HISTORY: Fife Folklore Archives
by Randy Williams
- The Fife Folklore Archives is named for folklorists Austin E. and Alta S. Fife, Utahns who helped shape the field of folklore. Using summer vacations and weekends, the Fifes traveled all over the west–most
intensively in their native Utah–with a camping trailer, recording equipment, camera and stenographic materials to collect the folklife of the American West, including cowboy songs and Mormon folklore.
Typically, one of them would interview someone while the other took notes or operated a recording device. They also visited libraries throughout the west, taking notes and making copies of songs and
stories housed in regional archival collections.
In 1966, the Fifes deposited at Utah State University Library their extensive fieldwork collections: Fife American and Fife Mormon Collections. The collections included acetate discs and reel-to-reel field recordings, sixty-seven bound volumes of field notes/transcriptions, extensive slide collection of Fife Slide Collection of Western U.S. Vernacular Architecture and their extensive folklore book collection. In 1972, the library established the Fife Library of Western Folklore (later renamed the Fife Folklore Archives) under the administration of the Special Collections Department within the Merrill Library. Along with the creation of a folklore repository, the Fife’s worked with folklorist Williams A. Wilson to create a folklore program at Utah State University.
The Austin E. and Alta S. Fife Folklore Archives is one of a number of leading research facilities that acquire, preserve and make available the materials in folklore fields that constitute particular areas of institutional focus and strength. The Fife Folklore Archives collects field data, oral histories, monographs, slides, photographs, periodicals, books, audio recordings, and non-commercial video recordings on the subject of folklore, particularly but not exclusively in the areas of regional folklore (including the Intermountain West, especially Utah and Idaho); folk groups (including ranching culture, Native American culture, Latino culture, and Mormon culture); genres (including belief, folksongs, foodways, proverbs, and legends)and themes (including family, ethnic, and religious folklore). As well, the Archives maintains a basic folklore research and reference collection.
Professor William A. Wilson was the first director of the Fife Folklore Archives (1978-1985). Together with Barbara [Garrett] Walker, Wilson created an indexing system for the student genre collection that is still used at USU today. The system, modeled after the Finnish archiving tradition, is genre based. When Wilson left USU for BYU, Barbara [Garrett] Walker was appointed Director of the Fife Folklore Archives (1985-1996). Today, Randy Williams is the Fife Folklore Archives Curator (1996-present).
From the beginning, the director of the folklore repository has worked closely with those teaching folklore courses at USU, beginning with Austin Fife, to collect and preserve the current trends and vernacular voice of the region. This effort includes the Utah State University Student Fieldwork Collections: FIELDWORK (graduate student oral history collections, 1981 and 1983); USU (undergraduate student collections); GRAD (graduate student collections); FFC (Fife Conference student collections, 1977-1995); and The Utah State University Folklore Genre Collection (comprised of individually collected items of folklore arranged into nine groups by genre and topic).
During Wilson’s tenure the University created a folklore program which Wilson directed until 1985. In 1985 Professor Barre Toelken came to USU (from the University of Oregon) to direct the Folklore Program (1985-2003). He continued the folklore collecting legacy that Austin Fife and Wilson began, including genre and focused projects. Soon after, Toelken was joined at USU by folklorists Jay Anderson and Steve Siporin (director of USU's Folklore Program 2008-to present). Professor Siporin had his students collect folklore, using both the focused and genre formats. As well, Barbara [Garrett] Walker, Associate Director of the Folklore Program (1985-1996) and Director of the Fife Folklore Archives and Professor Pat Gardner, USU English Department Head, both taught folklore courses and had their students submit genre collections. Professor Jan Roush, USU English Department, also taught folklore classes and had her students submit both genre and focused collections, many dealing with family folklore. In 1995 Randy Williams, Assistant Director of the Folklore Program (1996-2003) and Director (now Curator) of the Fife Folklore Archive (1996 to present), began to teach folklore courses and had her students submitted genre and focused collections. In the fall of 1998, Professor Jeannie Thomas (director of USU’s Folklore Program 2003-2008) joined the folklore faculty and continued the collecting tradition with her students. Professor Lisa Gabbert came to USU in 2003 and had her students conduct "context focused" collecting, housed in the Utah State University Student Fieldwork Collections: USU. Lynne McNeill, first graduate intern and then lecturer, requires collecting projects from her students. In 2008, Randy Williams and Trevor Alvord introduced podcasts to the Fife Folklore Archives collecting menu and Professors Gabbert, Thomas, McNeill and Roush gave this folklore collection option to their students.
Today, the USU Student Genre Collection is growing strong. The format has changed somewhat over the years to reflect the trends in folkloristics. Many of the early submissions had little contextual data, and often limited, if any, informant data. Wilson created a collecting format that included: informant data, contextual data and text (item of folklore). Toelken and Williams added "texture" (stylistic notation) to the format of genre collections, allowing the collector to give "the feel" of the item to potential researchers. As well, in 1998, the students were asked to include release forms with their genre items, following a trend in the folklore field that addresses not only the item but also the performance of the lore.
In 2002, the collection was moved from hundreds of three-ringed binders to archival folders and boxes, giving the collection greater physical stability and making the collection easier to manage and use. In 2003, the collection registers were encoded in HTML and in January 2004 hosted on the Fife Folklore Archives homepage allowing offsite searching. In 2008, USU Special Collections and Archives migrated all their HTML/PHP finding aids to EAD (encoded archival description) finding aids.
Over the years the Fife Folklore Archives has had talented colleagues/assistants, including: Donna Harris, Karen Krieger, Randy Williams, Marilyn Liddle, Tori Rhodes, Amy Rogers, Rebecca Rushing, Tricia Harrison, and Susan Gross. As well, many dedicated student employees, interns and graduate assistants have worked in the archives, including: Chelsea Amdal, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Mara J. Ballard, Maria Braganza, Andrew Brough, Anna-Maria Arnljots, Corey Butcher, Michele Casavant, Anne Christensen, Nicole Cornwall, Dusty Decker Wiser, Tori Edwards, Lore Erf, Stacy Evans, Robert Gombach, Susan Gross, Nicole Grotepas, Gabrielle Hamilton, Annie Hatch, Sally Haueter, Jenn Hezel, Ana Hidalgo, Scott Hunsaker, Andrew Izatt, Katie Kellet, Suzanne Mettauer, Charity Lund, Lynne McNeill, Deanna Moses, Lara Nattrass, Kathrin Nussbaumer, Robin Parent, Erin Peterson, Michael Rigby, Sara Skindelien, Elizabeth Smart, Marci St. Julien, Carmen Summer, Elaine Thatcher, Patrick Vrooman, Michael Ward, Rosanna Walker, Janette Watts and Randy Williams.
The FFA receives books and other archival materials from library purchases, contributions and gifts. And, as stated above, most of the manuscript submissions to the Archives come from USU folklore students’ fieldwork and collecting projects. The Fife Folklore Archives acts as a laboratory for folklore program. Access points for the Archives' holdings include: