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Gold Miners, Circus Performers, and Hairdressers – Stories from the Occupational Folklife Project

This post was written by Nancy Groce, an ethnomusicologist and folklorist who is a Senior Folklife Specialist in the American Folklife Center. 

Photograph of Randall Spann (left), steersman, and Sean McDonald (right), steersman of Higman Marine Services, by the stern deck of the M/V orange, Port of Houston Collection.
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After years of planning, research, fieldwork, and archiving, the American Folklife Center is excited to begin online posting of material from its Occupational Folklife Project, a major oral history initiative featuring in-depth interviews with contemporary workers throughout the United States. Since 2010, the American Folklife Center has awarded more than 45 Archie Green Fellowships to individual fieldworkers, as well as scholars and research teams at non-profit organizations, unions, and universities, to support oral history projects interviewing workers in diverse jobs, trades, and professions. Interviewees are asked to talk about what they do at work, their work history, how they learned the skills required to do their jobs, what they think about their careers, and how they foresee the future of their professions. To date, more than 900 born-digital audio and video interviews have been submitted. Most are 45-60 minutes in length and many include online fieldnotes, photographs, and supplementary materials. A specially-designed digital “indexing system” permits online researchers to compare overarching work-related topics discussed by individual interviewees.

Six Occupational Folklife Project collections are now available on the Library’s website:

  • “Cultural Traditions of Ironworkers in the Midwest,” oral history interviews documenting the culture and traditions of ironworkers in Illinois and Wisconsin;
  • “Gold Mining in Nevada,” documenting the voices of contemporary gold miners in northern Nevada;
  • “Working the Port of Houston,” featuring more than 50 interviews documenting the diverse culture of workers associated with the Houston Ship Channel;
  • “The ‘Big Top’ Show Goes On,” documenting the complex occupational culture, training, and experiences of  multi-generation circus workers in Oklahoma;
  • “Stable Views: Voices and Stories from the Thoroughbred Racetrack,” documenting “back-of-track” workers employed in the care and training of racehorses;
  • “Hairdressers and Beauty Shop Culture in America,” documenting the culture and traditions of beauty shop culture in five American towns and cities; and “Taking Care: Documenting the Occupational Culture of Home Health Care Workers” in Oregon.

Hairdresser Patrick Wellington, owner of Wellington Spa, working with a client, Victoria Dillard,in his New York establishment. Photo by Candacy Taylor. Hairdressers collection.
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Soon-to-be posted collections include interviews with electricians in New York City, meat packing-house workers in Iowa, funeral home employees in South Carolina, and small business owners in Louisiana. To access online collections, please visit: //www.loc.gov/collections/occupational-folklife-project/about-this-collection/

Inspired by the Library’s WPA “American Life Histories,” which was compiled between 1936 and 1940 under the direction of Benjamin Botkin and the staff of the Folklore Project of the Federal Writers’ Project for the U.S. Works Progress (later Work Projects) Administration (WPA), the Occupational Folklife Project seeks to compile fieldwork on American workers that will enrich and expand the holdings of the American Folklife Center archive both for today’s researchers and for future generations of archive users. With that in mind, since their inception, the American Folklife Center prioritized funding for projects designed to document occupations and trades that are currently underrepresented in our holdings. These include occupations whose members are primarily female or Hispanic and trades and occupations whose workers have rarely been recorded in the past.

Find out more about the history and development of the Occupational Folklife Project by visiting  //blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2017/07/American Folklife Centers-occupational-folklife-project-goes-online-with-working-the-port-of-houston-collection/  For further information about Occupational Folklife Project collections that are currently underway or are being processed for future posting, contact American Folklife Center folklorist Nancy Groce [email protected] .

Elizabeth Boody Schumpeter’s Contribution to Economics and History

I decided to take a short break from writing about New Orleans to highlight one really interesting title in our reference collection – English Overseas Trade Statistics by Elizabeth Boody Schumpeter.   This title is a favorite of mine because of all of the tables and its historical coverage and like an earlier favorite I wrote […]

How “Shop Class” Helped Win the War: The “Model Aircraft Project” of World War II

This post was written by Michelle Cadoree Bradley, a Science Reference Specialist in the Science, Technology and Business Division. In the collections of the Library of Congress, there are thousands of books in red buckram binding. These fairly innocuous exteriors can sometimes hide unique items. One such item from the stacks is the book Model Aircraft Project from […]

My Love for the Sanborn Maps will Never Die

Last month Inside Adams published a post about some of the “special” collections at the Library that would be good for business research.  In it, I mentioned “place maps,” which was a generic and wholly inadequate phrase that encompasses a lot of material. For quite a while I’ve wanted to write about one particular map […]

“Special” Collections of a Business Nature

The Library has many collections that may not, at first glance, be obvious places to find information for those doing business research.  Most of these collections are only accessible to those that come to the Library, but some of the material from those collections has been digitized.  Business Reference created a list of these “special” […]

“Doon the Watter”: Shipbuilding and Trade in 19th Century Glasgow; Part 1

This post was written by Nancy Lovas a new Business Reference Librarian. I write atop a bookshelf in the Adams Reading Room with an excellent view of the mural on the east wall. I’ve returned to the Business Reference Section after nearly three years away and I’m getting reintroduced to all my old friends. One […]

“It cannot but prove useful” – Moreau’s Trade of Great Britain with all Parts of the World

While working on a new research guide,  I ran across references for what looked to be an interesting book – State of the Trade of Great Britain with all Parts of the World by CeĢsar Moreau.  Because I wasn’t looking too closely at the record, I initially thought it was a book, but it turned […]

To Finance the Great War

One of my favorite business titles in the Library’s collection is the Listing Statements of the New York Stock Exchange.   It yields a lot of really interesting information on stocks and bonds issued by companies.  It sometimes even includes company financial information, which can make it a great source for those doing company research. However, […]