skip navigation  The Library of Congress >> Research Centers
AFC Logo
The American Folklife Center
Connect with us:   Blog Blog  |  Facebook Facebook  |  Podcasts Podcasts   RSS RSS  | Video Webcasts
 home >> events and announcements >> botkin lecture series
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


Billy Bragg talks about his book:
Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World

a book talk and signing by Billy Bragg, singer-songwriter and activist

July 21, 2017, 7:00-9:00 pm
Mumford Room, 6th Floor, James Madison Building
Library of Congress

This event will be livestreamed on the Library of Congress Facebook Page and its YouTube site (with captions).

Book cover with a photo of young men in a band playing guitars and a washboard.
Cover of Roots Radicals and Rockers:How Skiffle Changed the World

"Skiffle" is a catchy name for a do-it-yourself music craze that swept Britain in the 1950s, primarily influenced by American jazz, blues, folk, and roots music. Like punk rock, which would flourish two decades later, Skiffle was homemade music: all you needed were three guitar chords and you could form a group, with mates playing tea-chest bass and washboard as a rhythm section. Emerging from the trad-jazz clubs of the early '50s, skiffle was adopted by the first generation of British "teenagers": working class kids who grew up during the dreary, post-war rationing years. Before skiffle, the pop culture was dominated by crooners and mediated by a stuffy BBC. Lonnie Donegan hit the charts in 1956 with a version of "Rock Island Line" (a song first recorded as a field recording and then by Lead Belly for the American Folklife Center archive) and soon sales of guitars rocketed from 5,000 to 250,000 a year.

The story of skiffle is a tale of jazz pilgrims and blues blowers, Teddy boys and beatnik girls, coffee-bar bohemians and refugees from the McCarthy­ite witch hunts. Skiffle is the main reason the guitar came to the forefront of music in the UK, and in this sense led directly to both the UK folk scene and British rock and roll, including the British Invasion of the US charts in the 1960s. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Faces, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, and David Bowie—not to mention Martin Carthy, John Renbourn, and the Watersons—all got their start playing skiffle.

Billy Bragg
Billy Bragg. Photo by Andy Whale.

Roots, Radicals and Rockers is the first book to explore the skiffle phenomenon in depth. Billy Bragg's meticulously researched and joyous account shows how skiffle sparked a revolution that shaped pop music as we have come to know it. A book signing will follow the talk.

Billy Bragg is an English singer-songwriter and political activist. His music blends elements of folk, punk, and protest songs, with lyrics that mostly treat political or romantic themes. In addition to his own acclaimed recordings, many of his songs, such as "A New England," "Between the Wars," and "Valentine’s Day Is Over," have been covered by others, including Kirsty MacColl, The Watchmen, and June Tabor. In the late 1990s, Billy Bragg and the band Wilco were asked to set some of Woody Guthrie’s unrecorded lyrics to mu­sic. The results were three albums known as The Mermaid Avenue Sessions, as well as the film documentary Man in the Sand, which made Billy Bragg an integral part of the Woody Guthrie story. Bragg's most recent album is Shine a Light, recorded with Joe Henry. For the album, Bragg and Henry traveled across the U.S. by train, and recorded classic railroad songs in train stations along the way. The album features several songs, including "Rock Island Line," which were integral to the skiffle movement, and which were originally known from field recordings in the American Folklife Center archive. Bragg has spent several years researching and writing about skiffle in this exciting new book.

This event is co-sponsored by the Folklore Society of Greater Washington.

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


Banner1: Portraits of Muslim American men and women who participated in StoryCorps and who gave their permission for their photographs to be used.

 "Muslim American Journeys" Listening Event

July 24, 2017
LJ-119, first floor, Thomas Jefferson Building
Library of Congress

Sponsored by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress with Partners MALA (Muslim American Leadership Alliance) and StoryCorps.

This public listening event will showcase narratives from the American Folklife Center's StoryCorps collection that illustrate the diversity of Muslim American cultural identity. The event will feature excerpts of Muslim American stories recently collected as part of a StoryCorps outreach partnership to encourage more Muslim Americans to document their stories and lives. The two-hour event will combine collective listening to story segments from the MALA collection, short audience engagement activities facilitated by a panel (MALA contributors, StoryCorps staff, and American Folklife Center staff), and a short presentation on AFC resources for ethnographic fieldwork. By sharing a diverse range of narratives and experiences, we hope to provide a model for more Americans of Muslim heritage to share their individual stories. Participants will also receive copies of the 2016 AFC publication, Folklife & Fieldwork (4TH Edition), to allow them to design collecting projects of their own. To listen to some recorded stories in their entirety, go to MALA's website.

The Muslim-American Leadership Alliance (MALA) and StoryCorps have worked together over the past several years to build a corpus of narratives documenting a wide range of Muslim-American experiences and identities, which are all archived by the AFC.  The project aims to document oral history, inspire pride, and celebrate individuality. Every story recorded is officially archived in the Library of Congress, and outstanding stories are featured on National Public Radio. Personal stories can be a powerful catalyst for change – challenging stereotypes, building bridges, and inspiring action. In a country as diverse and complex as the United States, the identities of Muslim Americans remain layered and contested.

The event will include the following speakers:

Zainab Khan,  Board Chair and co-founder of the Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA). Coordinator of the "Muslim American Journeys" project with StoryCorps, and therapist, painter, and human rights advocate.

Tamara Thompson, Manager of Archiving for StoryCorps

Julia Kim, Digital Assets Manager, American Folklife Center

Three contributors to the "Muslim American Journeys" project. They will provide a panel to respond to audience questions regarding interviews.

Stephen Winick, writer and editor for the American Folklife Center, author of Folklife & Fieldwork. He will give a short presentation on best practices for recording fieldwork interviews and preparing them for archiving.

The Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA) is a 501(c)3  civic & community organization committed to promoting individual freedom and diversity, and celebrating heritage. An alliance dedicated to leadership through integrity, MALA provides a platform for people to share their individual stories & to speak for themselves; nurtures emerging community leaders; and unites Americans of all backgrounds to advance constructive solutions to extremism and human rights abuses. MALA is open to choice and creed, and embraces free expression, gender equality, and pluralism as cherished universal ideals

Banner2: Portraits of Muslim Americans


The Fantastic Worlds of Chinese Opera Theater in North America
Nancy Yunwa Rao, Rutgers University

Nancy Yunwa Raoh
Nancy Yunwa Rao

August 9, 2017, Noon-1:00 pm
Whittall Pavilion, Ground floor
Thomas Jefferson Building

The Chinatown opera theater provided Chinese immigrants in North America with an essential source of entertainment during the pre–World War II era. Its compelling stories of legends, passions and warriors also attracted diverse patrons into Chinese American communities. In this presentation, Professor Rao unmasks a backstage world of performers, performances, and repertoire as well as the spellbound audiences beyond the footlights. She discusses how the circulation of stellar actors and actresses created a vibrant performing network of Cantonese opera in North America during the 1920s, and also explores how Chinatown theaters played a role in constructing Chinese American identities as well as in the birth of ultra-modern music in America. 

Nancy Yunwa Rao is professor of Music at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. Her recent work highlights the much-neglected musical history of Chinese in North America and transnational issues in the production and opera performance in these Chinatown theaters. Her book, Chinatown Theater in North America (University Illinois Press, 2017) includes analysis of opera arias, playbills, performing networks, stage spectacles, and more. As a music theorist, Rao has explored intersections between China and the West, in particular global perspectives in contemporary Chinese music. She has published on the use of music gestures, vocal styles, and percussion patterns of Beijing opera in contemporary music by composers of Chinese origin and also explored other aspects of American music, including the life and contributions of American composer Ruth Crawford Seeger. 

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

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]


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


  Back to Top


 home >> events and announcements >> botkin lecture series

  The Library of Congress >> Research Centers
   July 19, 2017
Legal | External Link Disclaimer

Contact Us:
Ask a Librarian