Happy Holidays from the American Folklife Center! In this blog post, you can enjoy our 2022 holiday mummers' play. As you may know, every year, in the week of the Library’s holiday party, staff members of the American Folklife Center put our research and performance skills into play, bringing collections to life in a dramatic performance that tours the halls of the Library of Congress. Dressed in costumes that range from striking to silly, we sing, act, rhyme, and dance for other Library staff members and for members of the public. Our performances are based on the ancient tradition of mumming, which has come down to our archive in the form of play scripts, songs, photos, and other items collected in the early twentieth century. This year's play was called The Flute of Ice: A Mumming from the Vault. This blog post includes the video, the script, explanatory notes, and still photos from the performance and dress rehearsal.
Hanukkah this year will be celebrated from December 18 to December 26. Jewish children all over the world will be playing a gambling game with a traditional spinning top known as a dreidel. Many of them will also be told stories about the origin and meaning of the dreidel, stories which claim that the dreidel once had a subversive purpose or that it was created to commemorate a great miracle. These stories are themselves interesting folklore. Since the dreidel is a traditional toy used to play a traditional game, such stories about the dreidel and game can be called metafolklore--that is, folklore about folklore. In this blog, we'll take a look at some of these stories about the origin of the dreidel and examine the toy's real history.
The American Folklife Center Mummers will present their annual mummers' play in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress, 10 1st Street SE in Washington, DC, at 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 13. This year's play is called The Flute of Ice: A Mumming From the Vault. It's 1816 and President Madison visits the North Pole Library to deposit a flute made of ice! But soon Father Christmas, the North Pole Librarian, and Dr. Joculus have to deal with dueling monsters. Will their celebrity guest get to play the flute before it melts? The American Folklife Center’s annual holiday play incorporates traditional songs, music, and folk drama from Library of Congress collections for a zany and fun time in the Great Hall. It's open to the public, so come on in and see us perform!
The Poetry of Everyday Life: Reflections of an Urban Folklorist. Welcome to a video premiere in the Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series! This lecture features folklorist Steve Zeitlin, the founding director of City Lore, one of America’s leading research centers for the documentation of urban folklife and grassroots culture. You'll find the video embedded below! In his lecture, Steve eloquently reflects on his career, recounts some of his most meaningful projects, and discusses the relationship of folklore to everyday language and speech in contemporary America. Drawing on his experiences as both a folklorist and a poet, he discusses how colloquial speech and shared verbal art forms like poetry work to preserve cultural heritage and create community in a complex metropolitan landscape like New York and, more broadly, throughout 21st-century America.
During her internship here at the American Folklife Center, Elisa Alfonso had the opportunity to explore many wonderful digital collections here at the Library of Congress. In particular she found many versions of a Spanish-language lullaby, “Señora Santana,” and noted fascination variations among versions, suggesting that a version collected primarily from Cuban Americans has become a vessel through which migrants talk about the sensations of trauma and loss that come with childhood forced migration. Read her observations, and hear several versions of the song, in her guest post.
Below is an excerpt from a post on the Library’s Of the People blog highlighting artist, documentarian, and AFC Community Collections Grant recipient Karen Abdul-Malik, also known professionally as Queen Nur. It is part of an “Of the People blog” series featuring the 2022 awardees of the American Folklife Center’s Community Collections Grants program. Abdul-Malik’s project focuses …
Thanks to an ongoing partnership between the American Folklife Center and the Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda, Maryland, fourteen young musicians were treated to a multi-media feast of collection materials significant to jazz history from three different divisions in the Library of Congress during their in-person visit on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. Read all about it in Folklife Today!
The American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress is pleased to announce the appointment of platinum-selling recording artist Natalie Merchant, musician and MacArthur Fellow Martha González, and community archiving scholar Ricardo L. Punzalan to the American Folklife Center Board of Trustees. We are also happy to report that legislative liaison Jean Dorton and theater professor John Patrick Rice have been reappointed to the board. Read more in this post at Folklife Today!
The American Folklife Center is very sad to pass on news of the death of John Michael Vlach, an eminent folklorist who specialized in the study of folk art and vernacular architecture. Vlach was a longtime professor at George Washington University, where he served as director of the Folklife Program, chair of the American Studies Department, Director of Graduate Studies, and Professor of American Studies and Anthropology. At GWU he trained generations of folklore and folk art scholars, including members of the American Folklife Center staff. Other members of our staff filled in for Vlach, teaching courses at GWU while he was on leave. The American Folklife Center staff will miss John, and we send our condolences to his widow Beverly Brannan, their two daughters, his family, and his many friends and students. This blog post contains an obituary provided to AFC by Vlach's family.