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Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

A Glossary of Key Terms

Anecdote
A short narrative about an interesting, amusing, or curious incident, often biographical and based on a real event.

Archive
A place where documents, letters, diaries, photos, recordings, and other information are stored and can be used by researchers with special permission.

Community
Any group of people sharing a common identity based on family, occupation, region, religion, culture, gender, age, interest, or avocation; where you live, go to school, work, worship, have family; people may be part of many overlapping communities, including their neighborhood, church, school, clubs, service organizations, or peer groups.

Culture
A people's ways of being, knowing, and doing.

Custom
A usage or practice that is common to a group of people or to a particular place.

Docent
A person who conducts guided tours through a museum and discusses and comments on the exhibits.

Ethnography
The process of documenting a group's cultural traditions.

Family Folklore
The stories, traditions, customs, rituals, sayings, expressions, celebrations, nicknames, foodways, games, and photographs that are preserved and passed on within a family.

Fieldwork
Documentation of cultural expressions and ways of life conducted in the social and cultural contexts in which they take place; the gathering of anthropological or sociological data through first-hand observation and interviewing of subjects in the field.

Folklore/Folklife
The traditional expressive culture shared within various groups: familial, occupational, religious, and regional. Expressive culture includes a wide range of creative and symbolic forms, such as custom, belief, occupational skill, foodways, language, drama, ritual, music, narrative, play, craft, dance, drama, art, and architecture. Generally these expressions are learned orally, by imitation, or in performance.

Folklorist
Someone who studies how people's expressive traditions — their stories, customs, art, skills, beliefs, music, and other expressions — are created, shaped, and made meaningful in community life. Folklorists conduct much of their research by observing and interviewing people "in the field."

Genre
A category of expression (art, oral tradition, literature) distinguished by a definite style, form, or content, such as folktales, legends, proverbs, ballads, or myths.

Heritage
Something of value or importance passed down by or acquired from a predecessor; recognized cultural identity and roots.

Indigenous
Originating and developing naturally in a particular land, region, or environment.

Legend
A narrative supposedly based on fact, and told as true, about a person, place, or incident.

Oral History
A process of collecting, usually by means of a tape-recorded interview, recollections, accounts, and personal experience narratives of individuals for the purpose of expanding the historical record of a place, event, person, or cultural group.

Personal Experience Narrative
First-person narratives usually composed orally by the tellers and based on real incidents in their lives.

Rapport
A feeling of comfort and connectedness between people.

Tape Log
A topic-by-topic summary of the contents of a tape recording.

Tradition
Knowledge, beliefs, customs, and practices that have been handed down from person to person by word of mouth or by example, for instance, the practice of always having a certain meal for a holiday.

Tradition-Bearer
A person who has knowledge, skills, and experience to share, for example someone who learned to quilt or cook from a family member or someone who has been farming for many years.

Transcribe
Taking down the contents of a tape recording, word for word.

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