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Pennsylvania Folklife Society Collection

A special collection featuring unique and rare materials related to the folklife and folk culture of the Pennsylvania Germans.

The origins of the Pennsylvania Folklife Society Collection lay in the work of Alfred L. Shoemaker, J. William Frey, and Don Yoder, who in 1949 established the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center, affiliated with Franklin & Marshall College, to study and preserve the folk culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Later, the name of the center was changed to the Pennsylvania Folklife Society to underscore the group’s interests in all aspects of folk culture (not just folklore), including cooking, folksong, religion, furniture, and language. The society collected stories, letters, folk art, fraktur, furniture, broadsides (from the collection of Walter E. Boyer) and descriptions of folk customs, photographed buildings and farm practices, and recorded oral histories and folk music for preservation. The society founded the Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Festival at Kutztown in Berks County, the first of its kind in the nation and a model for many others. The society established the magazine Pennsylvania Folklife which was published through the mid-1990s.

The society went bankrupt in the 1960s, at which point Ursinus College acquired the Pennsylvania Folklife magazine and the management of the folk festival, along with the society’s eclectic collection of folklife materials; however, while the publication continued and the folk festival went on, no materials arrived in the library until about 1970, when the Ursinus College Library moved from its former home into the Myrin building, where it is today. According to Judith Fryer, librarian at the time, the materials were dumped on the floor of the shipping and receiving department in the basement while the furniture was put in the attic of Bomberger Hall.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Dr. William Parsons, an American History Professor at Ursinus, served as head of the Folklife Society Collection. He managed the collection and expanded it by adding audiotapes of his interviews with people in the area. After Dr. Parsons’ death, Dr. Tom Gallagher an Anthropology/Sociology professor at Ursinus, served as the faculty overseer of the Pennsylvania Folklife magazine, until publication ceased in the 1990s. At that point, Judith Fryer took over as archivist and created an index to the Pennsylvania Folklife magazine during her tenure at Ursinus.

In the 2000s, under the care of Lisa Minardi, then a student at Ursinus College, artifacts from the collection, including the decorated fraktur, the broadsides, and the furniture, were moved to the Berman Museum of Art for conservation and preservation. These materials can be viewed (by appointment only) at the Berman. The rest of the materials remain housed in Myrin Library. These include:

  1. Almanacs and Imprints
  2. Bibles, hymnbooks and musical compositions
  3. Folktales and Manuscripts
  4. Account books
  5. Photographs
  6. The Alfred Shoemaker Folk-Cultural Index, 1938-1962. This is a unique card-based index to folklife customs of the Pennsylvania Dutch, gathered mostly through oral histories and personal anecdotes.
  7. Pennsylvania Folklife magazines and index
  8. The Ahnenerbe Collection: Documents from Nazi Germany, 1936-1945