Pennsylvania Folklore/Folklife-Related Collections and Guides

Colleges and Universities 

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. The collection can be found here.
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. The collection can be found here.
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. The collection can be found here.
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. The collection can be found here.
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. The collection can be found here.
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,, Open Folklore, and links to numerous associations and organizations as well as research and educational institutions related to folklore and folklife. The collection can be found here.
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. The collection can be found here.
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. The collection can be found here.
The Randall V. Mills Archives of Northwest Folklore, located at the University of Oregon, contains various fieldwork and research materials related to folklore and folklife studies. The primary focus of the archive is to include Oregon and Pacific Northwest folklore; however, the archive holds various collections related to Pennsylvania folklore and folklife studies. These collections include student projects investigating Pennsylvania cooking traditions, Pennsylvania German cultural practices, Pennsylvania lore and legends, and more. The collection can be found here.
Lehigh University’s Special Collections contain various materials related to Pennsylvania life. Some of the items within the Special Collections are of particular interest to folklorists of Pennsylvania culture and heritage. The library includes various sections, such as Lehigh History and Digital Projects, which contain photographs, newspapers, and other materials which document Pennsylvania folklife. The collection can be found here.
The Belk Library, located at Appalachian State University, contains a wealth of resources which would interest folklorists. The collection primarily considers Appalachian regional folklife, and includes some items related to Pennsylvania. Some items of interest related to Pennsylvania folklife include brochures and manuscripts which document Pennsylvania and Appalachian culture. The collection can be found here.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is home to the Southern Folklife Collection at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. This collection considers Southern folklife studies; however, some collections contain materials related to other regions or states such as Pennsylvania. The Ola Belle Reed Collection within the Southern Folklife Collection contains some audio recordings from the folk singer during her time in Pennsylvania. The collection can be found here.

Museums, Historical Societies, and Heritage Centers

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. This collection can be found here.
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. The collection can be found here.
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. The collection can be found here.
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. The collection can be found here.
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. The collection can be found here.
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. The collection can be found here.
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. The collection can be found here.
The German Society of Pennsylvania, located in Philadelphia, is the oldest society in the United States dedicated to German-American culture. The Society was established in 1764 and has continued to serve as an important organization to promote German cultural practices. In recent years, the Society has also established a library containing archival materials related to German-American culture. While the Society’s research materials consider German-American culture across the United States, its location in Philadelphia calls for an interest in Pennsylvania-related folklife collections. The collection can be found here.
Colonial Williamsburg represents one of the preeminent living history museums in the United States. Located in Williamsburg, Virginia, Colonial Williamsburg recreates the lives of American colonists during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although the museum primarily focuses on colonial life in Virginia, some artifacts are originally from Pennsylvania. Folklorists interested in the folklife of Pennsylvania furniture would find the pieces at Colonial Williamsburg most interesting. The collection can be found here.

Public Libraries

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. The collection can be found here.
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. The collection can be found here.
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). The collection can be found here.
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. The collection can be found here.