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Narrative and Verbal Arts: Resources in the American Folklife Center

This research guide focuses on activities such as fieldwork, interpretation, and programming of narrative and verbal arts as it is documented in the collections of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.


Stephen Winick, photographer. Connie Regan-Blake and Barbara Freeman perform a tandem tale in the Library of Congress’s Mumford Room on September 6, 2018. Stepping Back in Time: Storytelling with Connie Regan-Blake and Barbara Freeman. Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

This guide provides an introduction to doing research on the topics of narrative and verbal arts using American Folklife Center collections. The Collection Policy Statement for the American Folklife Center identifies narrative and verbal arts as an area of distinction for our collections, noting:

Narrative and Verbal Arts encompass a wide range of genres including stories, myths, legends, jokes, fan literature, memes, proverbs, folk poetry, and cowboy poetry, as well as premier collections of American English regional dialects, plus collections of Gullah (Sea Islands Creole), Caribbean, and French-based Creole dialects.

Many American Folklife Center collections include documentation of narrative and verbal arts, sometimes collected by ethnographers with a specific goal of collecting verbal arts and sometimes in broader ethnographic studies documenting various traditions and lore. Traditional stories and vernacular poetry are of interest to, and collected by, folklorists, anthropologists, linguists, and others. Written, as well as spoken forms of traditional verbal arts may be found in the collections, such as autograph albums and Brazilian chapbooks.

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