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Benjamin A. Botkin head and shoulders portrait
Folklorist Benjamin A. Botkin, 1926. Photo courtesy of the Botkin family.

Benjamin A. Botkin Folklife Lecture Series

Through the Benjamin A. Botkin Folklife Lecture Series, the American Folklife Center (AFC) presents distinguished experts speaking about their research and current issues and best practices in folklore, folklife, ethnomusicology, and related fields. Lectures are recorded for the AFC archive and posted on the Library's website. (See below for list of speakers and topics.) The series honors Benjamin A. Botkin (1901-1975), a pioneering folklorist who headed the Library's Archive of American Folksong from 1942-1945.

2019 Botkin Lectures


Langston Wilkins
Langston Wilkins

Street Folk: Hip Hop, Car Culture, and Black Life in Houston, Texas, Langston Collin Wilkins, Director, Center for Washington Cultural Traditions

April 24, 2019
12:00 noon  to 1:00
Whittall Pavilion, Thomas Jefferson Building

"Screw" is Houston, Texas' distinctly local form of hip hop music that emerged within the city’s African American community almost thirty years ago. It is inextricably tied to "Slab," a vernacular car culture in which mostly young African American men spend countless hours and much money transforming outmoded American sedans into spectacular automotive art pieces. In his talk, folklorist and ethnomusicologist Wilkins will discuss how "screw" and "slab" combine form a unique local tradition that has affirmed and empowered working class Black Houstonians across several generations.

Langston Collin Wilkins is a traditional Arts Specialist at the Tennessee Arts Commission. He earned his PhD in ethnomusicology from Indiana University. In addition, he served as a fellow for the Folklife and Traditional Arts Program of the Houston Arts Alliance and the Houston Museum of African American Culture where he conducted field work and produced public programs that centered on the traditional arts of Houston’s African Diasporic communities.

Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at 202-707-6362 or [email protected]

Dick Spottswood: A Discographer on the Record

Dick Spottswood
Dick Spottswood

May 14, 2019
12:00 noon to 3:00 PM
Whittall Pavilion, Ground Floor
Thomas Jefferson Building

The renowned discographer, researcher, author, broadcaster, and scholar of folk and ethnic music Dick Spottswood will join us at the Library of Congress to participate in a two-part event in the Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series. The event will feature an interview with AFC staff members about his career and accomplishments followed by a panel with prominent Washington DC folklorists, ethnomusicologists, and archivists highlighting his numerous contributions to American music.

Among his many other accomplishments, Spottswood is celebrated as the author of the essential Ethnic Music on Records: A Discography of Ethnic Recordings Produced in the United States, 1893-1942, a seven-volume listing of early sound recordings by foreign language and minority groups in the U.S.; the 15-volume LP series Folk Music in America, produced for the Library of Congress to mark the 1976 Bicentennial; and for his research on Caribbean, South American, Bluegrass, Blues, and Country recordings; and his contributions to hundreds of influential reissue recordings by labels such as Arhoolie, Rounder, Yazoo, and Bear Family as well as his own Melodeon and Piedmont labels.

The panel will discuss all aspects of his work, including his experiences as long-time host of the two-hour program "The Dick Spottswood Show" on Bluegrass Country radio WAMU; co-founder of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine; a founding member of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections; and his current work on a new edition of Country Music Sources (2002).

This event will be co-sponsored by the Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division.

Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at 202-707-6362 or [email protected]

North Mississippi Homeplace: Photographs and Folklife, a book talk by Michael Ford

Book cover for North Mississippi Homeplace showing a landscape with a rural  house.
Cover, North Mississippi Homeplace, 2019

May 23, 2019
12:00 noon to 1:00
Whittall Pavilion, Ground Floor
Thomas Jefferson Building

In the early 1970s photographer and documentary filmmaker Michael Ford left graduate school and a college teaching position in Boston, Massachusetts, packed his young family into a van, and headed to rural Mississippi, where he spent the next four years recording everyday life through interviews, still photographs, and film. The project took him to Oxford (in Lafayette County), as well as to Marshall, Panola, and Tate Counties, to a remote area north of Sardis Lake. His efforts resulted in the award-winning documentary film Homeplace (1975), but none of the still photographs from this time were ever published. With this illustrated volume, those photographs are now available and offer a valuable window onto the rural, local culture of northern Mississippi at that time.

The moving photographs in Ford's new book illustrate his experiences as an apprentice to blacksmith Marion Randolph Hall, his visits to Hal Waldrip's General Store in Chulahoma, a day spent with A. G. Newsom and his crew making molasses, and Othar Turner's barbecues accompanied by traditional fife-and-drum music. They also capture the evocative landscape of the Mississippi hill country and the everyday lives of its residents.

In 2014 the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress acquired Michael Ford's collection of films and photographs documenting grassroots community life in northern Mississippi. The Michael Ford Mississippi Collection includes documentation of music, farming traditions, blacksmithing, molasses making, and other aspects of community life in LaFayette, Marshall, Tate, and Panola Counties, Mississippi, during the early 1970s. In addition to the 2019 book, portions of this material have been published in the film Homeplace (1975). 

This important collection complements existing materials about 1940s musical traditions from the Mississippi Hill Country in the center’s archive. Ford’s material, made three decades later, includes music making but expands to occupational folklore, foodways, vernacular architecture, and other arenas of cultural expression.

Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at 202-707-6362 or [email protected]

Botkin Lecture Series Past Events Archive

Includes descriptions of each lecture, photos, and informational essays from the event flyers. Links to webcasts of lectures are included as available.

2019 Lecture Series

2018 Lecture Series

2017 Lecture Series

2016 Lecture Series

2015 Lecture Series

2014 Lecture Series

2013 Lecture Series

2012 Lecture Series

2011 Lecture Series

2010 Lecture Series

2009 Lecture Series

2008 Lecture Series

2007 Lecture Series

2006 Lecture Series

2005 Lecture Series

2004 Lecture Series


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   March 18, 2019
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