Skip to Main Content

Boats and Boatbuilding: Resources in the American Folklife Center

This research guide focuses on activities such as fieldwork, interpretation, and programming related to boats and boatbuilding as documented in the collections of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.


Dennis McDonald, photographer. Gerald E. Parsons, fieldworker, interviewing Ken Camp while looking at a railbirding skiff, Maurice, New Jersey 1984. Pinelands Folklife Project collection. Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

This guide provides an introduction to ethnographic documentation of boats, boatbuilding, and the uses of various types of boats in American Folklife Center collections. The collections are particularly rich in documentation of hand-built traditional boats for both sport and professional fishing.

Several of the field collections undertaken by the American Folklife Center include documentation of boats and boatbuilding, as well as documentation of the customs and activities involved in fishing, hunting, and boating sports. Examples include the Italian Americans in the West collection with documentation of a fishing trip on a commercial boat; the Maine Acadian Folklife Project collection which includes documentation of a traditional strip canoe being built and a canoe race; the Maritime Heritage Survey, which documents various fishing traditions and crafts in Florida (not available online); the Pinelands Folklife Project collection, which has documentation of a variety of working boats; the Rhode Island Folklife Project collection which includes fishing and quahogging boats with documentation of a quahogging boat being built; and the South Central Georgia collection which includes boats used for sport fishing. Many of these collections are available in the Digital Collections section of this guide

Other collections of interest include the A. James Delahoussaye collection of Atchafalaya River Basin recordings which include interviews about fishing and boatbuilding; interviews with Alex Kellam on traditions of Chesapeake Bay watermen with documentation of fishing and boats; and the Jens Lund collection of field recordings and related documentation of small and independent commercial fishing and fish marketing operations and related folkways in the Ohio River Valley (including boats and boatbuilding), recorded primarily in Illinois and Kentucky. These collections are further described on the Searching the Collections page of this guide.

The following guide offers general research strategies for use of the American Folklife Center collections.