waltz). Also enjoy a 2018 concert recording by conjunto band Lone Piñon from a performance at the Library of Congress embedded at the bottom of the guide.

American Folklife Center Collections: Texas provides an overview of the history of storytelling and music in the Lone Star State through exploring the fieldwork of the Lomax family, including the Lomax Southern States Collection; the John Henry Faulk collections in Texas, and Bruce Jackson collections. The Lomax collections contain music from musicians in Wiergate and Kingsville, Texas, while the Faulkner and Jackson recordings depict work songs and spirituals as sung by prisoners in Sugarland, Texas recorded in 1942 and again twenty years later. Included in this guide is the blog post dedicated to “Corridos of the Texas Border collected by John and Ruby Lomax” (Folklife Today: September 14, 2015). A video of the presentation: Street Folk: Hip-Hop, Car Culture, & Black Life in Houston, Texas presented by Langston Collin Wilkins (2008) is also included.

As this brief introduction to these guides shows, there is a lot to learn from these guides whether you plan to browse the collection materials online or are planning a trip into the reading room.  We hope that researcher, students, and folks who, perhaps just want to experience some folklore or folk music from a particular state will find these new guides a good place to start.

Be sure to visit the Library of Congress Research Guides pages in order to discover the full spread of resources on offer! And, also know that American Folklife Center staff have generated (and continue to produce) guides focused on a wide range of topics. You can find the growing body of these rich and dynamic resources from the American Folklife Center here.

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