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Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH)

Richard Kurin, Acting Director & Smithsonian Distinguished Scholar and Ambassador-at-Large

The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage is a research and educational unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The Center builds cultural understanding, strengthens communities, and reinforces our shared humanity through the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Cultural Sustainability initiatives, research and educational programs and the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections. The Center’s work is local, national, international and global in scope.

Since 1967, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival has collaborated with cultural practitioners, communities, heritage professionals and scholars to spark curiosity, catalyze intercultural exchange, and create participatory experiences that nurture creative human connections. The Festival is an annual exposition of living culture held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for two weeks around the Independence Day holiday for audiences sometimes exceeding one million visitors. Over the past decades, the Festival has brought more than 23,000 musicians, artists, performers, craftspeople, workers, cooks, and storytellers from more than 90 nations and the United States to demonstrate their skills, artistry, knowledge, and wisdom. Through Festival field and documentary research, curation, live programs, and digital storytelling, the Festival communicates an unwavering commitment to representing diverse cultures as a positive force for cultural equity, inclusivity, and the common good.

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution that supports cultural diversity and increased understanding among peoples through the documentation, preservation, and dissemination of sound recordings. It produces more than a dozen new recordings annually, some from the archives, and others from contemporary documentation and recording projects. Included in the more than 3,000 albums are the recordings of Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Ella Jenkins, Bernice Johnson Reagon and thousands of others; civil rights movement songs and speeches; the poetry of Langston Hughes; historical Native American traditions; varied regional and immigrant songs; and music and spoken word traditions from across the globe. Major projects have included the Anthology of American Folk Music, the Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap, and numerous series on the music of Central Asia, the Andes and other regions. Through audio recordings and educational materials Smithsonian Folkways strengthens people's engagement with their own cultural heritage and enhances their awareness and appreciation of the cultural heritage of others.

The Center’s Cultural Sustainability program works with communities around the world to preserve and practice their living cultural heritage, seeking ways to make linguistic and artisanal traditions, as well as those associated with historical, built, and natural environments flourish for the civic, social and/or economic benefit of practitioners.

A variety of research projects undertaken by the Center and its staff document cultural traditions and address issues of heritage policy and professional representation practices that result in books, chapters, journal articles and other products. Educational projects including items like teacher’s guides, guides to oral history, and lesson plans for learning about particular traditions are distributed online and in hard copy. The Center has an active website and features Folklife Magazine, a robust digital vehicle for publishing information about cultural traditions and contemporary issues aimed at a popular audience.

The Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections contains an extensive collection that documents American and world traditions in research notes, videos, CDs, audio tapes, and still images. Particularly strong are collections of traditional music, occupational folklore, narrative, immigration, and family folklore. American regional and ethnic cultures—Native American, African American, and Latino culture—are well-represented. The Archives documents the Center’s work on the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and Smithsonian Folkways, and contains the recordings, photographs, papers, and objects related to several historical record labels. A relatively small but interesting and well-documented material culture collection includes iconic and other items from the Festival and the Center’s projects.

Opportunities for scholars include studies of cultural representation and cultural sustainability, collaborative research in specific areas of staff or programmatic interest, and projects involving a wealth of archival materials documenting the cultural traditions of communities in the U.S. and around the world over the last 80 years.

Research Staff

Adams, Greg, Interim Archives Director. B.A. (2001) Youngstown State University; M.A. (2004 and 2012) University of Maryland. Research specialties: Music history, library and information sciences, ethnomusicology, multicultural history of the banjo. Contact: AdamsG@si.edu

Belanus, Betty, Folklorist, Curator, Education Specialist. B.A. (1977) Smith College; M.A. (1980), Ph.D. (1990) Indiana University. Research specialties: Material culture, folklore and education, public programming. Contact: BelanusB@si.edu

Butvin, Halle, Director of Special Projects. M.A., Ohio State University. Research specialties: City and regional planning, cultural sustainability, elevation of cultural practices to improve local economies. Contact: ButvinHM@si.edu

Cordova, AmaliaLatino Digital Curator of New and Emerging Media. B.A. (1996) Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile; M.A. (2007), Ph.D. (2015) New York University. Research specialties: Indigenous, intercultural, and community media; digital media and performance; Afro-Brazilian expressive culture. Contact: Cordovaa@si.edu

Deutsch, James I., Curator. B.A. (1970) Williams College; M.A. (1976) University of Minnesota; M.Ln. (1979) Emory University; Ph.D. (1991) George Washington University. Research specialties: Occupational folklife, veterans of World War II, American film and mass media. Contact: DeutschJ@si.edu

Diaz-Carrera, Cristina, Curator. B.A. (2004) Barnard College, Columbia University; M.A. (2011) New York University.  Research specialties: Caribbean/Latin American studies, Latino music, cultural representation. Contact: Diaz-CarreraC@si.edu

Holmgren, Meredith, Curator, American Women’s Music. B.A. (2005) University of California, Los Angeles; PGCert. (2009) University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa/East West Center; M.A. (2011) Leiden; M.Phil. (2012) Leiden. Research specialties: Cultural heritage studies, ethnomusicology, Asian studies, cultural policy, Indonesian performing arts, education, development studies, international relations. Contact: HolmgrenM@si.edu

Hunt, Marjorie, Folklorist, Curator, Education Specialist. B.A. (1976) Simmons College; M.A. (1981), Ph.D. (1995) University of Pennsylvania. Research specialties: American folklife, material culture, building arts, occupational folklife, Italian-American folklore, culture and aging, oral history, cultural and linguistic sustainability, public programming. Contact: Marjorie@si.edu

Kim, Sojin, Curator. B.A. (1988) Brown University; M.A. (1991), Ph.D. (1998) University of California, Los Angeles. Research specialties: Asian American history and culture, Los Angeles history and culture, urban history, public history, vernacular landscape. Contact: KimSO@si.edu

Kurin, Richard, Distinguished Scholar and Ambassador-at-Large. B.A. (1972) State University of New York, Buffalo; M.A. (1974), Ph.D. (1981) University of Chicago. Research specialties: cultural presentation and representation, cultural heritage policy, cultural disaster and response, material culture studies, museum controversies, indigenous knowledge systems, cultures of south Asia and the United States. Contact: Kurin@si.edu

Linn, Mary S., Curator of Language and Cultural Vitality. B.A. (1985) Wichita State University; M.A. (1996) University of Kansas; Ph.D. (2001) University of Kansas. Research specialties: Language documentation and description, language revitalization, youth motivation in language vitality, language and cultural diversity especially in Oklahoma and American Southeast, community-based endangered languages archives, language policy. Contact: LinnM@si.edu

Motley, Sabrina Lynn, Director, Smithsonian Folklife Festival. B.A. (1989), M.A. (1993), A.B.D. University of California, Los Angeles. Research specialties: Cultural anthropology, cultural heritage presentation and representation, cultural performance and social activism, museum programming and public engagement. Contact: MotleyS@si.edu

N’Diaye, Diana Baird, Cultural Specialist and Curator. B.A. (1973) New York University; M.A. (1979) State University of New York, Stony Brook; Ph.D. (1997) Union Institute. Research specialties: Africa and African Diaspora studies, immigrant and transnational culture and ethnicity, ethno-aesthetics, participatory research, cultural representation and cultural policy, culture and disability, multicultural education/social contexts. Contact: NDiaye@si.edu

Place, Jeffrey, Curator and Senior Archivist. B.A. (1978) Kenyon College; M.L.S. (1987) University of Maryland. Research specialties: Sound archives, archives, traditional music of the United States, Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, record production, history of sound recordings. Contact: PlaceJ1@si.edu

Sheehy, Daniel E., Curator and Director Emeritus, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Ph.D. (1979) University of California, Los Angeles. Research specialties: Public sector folklore and ethnomusicology, traditional music and museums, popular folk musics of Latin America, mariachi music in Mexico and the U.S. Contact: SheehyD@si.edu

 

AFFILIATED RESEARCH STAFF

Cadaval, Olivia, Research Associate. B.A. (1972); Ph.D. (1989) George Washington University. Research specialties: Latin American and Latino studies, American cultural history, material culture, folklife. Contact: CadavalO@si.edu

Leopold, Robert, Research Associate. B.A. (1979) State University of New York at Binghamton; M.A. (1983), Ph.D. (1991) Indiana University. Research specialties: Ethnographic and Indigenous archives, information ethics, language revitalization, indigenous knowledge systems, knowledge repatriation, Africa. Contact: Leopold@si.edu

Seeger, Anthony, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings Curator and Director Emeritus. B.A. (1967) Harvard University; M.A. (1970), Ph.D. (1974) University of Chicago. Research specialties: Ethnomusicology, audiovisual archives, music industry, social organization, cosmology, ritual, oral narrative, South American Indians, Brazil.

Seitel, Peter, Senior Folklorist Emeritus. B.A. (1964), Ph.D. (1973) University of Pennsylvania. Research specialties: Occupational folklife, African folklife, epic, narrative, proverbs, computer applications in folklore, intangible cultural heritage policy. Contact: SeitelP@si.edu

Smith, Stephanie, Research Associate. B.A. (1971) University of California, Santa Barbara; M.Litt (1975) University of Edinburgh; M.S.L.S. (1977) University of North Carolina; Ph.D. (1988) University of Edinburgh. Research specialties: English country dance in the U.S., Scottish traditional song and the Folk Revival, comparative British and Appalachian folksong traditions. Contact: smithsdl@si.edu

Thurston, TimothyResearch Associate. B.A (2005) Carleton College; MA (2007), Ph.D. (2015) The Ohio State University. Research specialties: Chinese, Tibetan, and Himalayan studies; oral traditions and verbal art; digital cultures; folklife. Contact: thurstont@si.edu

Younger, Erin, Research Associate. B.A. (1973) Scripps College, M.A. (1978) Arizona State University. Research specialties:  Native American and Pacific Rim material culture, contemporary Native American art, museum practice. Contact: YoungerE@si.edu

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