AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus

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Spines of books about ballads, including Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballands

The AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus is a searchable online vocabulary that can be used to improve access to information about folklore, ethnomusicology, cultural anthropology, and related fields. Supported by a generous grant from the Scholarly Communications Program of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and early planning-grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Folklore Society developed the Thesaurus in cooperation with the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.

The AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus is now available as a Library of Congress Linked Data Service. 

AFS thankfully recognizes the dedicated work of the AFSET Editorial Board, which made this useful tool possible. 

AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus Editorial Board
(all of the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, Washington, DC)

Matthew Smith, Cataloger

History of The AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus

Support for the AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus

Support for the development of the Ethnographic Thesaurus was provided by:

  • A major grant from the Scholarly Communications Program of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
  • The American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
  • The Fenwick Library, the Department of English, and Folklore Program of George Mason University
  • The Division of Preservation and Access, National Endowment for the Humanities
  • The Folklore Program and English Department at the University of Oregon

History of the AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus

In 1988, the Subject Access Working Group (SAWG) of the American Folklore Society was established to explore the feasibility of creating a controlled vocabulary for the discipline of folklore. Among the first accomplishments of this group was a survey of the folklore community that determined that there was indeed a demand for an ethnographic thesaurus.

In 2000, the Ethnographic Thesaurus Working Group was formed to further the work of SAWG. Funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2001 allowed SAWG to once again survey the ethnographic community, place a prototype thesaurus of folklore terms online and plan further actions.

In 2003, the American Folklore Society received a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to hire a lexicographer, two subject specialists in folklore and ethnomusicology, and a database manager to begin the construction of the Ethnographic Thesaurus and to convene an advisory board to offer guidance on the project. The Ethnographic Thesaurus Advisory Board (members listed below) consists of 13 members who have archival, museum, and library experience and represent the fields of folklore, cultural anthropology, ethnomusicology, and library science.

During the fall of 2007, the first full draft of the Thesaurus was posted on the American Folklore Society website, using MultiTes Pro, a thesaurus construction and management program. The MultiTes software program provides an HTML export of the Ethnographic Thesaurus to upload onto the web that creates a dynamically-searchable thesaurus, as well as an XML export to allow the data to be shared among different platforms and applications.

AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus Development Staff [June 1, 2004 – June 1, 2007]

David Batty, Lexicographer
Jill Ann Johnson, Subject Specialist
Camilla H. Mortensen, Subject Specialist
Kristin Cooper Rainey, Database Manager/Administrator

AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus Advisory Board Members

Co-chairs: Nicole Saylor, Head of the Archive, and Catherine Hiebert Kerst, Folklife Specialist/Archivist, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, Washington DC

Suzanne Flandreau, Head Librarian and Archivist, Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College, Chicago, IL
Maggie Kruesi, Cataloger, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Robert Leopold, Director, National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Kara Lewis, Collections Information Program Manager, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Timothy Lloyd, Executive Director, American Folklore Society, Columbus, OH
Marsha Maguire, Librarian (Cataloger), Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress, Packard Campus, Culpeper, VA
Ellen McHale, Executive Director of the New York Folklore Society, Schenectady, NY
Laurel Sercombe, Archivist, University of Washington Ethnomusicology Archives, Seattle, WA
Moira Smith, Subject Librarian for Anthropology, Folklore, Sociology, Gender Studies, & Social Work, Indiana University Library, Bloomington, IN
Stephanie Smith, Assistant Archivist, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Margaret Yocom, Folklorist, Associate Professor of English and Director of Northern Virginia Folklife Archive, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

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