At the Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center (NAVCC), nothing brings our team more joy than highlighting the care put into preserving our nation’s greatest treasures, and the ability to share them with generations of families and scholars.
It was over a year ago, in July of 2022, that our Recorded Sound curator, Matt Barton, and audio preservation specialists Rob Friedrich, Melissa Widzinski and Bryan Hoffa, had the privilege of welcoming Native American film producer Daniel Golding, his son Nate, and Passamaquoddy preservationist and teacher Dwayne Tomah to the Packard Campus in Culpeper, Virginia.
Tomah and Golding came to the Library to research, listen and translate the Library’s rare collection of 1890 wax cylinders featuring Passamaquoddy and Quechan songs and languages. The Library of Congress has the largest collection in the world of wax cylinder field recordings of Native Americans.
The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress has worked closely with the Passamaquoddy and other indigenous tribes to make these collections of cylinder sound recordings available to listen online. The American Folklife Center’s Federal Cylinder Project focused on some 9,000 cylinder recordings of Native American cultural expressions with the aim of sharing copies with those communities to further their work in linguistic maintenance, and reclamation and ownership of their cultural heritage. The American Folklife Center continues the effort with the Ancestral Voices project working with the Passamaquoddy and NAVCC on digitizing, restoring, and making the Passamaquoddy cylinders available to stream online.
The Passamaquoddy cylinders were originally recorded by Jesse Walter Fewkes, director of the Hemenway Southwestern Archaeological Expedition, who borrowed a new cylinder recording device from Thomas Edison in 1890, and traveled to Maine to record the Passamaquoddy community. Over the course of three days, Fewkes recorded 36 cylinders of songs, legends, stories, and linguistic terms provided by tribal members. He then ventured to the Southwest Pueblos to record the Zuni (1890) and Hopi (1891) making him the first person to record Native American languages and pursue an audio study of indigenous people.
The Fewkes cylinders arrived at the Library of Congress through an exchange from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University in 1970, together with other cylinder collections including the Gilman 1893 Columbian Exposition recordings; Spinden Nez Perce recordings; Bourke “Pastores” recordings, and others. These recordings continue to be preserved, cleaned and stored with great care by the Library’s preservation specialists.
While they aren’t brought out very often, it was on this trip that Daniel Golding came with a camera crew to NAVCC’s Packard Campus to document these cylinders for the PBS series, “Native America.” The episode entitled “Language is Life” specifically focuses on the Passamaquoddy and Quechan cylinders. What Golding didn’t know is that the team at the Library of Congress had a special treat for him.
Golding was surprised with a 100-year-old recording of his great-grandfather singing in the Quechan language. The Quechan cylinders are from 1922 and were recorded by Frances Densmore. This short video from PBS brings us in the room when Golding and his son hear the recording for the first time.
The Library of Congress invites you to two very special screenings of “Language is Life” and Q&A sessions with Producer Daniel Golding, Passamaquoddy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Donald Soctomah, and Executive Producer Gary Glassman. Both events are free and no reservations are required:
November 8 – Library of Congress Packard Campus, Culpeper, Virginia
Doors open at 6:45pm
Film screening: 7:30pm
Panel discussion follows screening.
November 9 – Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.
Seated program and Film screening: 6:45-7:55pm
Panel discussion 7:55-8:40pm
We hope you will join us as we continue to honor these important legacies.
For more information, please Ask a Librarian, and if you plan to come in to view or listen to any collection items, please reach out to our reference staff in the Moving Image Research Center and the Recorded Sound Research Center.
Thank you to Judith Gray with the American Folklife Center for her contributions and support.