On this site, you will find links to manuscripts, unique images, archival repositories and their finding aids, sound recordings, and more. Explore as much as your time permits. Start with the four “quantitative interrogatives”: who? what? when? where? Use these questions to guide your discovery.
— Dr. Melanie Zeck
The American Folklife Center (AFC) documents and shares the many expressions of human experience to inspire, revitalize, and perpetuate living cultural traditions. Designated by the U.S. Congress as the national center for folklife documentation and research, the Center meets its mission by stewarding archival collections, creating public programs, and exchanging knowledge and expertise. The Center’s vision is to encourage diversity of expression and foster community participation in the collective creation of cultural memory.
You can employ resources from the American Folklife Center to deepen your understanding of James Lee III’s Breaths of Universal Longings. Consider the texts Lee selected for his piece. Using the quantitative interrogatives, you can begin posing these and other questions:
Who were the authors of the texts?
What were their experiences?
When and where were they writing?
And, you can extrapolate—using these same questions:
For whom were these texts intended?
What made poetry a compelling medium for Johnson and Davies?
Where else have children composed text for choral pieces?
And, time permitting, you could even think about broader concepts. Let’s take the third movement “Reflection” as an example. In this case, you might wonder where else you can find documentation related to people’s lived experiences of COVID-19. Earlier this spring, the American Folklife Center announced its COVID-19 American History Project (CAHP), which is a multiyear initiative that will document, archive, and make accessible American’s experiences with COVID-19. You can read more about it here. And, this Stories from the COVID-10 Pandemic: A Resource Guide was written by American Folklife Center staff to connect readers to relevant archival resources. And, you might be curious to discover how folk musicians responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by creating new works from some of the AFC’s archival holdings.
By the same token, you could also revisit the first movement, “From Dust We Were Made,” and explore the American Folklife Center’s materials related vernacular religious expression. Religious folklife includes but is not limited to vernacular hymn singing recorded in homes, small churches, community centers, and at festivals; as well as documentation of wedding music and customs, funeral music; vernacular sermons (especially, but not exclusively, African American sermons); interviews with preachers and congregants, documentation of religious processions and material culture.
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