On Jan. 2, 1976, President Gerald Ford signed into law the American Folklife Preservation Act, which created the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. The law defines American folklife as "the traditional expressive culture shared within the various groups in the United States: familial, ethnic, occupational, religious, regional," and states that "the diversity inherent in American folklife has contributed greatly to the cultural richness of the nation and has fostered a sense of individuality and identity among the American people."
The legislation resulted from the success of the first Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife, held on the National Mall in 1967, and the subsequent efforts by cultural specialists and members of Congress to create a permanent institution for celebrating the country's diverse regional cultures. It was no coincidence that efforts to establish a folklife center coincided with plans for celebrating the nation's bicentennial, which brought forth discussions about the richness and diversity of American history and culture.
Building on the work of the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established at the Library in 1928 as the Archive of American Folk Song, the American Folklife Center carries out its mission to "preserve and present American folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performances, exhibitions, public programs and training.
The center also administers several documentary and oral history projects such as the Veterans History Project (VHP) and Story-Corps. Since its inception in 2000, the VHP has amassed 40,000 submissions (comprising approximately 160,000 items) from the nation's war veterans and their families. Many of these submissions are accessible on the project's Web site at www.loc.gov/vets/. The American Folklife Center recently acquired its first installment of oral histories through the StoryCorps (http://storycorps.net/) project, a national oral history project to instruct and encourage Americans to record one another's oral stories.
For more information about the American Folklife Center's programs and collections, visit its Web site at www.loc.gov/folklife/.