In a way I regret to see American Archives Month (October) come to an end. There are so many stories to share… Of course there are always intriguing archival resources to be plumbed – it’s just that this month offers such a good reminder to take the time!
The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/folklife/) reigns as the epicenter of this nation’s archives. Created by Congress in 1976 the Center continues to collect living traditional culture at the same time it preserves the existing collections in the unique preservation facilities of the Library of Congress.
The American Folklife Center Archive was established in the Library of Congress Music Division in 1928. Today it stands as one of the largest archives of ethnographic materials from the US and around the globe. The collection includes millions of items recorded from the 19th Century to the present. The collections include documentation of traditional arts, cultural expressions and oral histories.
The archives are so robust and so diverse that it’s best to plunge in at some modest level and see where the archival river flows. There are numerous finding aids to the collection, including a guide to Minnesota collections in the Archive of Folk Culture compiled by Madeline Esposito and Ross S. Gerston. (http://www.loc.gov/folklife/guides/Minnesota.html) The guide will lead you to disc recordings of North American Indian songs originally recorded on cylinder by Frances Densmore, to the 1954 recording on tape of a public ceremony honoring Albert Woolson, the 107-year-old last surviving Union Army veteran, and on to an amazing collection of recordings of ethnic music, interviews, even a little Bob Dylan from back in the day.
Don’t think you have to go to Washington, DC to experience the treasures of the Folklife Center Archives. The American Folklife Center is tackling the challenge to provide online access to select portions of the collections. Their approach is thorough and thoughtful. The Center creates its own online presentations on various topics and the American Memory project (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html) provides additional online access to the selected collections. The online content may include a wide variety of media including audio samples of music and stories, digital images of rare letters and photographs and video clips.
The Veterans History Project (http://www:loc.gov/vets.about.html ) offers a case in point. The Project collects first-hand accounts of U.S. veterans for the past century, from World War I through the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. The collection also includes recorded conversations with civilians who were actively involved in war support efforts, whether as war industry workers, medical volunteers, flight instructors or others. The founding member of the Veterans History Project is AARP.
Another readily accessible online treasure that caught my eye and ear is the Lomax Family Collections (http://www.loc.gov/folklife/lomax/) . Though one thinks of the Lomax family and folk music, many of the recordings in the Lomax Family Collections are inclusive. One recording of immense historic value is “After the Day of Infamy, (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/afcphhtml/afcphhome.html) , twelve hours of man-on-the-street interviews following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 – all available online.
Closer to home is another perfect example – with a Minnesota spin. It’s a celebration of native languages that features a program sponsored by Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), “First speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe language.” http://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/united-states/endangered-languages-programs-update-celebrating-native-american-languages-library. For a listing of the online collections and presentations of the American Folklife Center go to http://www.loc.gov/folklife/onlinecollections.html.
And, just for fun, you might want to wrap up American Archives Month by taking time to enjoy the webcast “How to find stuff at the largest library in the world” produced by the Library of Congress. (RealPlayer required.) http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=5980