Pennsylvania Folklore/Folklife-Related Collections and Guides

Colleges and Universities 

Dickinson College Archives & Special Collections: LGBT Center of Central PA History Project Collections 

The LGBT Center of Central PA, in partnership with the Dickinson College Archives & Special Collections, contains materials related to LGBT life and activism in Central Pennsylvania.  The collection, spanning from 1940 to the present, includes oral histories, newsletters and newspaper clippings, political campaign memorabilia, gay bar memorabilia, photographs, pageant programs, AIDS Memorial quilt panels, and more.  All collections materials are housed at Dickinson College.

East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania Kemp Library Special Collections: The Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection 

The Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection is located at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.  Named after the noted jazz saxophonist, the collection contains a wealth of materials related to jazz music.  The collection’s location in East Stroudsburg speaks to the historic presence of jazz throughout the Poconos region.  While the collection spans across the United States, most of the materials relate to the development of jazz music in the Poconos of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Elizabethtown College Hess Archives and Special Collections 

Elizabethtown College’s Hess Archives and Special Collections contain several collections, including some of interest to Pennsylvania folklore and folk culture.  For those interested in Amish cultures in Pennsylvania, see the Dennis L. Hughes Photographs of the Amish Collection, a collection of photographs of Amish communities from throughout the United States with a special interest in Amish life and culture in Lancaster County.  Another collection of interest is the materials related to the Church of the Brethren.  Elizabethtown College serves as the main repository for the Church of the Brethren’s Northeast and Southern Pennsylvania Districts, including materials such as congregational papers, family histories, biographies, and photographs.

Franklin & Marshall College: German-American Imprint Collection 

Franklin & Marshall College holds a collection of various German American imprints from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  These imprints include fraktur, newspapers, monographs, almanacs, and broadsides.  While the imprint collection spans across North America, most of the collection’s materials were created in Central and South-Eastern Pennsylvania. 

Indiana University of Pennsylvania Special Collections and University Archives 

The Special Collections and University Archives at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania contain several collections documenting life in Western Pennsylvania.  These collections include the Coal Culture Projects, containing nineteenth and twentieth century materials from Western Pennsylvania coal miners and their families; African Americans in Indiana County, Pennsylvania; Indiana County in the Civil War Era; and the Pennsylvania Collection, containing local histories and out-of-print texts related to Pennsylvania culture. 

Penn State University Libraries: Folklore and Folklife Studies Subject Guide 

Penn State’s Folklore and Folklife Studies Subject Guide provides numerous online resources to assist with research pertaining to folklore and folklife.  Although the guide is not specific to research on Pennsylvania folklore, it provides a general overview of folklore research resources.  Resources on the guide include the Folk Music Index, the Folk Song Index, Folklorestreams.net, Open Folklore, and links to numerous associations and organizations as well as research and educational institutions related to folklore and folklife. 

University of Pennsylvania: Folklore & Folklife Collection 

The Folklore & Folklife Collection at the University of Pennsylvania represents a culmination of materials from when the university had one of the leading folklore academic departments in the world.  The collection contains materials from around the world, but has some items related to Pennsylvania folklore.  Items in the collection include reference works as well as primary source materials such as texts and tools.  Since the folklore department and program disbanded, the collection was dispersed amongst numerous locations at the University of Pennsylvania.  Folk art collections are in the Fine Arts Library while ethnographic collections are in the University Museum Archive.

Ursinus College Library Archives & Special Collections: Pennsylvania Folklife Society Collection 

The Pennsylvania Folklife Society Collection, located within the Ursinus College Library’s Archives & Special Collections, contain various materials collected by Alfred L. Shoemaker from the 1940s to 1960s related to Pennsylvania folklore.  The collection stems from the work of Shoemaker, William Frey, and Don Yoder to create the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center, later known as the Pennsylvania Folklife Society, with Franklin & Marshall College.  The collection contains many materials related to Pennsylvania German folk culture, including folktales and manuscripts; almanacs and imprints; Bibles, hymnbooks, and musical compositions; and photographs.  The collection also contains the Alfred Shoemaker Folk-Cultural Index, 1938-1962 and Pennsylvania Folklife magazines. 

Museums, Historical Societies, and Heritage Centers

Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania Collections 

The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, with the University of Pittsburgh Library System, holds numerous collections of interest for folklorists researching life and culture in Western Pennsylvania.  Examples of collections include the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh Oral History Project Records and Recordings; the Ford E. and Harriet R. Curtis Theatre Collection of Pittsburgh Theatre Programs; the H.H. Seiferth Sign Company Photographs; the Smoke Control Lantern Slides from the 1930s and 1940s; and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Wilkinsburg, Pa. Records. 

Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society Archives 

The Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society holds collections in its archives related to both the Atlantic Coast and Lancaster Conferences of the Mennonite Church.  Additionally, the Society’s Archives contain various personal papers from members of the Mennonite Church in Lancaster.  Materials of interest to folklorists include folk art such as fraktur and scherenschnitte; broadsides; photographs and slides; and audio recordings. 

Lehigh County Historical Society Collections 

The Lehigh County Historical Society in Allentown holds various collections pertaining to life in Allentown, Lehigh County, and the Lehigh Valley.  Collections of interest to folklorists include photographs, architectural and technical drawings, church records, 900 volumes of local family histories, German-language legal records and newspapers, and more.  The Society also collects materials related to Pennsylvania German studies, including publications by the Pennsylvania Folklore Society and the Pennsylvania German Society. 

Mennonite Heritage Center Collections 

The Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, PA contains several collections which document Mennonite culture and heritage in the Delaware Valley for three centuries.  All materials in the collections are from Mennonite communities in Philadelphia, Lehigh, Berks, Chester, Montgomery, Bucks, and Northampton Counties.  Folklorists would find useful materials pertaining to manuscripts and photographs; church and institutional collections; audio recordings of worship services; fraktur; textiles; and periodicals and almanacs. 

Philadelphia Museum of Art: Joan and Victor Johnson Pennsylvania German Fraktur Collection 

The Philadelphia Museum of Art holds a collection of more than 230 Pennsylvania German fraktur.  These materials were gifted to the Museum by Joan and Victor Johnson, two individuals who have collected fraktur since the 1950s.  To celebrate these gifts to the Museum collection, the Philadelphia Museum of Art held a special exhibition in 2015 entitled “Drawn with Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur from the Joan and Victor Johnson Collection.”  While the entire collection may not be presently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, some pieces remain. 

Senator John Heinz History Center Collections 

The Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, preserves 250 years of history in Western Pennsylvania.  Collections of interest in Pennsylvania folklore include the African American Program, the Italian American Program, and the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives.  Each of these collections contain materials which document the lived experiences and cultures of these different ethnic groups in Western Pennsylvania. 

York County History Center Library & Archives Special Collections 

The York County History Center preserves the local history of York County, Pennsylvania.  Some of the collections at the York County History Center’s Library & Archives would be of interest to folklorists interested in Pennsylvania folklore.  These collections include the African American Collections, the Charles A. Williams Architectural Drawings, and the York County History Center Film Collection, which contains numerous films documenting events in York County from 1923 to 1960.

Public Libraries

American Folklife Center: Archive of Folk Culture Pennsylvania Collections 

The American Folklife Center, located at the Library of Congress, was created in 1976 to preserve folklore and folklife from across the United States.  In its Archive of Folk Culture, the American Folklife Center holds a collection of materials which document Pennsylvania’s folk traditions.  The collection materials include recordings of occupational folklore of anthracite and bituminous miners and river boat raftsmen; Irish music; fiddle and string band music; and ethnic, religious, and musical traditions of Pennsylvania German, Lithuanian, Yiddish/Jewish, Slavonic, and Bulgarian communities. 

Free Library of Philadelphia: Pennsylvania German Fraktur and Manuscripts Collection 

The Free Library of Philadelphia is Philadelphia’s public library system, one of the largest in the United States.  The Library holds several special and digital collections useful for scholars.  A collection of interest for folklorists is the Pennsylvania German Fraktur and Manuscripts Collection.  This collection, one of the largest public collections of fraktur, highlights a wide range of fraktur styles and artistic skills and shows how the designs changed over time in Pennsylvania.  Items include some of the earliest fraktur made in the United States and the tools that fraktur artists used. 

Library of Congress: Pennsylvania Folklore Online Collection 

The Library of Congress provides an online research guide of various materials related to Pennsylvania folklore.  This research guide and online collection include many of the same materials found in the American Folklife Center Pennsylvania Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture (listed above). 

Lower Macungie Library Local History and Genealogy Center Collections 

The Lower Macungie Library in Macungie, PA contains several special collections of interests for folklorists in its Local History and Genealogy Center.  The collection contains materials from Eastern Pennsylvania, including Lehigh, Berks, Bucks, Schuylkill, Northampton, Monroe, and Carbon Counties.  The Library also holds a sizable collection related to Pennsylvania German and Pennsylvania Dutch culture, including books and videos related to folklore and folk art of the Pennsylvania Dutch, the Mennonites, the Amish, and the Moravians.