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Collection Occupational Folklife Project

About this Collection

The Occupational Folklife Project (OFP) began in 2010 as a multi-year project by the American Folklife Center (AFC) 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 900 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 folklorist Archie Green (1917-2009), the Archie Green Fellowship program was established at the American Folklife Center in 2010.  These fellowships have supported the fieldwork and preliminary processing of most of these Occupational Folklife Project 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 fieldworkers documenting professions underrepresented in the AFC archive. 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.

The following collections are currently online:

  • The "Big Top" Show Goes On: Collection of sound recordings, photographs, interview logs, and transcriptions of oral history interviews documenting the complex occupational culture, training, and experiences of  multi-generation circus workers. Recorded in the traditional "wintering over" town for midwestern family circuses, Hugo, Oklahoma. Read more. (Go to The "Big Top" Show Goes On collection items)
  • Boeing Aircraft Factory Workers: Collection of 20 interviews including sound recordings, photographs, and interview logs and transcriptions documenting the occupational folklore of factory workers and other employees at Boeing aircraft manufacturing and maintenance facilities in and around Wichita, Kansas. In addition to their work experiences, interviewees also discuss Boeing’s enormous impact on the history and culture of urban Kansas over the past eight decades. Read more. (Go to Boeing Aircraft Factory Workers collection items)
  • Cultural Traditions of Ironworkers in the Midwest: Collection of sound recordings, photographs, interview logs, and transcriptions of oral history interviews documenting the culture and traditions of Ironworkers in Illinois and Wisconsin. Read more. (Go to Cultural Traditions of Ironworkers in the Midwest collection items)
  • Dairy Farm Workers in New York's North Country: Collection of interviews including sound recordings, photographs, and interview logs and transcriptions documenting the occupational culture of dairy farm owners, farm workers, and workers in various dairy-related jobs the northernmost tier of New York State. Read more. (Go to Dairy Farm Workers in New York's North Country collection items)
  • Fresh Produce Workers in Arizona: Collection of oral history interviews documenting the sale, distribution, and transportation of fresh produce that enter the American food supply through the city of Nogales, Arizona, on the United States-Mexican border. Read more. (Go to: Fresh Produce Workers in Arizona items)
  • Funeral Services Workers in the Carolinas: Collection of sound recordings, moving images, photographs, and manuscripts of oral history interviews documenting the funeral service workers in the Carolinas. Read more. (Go to: Funeral Services Workers in the Carolinas items)
  • The Green Book: Documenting African American Entrepreneurs: Collection of sound recordings, video recordings, photographs, interview logs and transcriptions of oral history interviews documenting contemporary businesses through the United States that were listed in the historically significant Green Book travel guide published between 1937 and 1967. Read more. (Go to: The Green Book: Documenting African American Entrepreneurs)
  • Hairdressers and Beauty Shop Culture in America: Collection of sound recordings, photographs, interview logs, and transcriptions of oral history interviews documenting the culture and traditions of beauty shop culture in America. Read more. (Go to Hairdressers and Beauty Shop Culture in America collection items)
  • Homeless Shelter Workers in the Upper Midwest: Collection of sound recordings, photographs, and manuscripts documenting homeless shelter works in the Upper Midwest. Read more. (Go to Homeless Shelter Workers in the Upper Midwest items)
  • Illuminating History: Union Electricians in New York City: Collection of sound recordings, photographs, and manuscripts documenting electricians in New York City. Read more. (Go to Illuminating History: Union Electricians in New York City items)
  • Personal Home Health Care Aides in Michigan: Collection of sound recordings, photographs, interview logs, and transcriptions of 28 oral history interviews documenting the history, occupational culture, and experiences of personal home health care aides in central Michigan, whose work-related narratives, on-the-job experiences, and significant contributions to their communities have been historically marginalized and under-documented. Read more. (Go to Personal Home Health Care Aides in Michigan)
  • Production Potters of the Midwest: Collection of video and sound recordings, photographs, interview logs, and photo logs of 11 oral history interviews documenting the occupational folklore, training, and work related experiences of professional production potters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. It focuses on both their artistry and the commercial aspects of working full-time in this regional craft-based profession. Read more. (Go to Production Potters of the Midwest)
  • Recent Immigrant Workers in Iowa's Meatpacking Industry: Collection of 19 interviews including sound recordings, photographs, and interview logs and transcriptions documenting the occupational folklore and work-related experiences of recent immigrants and refugees employed in Iowa meatpacking plants and meat processing industry. It includes interviews with immigrants and refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, many of whom also reflect on their lives as new Americans and how their presence is reshaping local and regional culture in Iowa and Illinois. Read more. (Go to Recent Immigrant Workers in Iowa's Meatpacking Industry collection items
  • Stable Views: Voices and Stories from the Thoroughbred Racetrack: Collection of oral history interviews with workers employed in the care and training of thoroughbred racehorses, including grooms, exercise riders, horse trainers, hot-walkers, and jockeys recorded at various locations. Read more. (Go to Stable Views: Voices and Stories from the Thoroughbred Racetrack collection items)
  • Taking Care: Documenting the Occupational Culture of Home Health Care Workers: Collection of video and sound recordings, photographs, interview logs, and transcriptions of oral history interviews documenting the workplace culture, training, and experiences of home health care workers in Oregon. Read more. (Go to Taking Care: Documenting the Occupational Culture of Home Health Care Workers collection items)
  • Teaching in Wisconsin Classrooms: Collection of interviews including sound recordings, interview logs and transcriptions, photographs, and supplementary materials documenting the work-related experiences, training, and occupational folklore of 32 classroom teachers in the state of Wisconsin. Documented by a four-member research team consisting of folklorists Anne Pryor, Mary Hoefferle, Ruth Olson, and Mark Wagler from Wisconsin Teachers of Local Culture (WTLC), the collection features interviews with elementary art teachers, fourth- and fifth-grade classroom teachers, and teachers whose work involves more community-facing orientations and activities. Read more. (Go to Teaching in Wisconsin Classrooms collection items)
  • Tobacco Workers of the Connecticut River Valley: Collection of sound recordings, photographs, interview logs, and transcriptions of oral history interviews documenting the history, occupational culture, and experiences of tobacco farmers and tobacco farm workers in Massachusetts and Vermont, where growing and harvesting high-quality cigar tobacco has been a mainstay of the local economy since the 1600s. Read more. (Go to Tobacco Workers of the Connecticut River Valley collection items)
  • Trash Talk: Workers in Vermont's Waste Management Industry: Collection of interviews including sound recordings, photographs, and interview logs and transcriptions documenting the occupational folklore of people engaged in different sectors of the waste management chain, including trash collection, sorting, marketing, processing, management, and regulation. The project provides a picture of the daily lives of workers in an economically and environmentally important, but often hidden, industry during a time of significant technological change. Read more. (Go to Trash Talk: Workers in Vermont's Waste Management Industry collection items)
  • Washington State Workers:Collection of 20 video and sound recordings, photographs, and interview logs of interviews with a cross section of Washington’s union workers, including nurses, teachers, health care workers, grocery store cashiers, bus drivers, machinists, communication workers, hospitality and airline workers, teamsters, electrical linemen, theatre workers and stage hands, members of the building and construction trades, and a classical musician who also owns and operates an auto repair shop. Interviews were conducted by folklorist Deborah Fant of Northwest Folklife working in collaboration with the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO (WSLC), which provides services for more than 600 local unions and trade councils and represents approximately 450,000 rank-and-file union members in the state of Washington. Read more. (Go to Washington State Workers items)
  • Western Folklife Center: Gold Mining in Nevada: Collection of audio oral history interviews documenting contemporary gold mining in northern Nevada, and other local occupations, particularly ranching. Read more. (Go to Western Folklife Center collection items)
  • Winery Workers in Virginia: Collection consists of 22 interviews including sound and video recordings, photographs, and interview transcriptions documenting the occupational folklore of winery workers in northern Virginia. The interviews were conducted by Kim Stryker, a folklorist from Falls Church, Virginia, whose 2017 Archie Green Fellowship project documented the occupational traditions and work-related narratives of workers in numerous Virginia wineries. They address various aspects of Virginia’s rapidly expanding wine industry. Those interviewed included winery owners, growers, vintners, tasting room managers, fieldworkers, scientists, and others involved in a variety of tasks, specialties and sub-specialties in Virginia vineyards. Read more. (Go to Winery Workers collection items)
  • Women Architects: Collection consists of 15 in-depth audio interviews with prominent women architects throughout America recorded by independent scholar, oral historian, preservationist and architect Sarah K. Filkins. In 2019, Filkins received an Archie Green Fellowship from the American Folklife Center to interview a diverse group of women architects working in large, medium, and small architectural firms, at universities, and for agencies throughout the United States. She documented stories of their occupational culture; their experiences training and working as architects; and their narratives of the challenges they face in what is still a heavily male-dominated occupation. Read more. (Go to Women Architects collection items)
  • Working the Port of Houston: Collection of audio oral history interviews documenting the diverse culture of workers associated with the Port of Houston, Texas, and the Houston Ship Channel. Read more. (Go to Working the Port of Houston collection items)
  • Working the Waterfront: New Bedford, Massachusetts: Collection of sound recordings, photographs, and manuscripts documenting workers on the New Bedford, Massachusetts, waterfront. Read more. (Go to Working the Waterfront: New Bedford, Massachusetts items)
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