Audiovisual materials often form the core of folklore archival collections. Bohdan Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Archives, University of Alberta.

Folklore Archives, Folklore in Archives

Image: Audiovisual materials often form the core of folklore archival collections. Bohdan Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Archives, University of Alberta.

In 2017, two conferences took place geographically quite close to one another, and only about a month apart. One was organized in Riga, Latvia, by the International Council on Archives Section on University and Research Institution Archives (ICA-SUV),[1] and was titled “Cultural Heritage Materials,” and the other one – in Tartu, Estonia – was entitled “Archives as Knowledge Hubs,” and was held by the Estonian Folklore Archives of the Estonian Literary Museum.[2]

I find it remarkable that practitioners who identify themselves first of all as archivists chose a theme that focused on folklore materials, while those who think of themselves predominantly as folklore researchers, decided to talk about archives. Although this juxtaposition is, of course, oversimplified, in a way, this situation sends a significant message: folklorists want and need to discuss things archival; archivists want and need to talk about folklore materials. My hope is that they also talk to each other, share knowledge and expertise, try to avoid reinventing the wheel, and instead build a better inclusive world for archivists and folklorists, for folklore archives and folklore materials in archives.

Folklore archives started and developed somewhat parallel to, rather than intersecting with, the professional archival practice. Although today collections of folklore materials can be found in many national, university and other types of archives worldwide, some folklore archives continue to exist as independent institutions, often on the margins of the archival world, and sometimes more comfortably within museums or libraries. In the course of their history, folklore archives, deliberately or not, often chose to document and preserve cultural expressions following their own standards and practices rather than adhering to nationally or internationally accepted standards of archival practice. Frequently they developed their own ways of arranging and describing traditional cultural expressions and making them available to the wide public.

At the same time, there is at least as much overlap as difference in archiving practices of folklore and general archives, and increasingly so in the digital age. Unfortunately, the two disciplines more often than not have been uninformed about the theoretical and practical advances of each other. In the past decades, however, folklore archives have been moving towards professionalization, standardization, and constant innovation, while archival communities have been opening toward revision of best standards and practices, as well as toward inclusivity, networked practices, and plurality of ideas.

Graduate folklore students documenting local choir performing. Viter Field Project. Bohdan Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Archives, University of Alberta.

Graduate folklore students documenting local choir performing. Viter Field Project. Bohdan Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Archives, University of Alberta.

The International Society of Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) has a special interest group established in 2013 – Working Group on Archives,[3] which I am privileged to be a part of. In a way, I was assigned by this group to represent folklore archivists at the ICA-SUV. The group builds a network of folklore archives, archives of ethnology, oral history archives, sound archives, cultural heritage archives, and connects scholars working in such archives and/or with them. Although these archives are known under different names, they all aim to document experience, knowledge and cultural expressions from living people. There is growing understanding of the importance of standards and shared best practices for the management and long-term preservation of documentary heritage, especially in the digital era. Folklore archives with their long history of documenting marginalized groups, everyday life, women’s and children’s activities and views, nuances and subtleties, history that so often slipped between the cracks; with their cultural sensitivity, scholarly tradition of reflexivity, careful attention to ethics of fieldwork research, their acknowledgement of the community being studied as primary creators of records; care for records of different media and formats, have an important role to play in the archival world.

By: Maryna Chernyavska (ICA-SUV Bureau Member, Kule Folklore Centre, University of Alberta, Canada)

[1] See earlier post by William J. Maher https://icasuvblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/13/ica-suv-2017-conference-summary/

[2] http://www.folklore.ee/era/conference2017/

[3] https://www.siefhome.org/wg/arch/

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