About the Project

Audio documentation has played a crucial part in capturing the many stories, performances, exchanges, and demonstrations that have taken place on the National Mall as part of the Festival of American Folklife (now Smithsonian Folklife Festival). For each program, documentation volunteers generated detailed "class style" notes to accompany audio recordings which often include presenter and participant names, subject keywords, song titles, and brief descriptions of the events taking place in real time. These notes are often the richest (or only) source of information about who was present and provide key references for understanding and interpreting the recorded content. While the styles, formats, and spelling accuracy vary across logs, they nevertheless serve as fundamental link between what actually took place and what is documented in audio, photo, and, video formats. It seemed especially appropriate to the Smithsonian Institution's Office of Folklife Programs to help celebrate the American Folklore Society's Centennial. For twenty years the Smithsonian's Festival of American Folklife had embodied many of the perspectives of the Society's founders: to observe and collect traditional performances and practices of the American peoples; to study this expressive life scientifically; to celebrate the diversity of American culture through presenting publicly the accomplishments of master performers and artisans. During the Festival, visitors could see and sense, in a tent on the National Mall, the living traditions of folklorists themselves - values and practices forged a century ago by pioneers, and now conserved, traditionalized, and elaborated by a new generation of their cultural descendants. More information about the program including participant names can be found here.

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(4 out of 5)

Level 1 --- BEGINNER

Content: all typed
Language: English
Format: letters, diaries, flyers, pamphlets, and one-page documents
Subject Area Expertise/Special Skills: none required

Level 2

Content: mostly typed, handwritten in print, or otherwise very clearly written/readable
Language: English
Format: memorabilia, advertisements, image captions, telegrams, diaries, letters, notes
Subject Area Expertise/Special Skills: none required


Content: typed and handwritten materials in cursive or print
Language: English
Format: newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, letters/diaries/notes that may include annotations or margin notes
Subject Area Expertise/Special Skills: experience reading cursive writing may be useful

Level 4

Content: handwritten materials, primarily in cursive or somewhat difficult to read (predominantly from the 19th and 20th centuries) , audio recordings that are relatively easy to hear/decipher, and scientific materials
Language: English and/or other languages that use Roman script but may require the use of diacritics (French, Spanish, German, Italian, etc.)
Format: audio recordings, letters, diaries, notes and other written materials, projects with templated fields and special instructions
Subject Area Expertise/Special Skills: some knowledge of non-English Roman-character/script languages and diacritics may be useful, as well as experience reading cursive handwriting. A general knowledge or familiarity with scientific terminology.

Level 5 --- ADVANCED

Content: handwritten materials in cursive (from the 19th century or earlier) or in a non-Roman script language, audio recordings that are difficult to hear or are not in English, specialty materials/projects such as numismatics projects and the Project Phaedra notebooks 
Language: foreign languages that use non-Roman characters (Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Greek/Cyrillic, Native American and Indigenous languages, etc.) and English 
Format: audio recordings, columned data/tables, manuscripts, letters, diaries, notes, currency sheets, coins
Subject Area Expertise/Special Skills: knowledge of a specific language and access to a keyboard with the characters in that language may be required for certain projects. Experience reading cursive handwriting and familiarity with 19th century (or prior) handwriting and conventions/abbreviations may be useful, as well as knowledge of scientific terminology, astrophysics data, or linguistics.

Project Progress (details)
113pages completed





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