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Higher Education Resources Available in the American Folklife Center

Folklife & Fieldwork Documentation Guidebook

Guha Shankar, photographer. Ann Tome (r) of Maasai Cultural Heritage conducts interview with a local herder (l) during the AFC/WIPO/Duke University cultural documentation field school in Laikipia, Kenya. 2009. Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

When the first edition of the AFC's Folklife & Fieldwork: An Introduction to Cultural Documentation was published in 1979, its readers had a difficult choice to make: the better audio quality offered by a bulky reel-to-reel tape recorder or the convenience of the newfangled cassette deck. With one of those two machines, plus a single-lens-reflex camera and a few rolls of film, the 1979 fieldworker was equipped to document the world. Earlier editions of this guide gave great advice regarding the handling and preservation of these older forms of documentation. These tips are still relevant for some archival collections, but not for most fieldwork.

Born-digital documentation requires a whole new set of practices—new ways of recording and new methods of preservation. Since the first edition appeared there has also been a surge of interest in personal archiving. Preserving family history, genealogy, and community history has never been more popular. Popular interviewing projects like the Veterans History Project and StoryCorps are leading the way in a new era of oral history collecting, and both of their collections are part of the American Folklife Center archive. While this book prioritizes the documentation of folklife, or traditional culture and heritage, the guidelines offered here for interviewing and documentation apply to a broad range of topics.

Folklife & Fieldwork was most recently revised in 2016 to cover all aspects of fieldwork, from designing the project to archiving, and caring for the documentation. The revised edition is available in both English and Spanish, and linked to below.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.