The following is a guest post by American Folklife Center Reference Librarians Melanie Zeck and Todd Harvey.
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 South, comprised of the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
According to the introductory text for The South volume of the Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures, the South as a region spans from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, and from the Chesapeake Bay to the Caribbean Sea. As such, the South is a place of vast biodiversity, ranging from massive bodies of water to mountains and lush forests. Known for its natural wonders and its diversity of cultures and languages, the region’s many traditional arts are represented in the American Folklife Center’s collections. As stated in The South, this region is perhaps best known for having produced
some of the richest cultural outpouring in the world, including intricate forms of music, an extraordinarily developed storytelling culture, folk art, architecture, rich language and religious traditions, and even sport. (p. xv)
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 South Region guides:
The American Folklife Center Collections: Alabama resource guide highlights collections related to language and storytelling. This includes a recording from the American English Dialect Recordings: The Center for Applied Linguistics (AFC 1986/022) featuring an interview with a woman from Northport, Alabama, who describes social life and customs in Tuscaloosa County. Also featured is a video from the National Visionary Leadership Project (AFC 2004/007) in which Coretta Scott King discusses her memories of growing up in Marion, Alabama. Visit the guide for a Folklife Today blog post about “Alabama folklorist Ruby Pickens Tart,” who collected African American songs and stories.
The American Folklife Center Collections: Arkansasresource guide highlights several collections featuring traditional arts. The guide includes an image from the Lands’ End All-American Quilt Collection (AFC 1997/011), which showcases the quilt that won the 1996 Arkansas state competition. Also featured is video of a 2006 performance by Arkansan rockabilly artists Sonny Burgess and the Pacers, held at the Library of Congress. Visit the guide for a “Hidden Folklorists” Folklife Today blog post about Arkansas writer Charles J. Finger, who was known for his book, Frontier Ballads.
The American Folklife Center Collections: Florida resource guide highlights Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, which is a set of four discrete archival collections: Resettlement Administration Recordings Collection (AFC 1939/016), Stetson Kennedy and Robert Cook Florida WPA Recordings (AFC 1939/013), Alton C. Morris Florida WPA recordings (AFC 1939/026), and Florida WPA Recordings, 1940 (AFC 1940/011). These collections include recordings documenting folktales, life histories, beliefs, and sacred and secular music of African American, Anglo-American, Arabic, Bahamian, Cuban, Greek, Italian, Minorcan, Seminole, Slovak, and Syrian cultures and communities throughout Florida. Also featured is a video of a 2005 lecture given by Stetson Kennedy as part of the Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series at the Library of Congress. Visit the guide for additional public programming webcasts, including a performance of Traditional Chinese Zheng Music from Florida.
The American Folklife Center Collections: Georgia resource guide highlights several collections documenting musical traditions and oral histories. This includes a recording from the South-Central Georgia Folklife Project Collection (AFC 1982/010) showcasing the Royal singing convention, in Mystic, Georgia. Also featured is a video of a 2014 lecture, “Documenting the Freedom Struggle in Southwest Georgia,” given at the Library of Congress by Glen Pearcy. Pearcy’s documentary film “One More River to Cross” (1969) chronicles the civil rights organization Southwest Georgia Project, which began as a project of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1962; archival materials related to the film are included in the Glen Pearcy collection (AFC 2012/040), which is listed on the guide. For more resources related to musical traditions in Georgia, visit the guide to learn about the Lewis Jones and Willis James Recordings at Fort Valley State College (AFC 1943/012), which are included in the online presentation Now What a Time: Blues, Gospel, and the Fort Valley Music Festivals, 1938 to 1943.
The American Folklife Center Collections: Kentucky resource guide highlights several collections documenting the diversity of the Bluegrass State’s musical traditions. This includes the Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004), which contains the obituary of Clay County, Kentucky, singer Aunt Molly Jackson, whose singing of ballads, folk songs, hymns, and spirituals were recorded by Lomax in 1935. Also featured is a video of a 2016 performance of the Kentucky-born Dale Ann Bradley and the Dale Ann Bradley Band, held at the Library of Congress. Visit the guide for additional public programming webcasts, including a 2009 performance of the Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers and a 2013 performance of the Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers.
The American Folklife Center Collections: Louisiana resource guide highlights several collections featuring music and other forms of expression. This includes recordings from the Southern Mosaic: The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip. Continuing the work of the Lomax family, Dr. Josh Caffery gives a lecture about his book Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana.
The American Folklife Center Collections: Mississippi resource guide highlights several collections featuring music and other aspects of expressive culture from that state. This includes manuscripts from the Alan Lomax Collection, including documentation of his 1942 field trip to Mississippi. Also featured is a discussion with author Michael Ford about his book North Mississippi Homeplace.
The American Folklife Center Collections: North Carolina resource guide highlights several traditions including foodways and old-time music. The Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project contains extensive documentation of canning and other food preservation along that famous byway. Also featured is a concert with fiddler Benton Flippen with His Smokey Valley Boys.
The American Folklife Center Collections: South Carolina resource guide highlights several collections from the Palmetto State. Examples of early 20th century music traditions are found in the Southern Mosaic: The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip. In a 2017 blog in Folklife Today, “Ralph Ellison, Invisible Folklorist,” Stephen Winick discusses Ellison’s work collecting folklore. Included is a story Ellison collected in South Carolina that inspired the book Invisible Man.
The American Folklife Center Collections: Tennessee resource guide highlights several collections featuring music and the craft of fieldwork. This includes a discussion about fieldwork with former State Park ranger and folklorist Bobby Fulcher. Collections also include a concert by the Fairfield Four, an African-American gospel music quartet.
The American Folklife Center Collections: Virginia resource guide highlights several collections featuring vernacular architecture and music. The Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project contains documentation of Mid-Atlantic architecture styles from the early 20th century. In 2019 the Center’s Homegrown Concert series presented the Cora Harvey Armstrong Gospel Group from Virginia’s Tidewater region.
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.