Vermont Folklife Center Archive - Collection Resources

Collection Resource Guide Prepared by Gregory L. Sharrow and Andy Kolovos
Last Updated on 07/01/2018

I. Description of the collection

II. Guide to Holdings

A. Conservation, renewable energy, and outdoor recreation
B. Ethnic Cultures
C. Farming and farm life, rural community
D. Foodways
E. General stores
F. Hunting, fishing and trapping
G. Lake Champlain
H. Mad River region
I. Notables
J. Occupational and family narratives
K. Political life and the Vermont state legislature
L. Stone work: granite, marble, slate and soapstone
M. Traditional arts, music, and trades
N. Turner family history
O. VFC Field Research Grant Projects
P. Collections donated by outside researchers and organizations
Q. Commercial Recorded Sound Collection


I .  Description of the Collection

The Vermont Folklife Center archive is a repository for materials from ethnographic field research and oral history interviewing created on a project-by-project basis. It is made up primarily of audio field recordings, as well as video recordings, slides, photographs, and manuscript materials.  Approximately 85 per cent of the archive was generated by field research conducted  by the professional staff of the Vermont Folklife Center and dates from 1978 to the present. This includes the work of folklorist Dr. Jane Beck, Executive Director of the Vermont Folklife Center, folklorist Dr. Gregory Sharrow, the Center's Director of Education, and other professional folklorists/anthropologists. An additional ten per cent of the collection includes work by professional photographers, videographers, and architectural/landscape historians, and the remaining five per cent is the work of community scholars. These materials document the cultural heritage of Vermont and the surrounding region, including New England as a whole, the Canadian border, and the Northern Forest region. They cover the period from the 1790s (early settlement stories) through the present, although the majority of the material dates from the 1870s onward. These dates reflect the fact that an interview captures living memory, which in most cases encompasses two generations of remembered experience.

Ethnographic field research is an intimate, personal process in which interviewees share the fabric of their daily lives and experience. These people are not necessarily captains of industry--although that strand of experience is represented here as well--but rather  everyday people who know what they know because it is integral to their daily lives. Thus in the archive we find farmers enumerating changes in the rural countryside, recent immigrants reflecting on the process of adjusting to life in a new culture, and Native American people exploring the interplay of heritage and identity. Each speaks from a point of view that is uniquely his or her own, but taken together with the commentaries of others, these materials present a rich tapestry of collective experience on the basis of which it is possible to generalize. Rather than simply a source of  anecdotes that add personal color to the historical record, this body of materials offers an opportunity to see how people understand and represent their own lives and experience--from an insider's point of view. As a window on family and community life, the work life of an occupational group, or the identity and traditions of a religious or cultural community, ethnographic interview materials represent a unique source of information for which there is no substitute.
The categories presented below are a general guide to topics covered by materials in the Vermont Folklife Center Archive rather than descriptions of discrete archival collections. For information on accessing the Vermont Folklife Center Archive please contact the Archivist at


II.  Guide to Holdings
A.   Conservation, renewable energy, and outdoor recreation
Includes holdings related to the establishment of the Merck Forest and Farmland Center, and a series of interviews with members of the Green Mountain Club focusing on the creation, maintenance and use of the Long Trail. With support of NRG Systems, the Blittersdorf Foundation and other donors VFC has undertaken extensive interviewing with Vermont's renewable energy pioneers. These materials include business records from Northern Energy Systems and other donated items.

B.   Ethnic cultures

Background research for the video  As the Twig Is Bent  (1984) and our school textbook Many Cultures, One People: A Multicultural Handbook about Vermont for Teachers (1992) explores the immigration history, cultural traditions, identity, and contemporary experience of cultural groups throughout the state. Field research for the book and video documented the experience of immigrants in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries including families of Native American, African American, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Finnish, Swedish, Franco-American German, Austrian, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Italian, Jewish, Russian, Spanish, El Salvadoran, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, and Yankee ancestries. This collection also includes fieldwork done with Jamaican migrant labor for the apple orchards and interviews with recent immigrants from Chile, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Ecuador done in conjunction with the Burlington Latino Festival.

C.   Farming and farm life, rural community

This is the largest body of material in the archive, and it includes VFC folklorist Gregory Sharrow's dissertation research on the culture of farm life, research for a radio series on contemporary farm experience, research for the exhibit "Making and Remaking Vermont Farmsteads" (supported by an NEH grant), as well as interviews documenting change in the rural countryside. These materials span the period from the mid-nineteenth century to the present and document farm culture, the fabric of community, dairy farm operation, and the trajectory of the massive changes that occurred over the course of the past century. They offer an in-depth personal look at the ways in which individual farmers responded to the challenges of increasing mechanization, new management strategies, depressed milk prices, and the loss of farm community--to name only a few examples. Thus these interviews represent a critical mass of information that is an extraordinary research resource because they touch on an array of social, cultural, political, economic, and technological issues.

D.   Foodways

In conjunction with foodways demonstrations set up by the VFC for festivals around the state, the archive includes a collection of interviews with cooks which explore the interrelationship of food, heritage, and identity. These interviews also document the histories of individual families, the immigration history of particular ethnic/cultural groups, and the values and institutions of these communities.

E.   General stores

A collection of interview material documenting specific general stores in towns around Vermont, their role in rural community life, and their evolution in response to a changing social and economic context.
F.   Hunting, fishing, and trapping

The core of these materials was generated by a publication-- Deer Camp: Last Light in the Northeast Kingdom --and a middle school curriculum project. The bulk of the hunting materials focus on deer hunting in Vermont and Maine with additional interviews on the hunting of moose, bear, turkey and other game birds. The interviews include information on habitat, strategy, and technique, traditional knowledge, social context, change across time, and environmental issues. The fishing materials document the full range of fishing in the region: from native brook trout to land-lock salmon and from catch-and-release fly fishing to commercial ice fishing. The collection also includes historic materials on the sturgeon fishery and now-outlawed practices such as seine fishing. Trapping interviews include an array of information on animal habitat and behavior as well as general woods-lore, and they document such related activities as hunting and harvesting ginseng. The collection also includes interviews with game wardens and hunting/fishing guides.

G.   Lake Champlain

Materials relating to the lake have been generated by a number of different projects and document the heyday of nineteenth-century steamboat travel--the Ticonderoga and other steamboats that plied the lake's waters, the Lake Champlain Transportation Company, family "dynasties" of steamboat captains and pilots--as well as the canal boat era; information about the canal system, barge traffic, and the recent decline of commercial travel; recreational uses of the lake; the winter and summer fisheries; community histories around the lake; smuggling contraband including Chinese immigrants; ecological issues; and the Champlain monster.

H.   Mad River region
A collection of interview materials that offer an in-depth look at life in the Mad River Valley, an area of Vermont that has experienced enormous growth in the past half-century with the arrival of the ski industry. (The Mad River is home to Sugar Bush and other ski resorts.) These interviews capture the fabric of life in the valley when the principal livelihood was farming and chart the course of change that has occurred since. Those interviewed run the gamut from farmers and housewives to ski instructors and resort entrepreneurs.

I.   Notables

The archive also includes interviews with and/or about such notable individuals as former US senator Robert Stafford, novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn's family, and poet Robert Frost and a host of Vermont state legislators. The Frost interviews document the poet's years in Vermont through the eyes of family, friends, and neighbors. The collection also includes a recording of  Frost reading at the Ripton Community House.

J.   Occupational and family narratives

A collection of interviews generated by folklorists in each of the New England states as a basis for two touring exhibitions and a radio series. These materials explore two strands of experience-- work life and family heritage/identity--as they are reflected in narrative. Principal activities documented by the project include work in maritime, forestry, recreation, farming, and millwork occupations; interviewees range widely in age and their commentary reflects on work experience in each of these arenas from the 1930s to the present. The family-stories component of this research focuses on families from around the region of Native American, Franco-American, Yankee, African American, Latino, and Asian ancestry. In all, members of eleven ethnic groups are represented in the full body of research, including many recent immigrants.
K.   Political life and the Vermont state legislature

With the support of the Snelling Center for Government, Jane C. Beck conducted a series of interviews with a large number of former and current Vermont state legislators.  The topics addressed range from changes in political life in the state, reapportionment, act 250, civil unions, the day-to-day aspects of political campaigns and life in the legislature.

L.   Stone work: granite, marble, slate, and soapstone

As a result of projects on ethnic communities and traditional arts, the archive includes a body of material that documents the granite, marble, slate, and soapstone industries in Vermont in the twentieth century. The granite-related interviews focus primarily on the Scottish, Italian, and Franco-American communities in Barre, the evolution of the quarries and the sheds, social and political turmoil in Barre (including the strikes of 1922 and 1933), and the work of selected granite sculptors. The marble materials document the cultural diversity of the Rutland region--Polish, Italian, French Canadian, Irish, Finnish, Hungarian, Jewish--the history of the Vermont Marble Company, and, again, the work of specific sculptors. The slate-related materials focus on Welsh culture/immigration history and quarry operations in the Poultney, Pawlet, and Granville (NY) region.

M.   Traditional arts, music and trades

In-depth interviews with artists--and family members--who represent the full spectrum of the traditional arts in the region: Native American basketmakers, beaders, dancers, and musicians; a broad range of woodcarvers; Franco-American singers, stepdancers, and fiddlers; quilters, rug hookers, and rug braiders; self-taught painters; Lao, Vietnamese, and Cambodian weavers, embroiderers, dancers, and musicians; old-time Yankee fiddlers and associated musicians; granite and marble carvers; and Irish traditional musicians, to name a few. The materials also document the work of old-time and contemporary blacksmiths, coopers, dowsers, sawyers, loggers, and cedar oil still operators.

N.   Turner family history

In the early 1980s folklorist Jane C. Beck, executive director of the VFC, recorded over 80 hours of audio and video interviews with Daisy Turner, an African American women who was born and raised in Grafton, Vermont.  Daisy, who had already passed her 100th birthday when Jane met her, possessed an encyclopedic memory and her corpus of stories reached back to the time of her grandfather's birth in Africa. Thus this collection includes material that encompasses the entire spectrum of African American experience in this country: from being taken as a slave, to the crossing, being sold on the auction block, life on a Virginia plantation, the tumult of the Civil War, relocation in the north, and Daisy's own experiences growing up and living in Vermont. The collection also includes interviews with other family members. The main body of research documents the family's experience back to the 1850s and includes a variety of family photographs.

O.   VFC Field Research Grant projects

For the past nine years the VFC has awarded field research grants to community scholars for projects which they initiate. As a condition of the grant, materials generated by these projects become a part of the VFC archive. Past projects have documented local industries (marble quarrying in Roxbury, Bennington Potters, and the Strafford copper mines); labor history  (the CCC in the 1930s);recent immigrant experience (refugees from Bosnia in central Vermont, from Vietnam in Burlington and Winooski, and from Tibet in Chittenden County); women's history (the work of contemporary midwives, politically active senior women in Rutland County, the beginnings of the Burlington Battered Women's Shelter, portraits of vital senior women in the Northeast Kingdom)--to cite a few examples.

P.   Collections donated by outside researchers:

In addition to research materials generated by fieldworkers affiliated with the Vermont Folklife Center, our archival collections hold a number of ethnographic research collections donated to the Vermont Folklife Center Archives.

The Goldberg Collection is a series of interviews with residents of the Hollister Hill neighborhood in Plainfield, Vermont, which were conducted by Linda Goldberg in the mid-1970s. Like most Vermont towns, over the course of the past thirty years Plainfield has experienced an influx of new people from other parts of the country that has changed the character of the town. This collection explores that mix through in-depth interviews that document the personal histories of members of the neighborhood.

The Scott Hastings Jr. Collection documents the folkways of rural Vermont and New Hampshire, including such old-time activities as saw milling, blacksmithing, making water tubs, drilling pump logs, making ladder rounds, building stone walls, fabricating sleds and sledges, plowing, cutting tanbark, and building log-drive bateaux. This material was generated in the 1970s by Scott Hastings for the Vermont Folklife Research Project.

The Keeler Collection focused on a Burlington, Vermont, neighborhood known as the Old North End, which during the twentieth century was a first home for successive waves of arriving immigrants, most recently the Vietnamese.

The Orton Collection includes videotaped interviews with Vermonters from all walks of life--farmers, businessmen, factory workers, government employees, etc.--who reflect on their lives, their work, changes they've experienced in their lifetimes, and their vision for the future of the state. These were conducted as source material for a video that was conceived as a planning tool for communities around the state.

The Ott Collection documents maritime activity on Lake Champlain in the 1920s and 30s and includes considerable material on "rum running" during Prohibition.
The Karen Rockow collection includes 20 years of interviews with auctioneers across the state that focus on the verbal art of auctioneering.
The archive also includes oral history collections donated by a number of local historical societies--Braintree, Pittsford, Landgrove, and Island Pond, for example--and by area schools, which represent a broad spectrum of content.
Q.   Commercial Recorded Sound Collection

In addition to field-based materials, the Vermont Folklife Center Archives, in conjunction with Burlington-based non-profit Big Heavy World, has established the Commercial Recorded Sound Collection.  The collection encompasses all genres of commercially-released music and spoken-word recordings made in Vermont or by Vermont performers and distributed on 78rpm, 45rpm and 331/3rpm disc and cassette tape.  The VFC is also in the process of acquiring the archives of Philo Records, including documents, master tape and disk recordings, for inclusion in the Commercial Recorded Sound Collection.