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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.

2017 Botkin Lectures


Peggy Seeger: A Life of Music, Love, and Politics
a talk and book signing by
Jean R. Freedman, Montgomery College and George Washington University

Jean R. Freedman holding her book on Peggy Seeger
Jean R. Freedman

September 7, 2017, Noon-1:00 pm
Whittall Pavilion, Ground floor
Thomas Jefferson Building

Born into one of folk music's foremost families, Peggy Seeger has been one of the leading voices in the Anglo-American folk revival for more than 60 years. As a singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, and political activist, Peggy Seeger forged an unconventional and artistically vibrant path. Drawing from her recently published biography of Seeger’s life and contributions as a performer, song writer, and activist on both sides of the Atlantic, Jean Freedman discusses Peggy Seeger’s career from the 1950s to the present day.

Jean Freedman is an adjunct professor at both Montgomery College and George Washington University. She received a PhD in folklore and ethnomusicology from Indiana University. Her first book, Whistling in the Dark: Memory and Culture in Wartime London, analyzed popular culture and political ideology in London during World War II. She has published articles about Scottish folk songs, Jewish folk theater, and unconventional Civil War soldiers, among other topics. Her latest book, Peggy Seeger: A Life of Music, Love, and Politics, has just been published by University of Illinois Press.

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

Stetson Kennedy:  Applied Folklore and Cultural Advocacy
a book talk and signing by Peggy A. Bulger

Peggy A. Bulger
Peggy A. Bulger

September 19, 2017, Noon-1:00 pm
Whittall Pavilion, Ground floor
Thomas Jefferson Building

Stetson Kennedy (1916 - 2011) led a remarkable life as a political activist, writer, and folklorist. Yet, he is virtually unknown outside of his home state of Florida. His life was one of cultural advocacy and rebellion and his friends included Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Alan Lomax, Richard Wright, Jean-Paul Sartre, Zora Neale Hurston and others.  This talk explores the work of a remarkable man who was determined to make a positive difference in American life by using folklore and oral history as a vehicle for progressive change. 

Book cover, Stetson Kennedy: Applied Folklore and Cultural Advocacy
Cover: Stetson Kennedy: Applied Folklore and Cultural Advocacy

Dr. Peggy A. Bulger served as the director of the American Folklife Center from 1999-2011 before retiring to her adopted state of Florida, where she had previously served as the state's first folklorist and folklife administrator from 1975-1989. Her research on Stetson Kennedy, which began with her doctoral dissertation in folklore and folklife from the University of Pennsylvania, has recently been published by the Florida Historical Society as Stetson Kennedy: Applied Folklore and Cultural Advocacy.

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

Film Screenings: Reel Folk: Cultural Explorations on Film

Honeyboy Edwards playing the guitar on the street with a car behind him.
Honeyboy Edwards, from silent film footage by Alan Lomax, 1942.

September 29-30, 2017 (see times below)
Pickford Theater, 3rd Floor, James Madison Building
Library of Congress

On Friday September 29th and Saturday Septermber 30th the American Folklife Center will present a group of documentary films on American culture. The event brings together established and emerging filmmakers, writers and researchers who utilize audiovisual technologies in documenting American folklife and traditional culture. Participants include folklorists who work within the Mid-Atlantic region promoting American folklife to wider audiences. Discussions will focus on traditional culture and audiovisual documentation methods, and will be opened up for all attendees to participate.


Friday September 29th, 2017 – Pickford Theater

7:00 – 8:30 P.M.
American Epic: Using Archival Footage in Film

PBS' American Epic (episode 2), "Blood and Soil," with commentary from the film's producer/writer, Allison McGourty, and its director, Bernard McMahon.

The EMMY-nominated series chronicles the period from the 1920s through the 1940s when collectors for both commercial record companies and public institutions like the Library sought and recorded traditional American roots music, including ballad singers in the Appalachians, blues guitarists in the Mississippi Delta, gospel preachers across the south, Cajun fiddlers in Louisiana, Tejano groups from the Texas-Mexico border, Native American drummers, and Hawaiian musicians on the big island. Its executive producers are Jack White, T Bone Burnett, and Robert Redford, all of whom appear in the series. The second episode, "Blood and Soil," uses extraordinary footage from the American Folklife Center’s collections, including a color clip of GRAMMY-winner Honeyboy Edwards shot for the Library by Alan Lomax in 1942.

Saturday September 30th, 2017 – Pickford Theater

11:00 – 11:30 P.M.
Shorts from Maryland and West Virginia

Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack (2012, 5 minutes) presents the history and current process of making of the J. Gruber’s Hagers-town Town and Country Almanack, the oldest almanac in the United States that is still produced by heirs of the original founder, John Gruber. Established in Hagerstown (Washington County, Maryland), it has been providing agricultural, meteorological and astrological information since 1797. The Almanack, which also contains folk remedies, local poetry and traditional community wisdom, is currently edited by the great-great-great-great great grandson of John Gruber, Charles W. Fisher, Jr. While millions of copies have been sold and distributed, at its core is the tradition of weather forecasting by using centuries-old astronomical calculations, a process that is still continued by mathematician, Professor William O’Toole III of Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Bending Water Park and Indian Water Trails of the Accohannock Indian Tribe (2014, 5 minutes) features the Bending Water Park and Indian Water Trails of the Lower Eastern Shore in Maryland, which comprise indigenous cultural landscapes and waterways that are deeply connected to the history and heritage of the Accohannock Indian Tribe. Bending Water Park has long been host to the Accohannocks’ annual “Healing of All Nations” Pau-Wau, and is central to the continuation of traditional and contemporary ways of life of the Accohannock people. The adjacent Indian Water Trails—branching from the Pocomoke Sound, at the mouth of the Pocomoke River—have historically been essential to the indigenous people of the lower Eastern Shore for gathering food and other resources, as well as for transportation. Today, the Accohannock Indian Tribe runs a kayak and canoe touring business on the waterways.

Inside Appalachia: James Shaffer, Charleston Broom & Mop Company (2017, 8 mins) features the story of James Shaffer, who at age 87, is the last hand-made commercial broom maker in West Virginia. He first learned the trade in 1946, and has been making brooms for 70 years, based in his Loudendale, "Charleston Broom and Mop Co." studio.

11:40 – 1:15 P.M.
Maryland in Focus

Muskrat Lovely (2005, 58 minutes) provides an insider look into the National Outdoor Show, held each year on the Lower Eastern Shore, Maryland, since 1938. The event showcases the trappers, watermen and women, cooks, and sportsmen and women who define the marshes of southern Dorchester County, along the Chesapeake Bay. A fur fashion show, a beauty pageant, and the crowning of Miss Outdoors kick off the event, which also includes the women’s and men’s international world championship muskrat-skinning competitions. The film was selected for broadcast on the Emmy-Award-winning Independent Lens on PBS and also had a cameo on NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. The screening will be followed by a discussion with its filmmaker, Amy Nicholson, and celebrated muskrat-skinner and cook Rhonda Aaron.

1:25 – 3:45 P.M.
Urban Culture: New York

If These Knishes Could Talk: The Story of the New York Accent (2013, 55 mins)) explores the accents of New York City through interviews with linguistic experts, both official and non-official, who weigh in on what it means to tawk the talk in a city that may be slowly trying to quiet the noise.  From Atlantic Avenue to Zerega Avenue, word on the street is that the New York accent is disappearing. Yet, despite not often hearing “toity-toid and toid” in Manhattan, you can still hear strains in Bensonhurst, Whitestone, or Tottenville. Filmmaker Heather Quinlan will be on hand to answer questions after the screening.

Let's Get the Rhythm (2013, 54 mins) draws attention to the social importance of girls' games, capturing girls’ handclapping games from New York City playgrounds and across the world. Girls from diverse cultures – from Brooklyn to Tanzania – charm us as they learn and share while expanding their experience. The screening will be followed by a discussion with the film’s co-producers, Irene Chagall and Steve Zeitlin, director of New York City's folklife program, CityLore.

3:50 – 5:00 P.M.
Urban Culture: Philadelphia

Adelante (2014, 50 mins) shows the heart of Mexico beating strongly, just outside of Philadelphia, where Mexican newcomers are revitalizing a dying Irish-Catholic parish in Norristown, Pennsylvania. The screening will be followed by a discussion with the filmmaker, Noam Osband.

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.

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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   August 14, 2017
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