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Collection Occupational Folklife Project

About this Collection

About the Occupational Folklife Project

The Occupational Folklife Project (OFP) began in 2010 as a multi-year documentation project by the American Folklife Center (AFC) that seeks to document the culture of contemporary American workers during an era of economic and social transition. To date, fieldworkers across the United States have recorded more than 600 audio and audiovisual oral history interviews with workers in scores of trades, industries, crafts, and professions. The completed interviews have been incorporated into the American Folklife Center archive at the Library of Congress.

The interviews, which average 50-60 minutes in length, feature workers discussing their current jobs and formative work experiences, reflecting on their training, on-the-job challenges and rewards, aspirations, and occupational communities.  In many cases, interviewees were asked to trace the career choices and educational paths that lead them to their present jobs and share their thoughts on the future of their professions.

The Occupational Folklife Project includes field documentation on selected topics created by dozens of researchers or research teams throughout the United States. To honor the memory of Archie Green (1917-2009), a fellowship program was established at the American Folklife Center in 2010.  Archie Green Fellowships, annual competitive awards funded by the American Folklife Center, have supported the fieldwork and preliminary processing of most of these collections. Awards were made with the understanding that the resulting documentation would be deposited in the AFC archive and made available to the public. Priority for recipients of Archie Green Fellowships has been given to those documenting professions underrepresented in the collections of the Center. See our website for more information about the Archie Green Fellowships. For information about the Occupational Folklife Project collections not yet online please contact the Folklife Reading Room.

About Working the Port of Houston

In 2011, folklorists Pat Jasper, Director of the Houston Folklife and Traditional Arts Program at the Houston Arts Alliance, and Carl Lindahl, Martha Gano Houston Research Professor, Department of English, University of Houston received an Archie Green Fellowship to document the diverse culture of work and workers associated with the port of Houston and the Houston ship channel.  Over the course of the next year, Houston Arts Alliance fieldworkers recorded  more than 50 interviews with a wide variety of workers, including pilots, marine firefighters, longshoremen, tugboat operators, port engineers, union organizers, and owners of port-related businesses. 

The interviews they recorded and that are available here were used as the basis of the  2014 exhibit "Stories of a Workforce: Celebrating the Centennial of the Houston Ship Channel." In addition, composer D. J. Sparr and librettist Janine Joseph used these interviews as the basis of their opera "'On This Muddy Water': Voices from the Houston Ship Channel," which was presented by Houston Grand Opera, in partnership with Houston Public Library, in late 2014.

Essays and excerpts of interviews were published in: Jasper, Pat and Carl Lindahl, Stories of a Workforce: Celebrating the Centennial of the Houston Ship Channel, 2014.

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