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A woman outdoors holds a bunch of fresh flowers
Gabrielle Lee is the owner and farmer at Lunaria Flower Farm in Pescadero, California. Gaby specializes in flowers from Traditional Chinese Medicine, Traditional Western Herbalism, and fresh and dried ornamentals. Her interview is part of Finding Roots: Asian American Farmers in Contemporary America. She talks about her path to farming, how she came to start her own farm, and how her Chinese American identity shapes her work.

AFC’s Occupational Folklife Project Continues to Expand

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The number of engaging, publicly-accessible interviews with American workers in the AFC’s Occupational Folklife Project (OFP) collection continues to expand and diversify. To date, AFC-funded fieldworkers across the United States have recorded almost 1,800 audio and audiovisual oral history interviews with workers in scores of trades, industries, crafts, and professions. More than 850 of these OFP interviews are now available online to researchers and members of the public –and more are being added each month!

This blog highlights some of the newest OFP collections to be made available on the LOC website. As detailed in previous Folklife Today blogs, OFP began in 2010 as a multi-year project initiated by AFC to document the voices, work-related experiences and culture of contemporary American workers during an era of economic and social transition.

A woman sits at a drafting desk with a pen and a large scroll of paper
Pat Bosch, Architect, designing at a desk in her office. Find the archival scan here

Supported by competitive awards to individual researchers and research teams through the Archie Green Fellowship program, OFP interviews average about 60 minutes in length and feature workers discussing their current jobs and formative work experiences, reflecting on their professional training, on-the-job challenges and rewards, aspirations, and their occupational communities. In many cases, interviewees discuss the choices and educational pathways that led them to their present jobs and share their thoughts on the future of their professions. After being recorded, processed and added to the AFC archive, the unedited interviews are made available without charge to the public at the Occupational Folklife website.

Archie Green Fellowships prioritize supporting OFP projects that document trades and occupations that are currently underrepresented in the AFC archive. Visit this link for information about applying for Archie Green Fellowships.

Below you’ll find some of the diverse work-related collections that have been posted recently on the Occupational Folklife Project’s pages.

Agricultural Aviation: Crop Dusters in Rural America

This OFP collection consists of 14 audio interviews and accompanying images documenting the occupational experiences, training, insights and perspectives of agricultural pilots in rural America. Most of the pilots – who are often referred to as “crop dusters”– were interviewed in person; several were interviewed online. The research was done by folklorist Samuel Kendrick and his mother, educator Ellen Kendrick, who live on their family farm near the Missouri-Kansas border. Find the Agricultural Aviation collection items here.

Baton Rouge Small Business and Trades

Three quarter length portrait of two men in a clothing store
Eugene Brown, Sr., the proprietor of Brown and Brown Custom Clothiers, works with his son, Eugene “Gino” Brown, II, who is in line to inherit the business. Find the archival scan here.

This OFP collection consists of 31 in-depth interviews–(primarily audio recordings and photographs supplemented by several videos) — documenting the personal histories, occupational cultures, and work-related experiences of small business owners and tradespeople in Louisiana’s capital city and surrounding parishes. Documented by a research team under the auspices of the Louisiana Folklore Society and the Louisiana Folklife Program, the project was directed by folklorist Maida Owens. Interviews include diverse work experiences, including bakers, restauranters, furniture makers and repairs, clothing store owners, a jeweler, locksmith, cobbler, instrument repairmen, fishing reel repairmen and a baseball bat maker. Find the Baton Rouge Small Business and Trades collection items here.

Cement Workers in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley

This OFP collection consists of 20 occupational folklife interviews conducted by historian Vyta Pivo, who received a 2020 Archie Green Fellowship to document the occupational culture and folklore of cement workers in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, a region in central Pennsylvania that is considered “the birthplace of the American cement industry.” Find the Cement Workers in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley collection items here.

Listen to a short “America Works” podcast excerpted from a longer interview with a cement plant worker Jude Bejarano.

Commercial Bookbinders

In 2017, Jeanne Drewes, Chief of the Library of Congress’s Binding & Collections Care Division, undertook an independent oral history project as part of the OFP to document the occupational trade and work-related experiences of professional bookbinders. Over the course of a year, she interviewed 26 bookbinders throughout the United States. She explored how the binders and book preservation professionals were trained, documented the histories of individual binderies, traced intertwined firm histories, and encouraged interviewees to discuss how the binders’ occupation and the preservation of books have changed over the years. Many of the interviews were conducted at professional library meetings and conferences. Find the Commercial Bookbinders collection items here.

Doctoring: The Occupational Folklore of Physicians

A woman in a surgical mask in front of a sign reading "Heroes Work Here."
Dr. Susan Morelli, a neonatologist and geneticist at the NICU at Intermountain Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, Utah, photographed on November 5, 2019. Collected as part of Doctoring: The Occupational Folklore of Physicians, Occupational Folklife Project, American Folklife Center (AFC 2019/030). Photograph by Kirsten Hepburn. Find the archival scan here

This OFP collection consists of 16 audio interviews and accompanying photographs collected by folklorist Lisa Gabbert, who documented work-related experiences of physicians in Utah working in a wide variety of medical specialties. Interviewees discuss their training, daily routines, work environments, personal motivations and challenges, and the occupational folklore and humor of their profession. Find the Doctoring: The Occupational Folklore of Physicians collection items here.

Listen to a short “America Works” podcast excerpted from a longer interview with Dr. Susan Morelli, a physician and neonatologist from Provo, Utah.

Finding Roots: Asian American Farmers in Contemporary America

This OFP collection consists of 22 in-depth audio interviews with American-born Asian farmers – (and one fisherman) — focusing primarily on Generation Y “Millennials.” The majority of those interviewed by project director Katie Reuther were new farmers for whom farming was a choice as well as a means through which they could learn about and connect with their ethnic roots while also processing their mixed identities as both Asians and Americans. Notably, many of these farmers use traditional organic farming methods to grow Asian heritage crops central to the food traditions of Asian communities throughout the United States. Find the Finding Roots: Asian American Farmers in Contemporary America collection items here.

Fixing, Mending, Making New: North Carolina’s Repair Professionals

Half length portrait of a man in shoe repair shop
Second-generation cobbler Stephen Cash, owner of Man Mur Shoe Shop in Raleigh, North Carolina. Find the archival scan here.

North Carolina folklorist Katy Clune and artist Julia Gartell received Archie Green Fellowship to create a collection consisting of 22 audio interviews and accompanying images documenting craftspeople and small business owners throughout North Carolina who “make their livings repairing objects and challenging the contemporary dependence on single-use and throw-away items.” Those documented include craftspeople who fix and restore typewriters, eyeglasses, musical instruments, clocks, glass and ceramic objects, marine engines, windows, automobile tires, furniture, shoes, silverware, jewelry, and plaster walls, as well as a few who will ‘fix anything.’ Find the Fixing, Mending, Making New: North Carolina’s Repair Professionals collection items here.

Hope for Recovery: Peer Support Workers in Kentucky

Taiwo Ogunbekun, peer support specialist for a recovery community center in Kentucky. Find the archival scan here.

Folklorist Ethan Sharp conducted 16 in-depth oral history interviews with people employed as peer support workers in the state of Kentucky. Find the Hope for Recovery: Peer Support Workers in Kentucky collection items here.

Independent Professional Wrestlers in Central Appalachia

Folklorist Delaine Bowers conducted 12 audio interviews documenting the occupational folklore and work-related culture of independent professional wrestlers working the sports and entertainment circuit in central Appalachian.  The interviewees discuss their work, their training, and their relationships with their competitors and their fans. Find the Independent Professional Wrestlers in Central Appalachia collection items here.

Multigenerational African-Descended Farmers of the Midwest: Surviving Erasure

A man points at a pile of rocks
William Lawson with some of the rocks he cleared by hand off his farmland in order to improve the soil, October 2019. Find the archival scan here.

Oral historian Anna-Lisa Cox conducted 22 audio interviews with multigenerational African-descended farmers in rural Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, most of whom are descendants of Black pioneers who settled this region starting in the 1790s. Interviewees talk about their family histories, African American settlement of the Northwest Territories, and the rewards and challenges of contemporary farming. Find the Multigenerational African-Descended Farmers of the Midwest collection items here.

Ranger Lore: The Occupational Folklore of Park Rangers

Folklorists Brent Björkman, Director of the Kentucky Folklife Program at Western Kentucky University and Jonathan Kay, Director of Traditional Arts Indiana at Indiana University, documented the oral histories, folklore, and work-related experiences of 55 park rangers and park employees employed in state and federal parks in Indiana and Kentucky.  Find the Ranger Lore collection items here.

Watch a video interview with park ranger Kathy Proffitt, Daily Operations Supervisor at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

The Ransomville Speedway: Dirt Track Racing in Western New York

Don Spatorico (#5) and Greg Martin (#4) coming together during a Sportsman race at the Ransomville Speedway. Find the archival scan here.

This OFP collection consists of 17 oral history interviews conducted by folklorist Edward Y. Millar, who received a 2020 Archie Green Fellowship to document the history, occupational culture, and folklore of dirt track workers at the legendary Ransomville Speedway in western New York State. Find the Ransomville Speedway: Dirt Track Racing in Western New York collection items here.

Listen to a short “America Works” podcast excerpted from a longer interview with Ransomville dirt trace auto racer Mike Williams.

Women Architects

This OFP collection was created by independent scholar, oral historian, preservationist and architect Sarah K. Filkins, who conducted 15 in-depth audio interviews with prominent women architects throughout America. The diverse group included women working in large, medium, and small architectural firms, at universities, for entertainment venues and for government agencies throughout the United States. She documented stories about their occupational culture; their experiences training and working as architects; and the challenges they face in what is still a heavily male-dominated occupation. Find the Women Architects collection items here.

Listen to a short “America Works” podcast excerpted from a longer interview with New York City-based architect Roberta Washington.

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