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Benjamin A. Botkin head and shoulders portrait
Folklorist Benjamin A. Botkin, 1926. Photo courtesy of the Botkin family.

Benjamin A. Botkin Folklife Lecture Series

Through the Benjamin A. Botkin Folklife Lecture Series, the American Folklife Center (AFC) presents distinguished experts speaking about their research and current issues and best practices in folklore, folklife, ethnomusicology, and related fields. Lectures are recorded for the AFC archive and posted on the Library's website. (See below for list of speakers and topics.) The series honors Benjamin A. Botkin (1901-1975), a pioneering folklorist who headed the Library's Archive of American Folksong from 1942-1945.

2016 Botkin Lectures

Canaries, Nightingales, Whistlers, and Transcribers:
Birdsong, Bird-Imitators and the Early 20th-Century Recording Industry,
Ian NagoskiFounder and Director, Canary Records

Ian Nagoski
Ian Nagoski

August 2, 2016
Noon-1:00 p.m.
Whittall Pavilion, Ground floor
Thomas Jefferson Building

Humans have always been fascinated by birds and charmed by their songs. Caged songbirds and human imitations of birdsong date back millennia. In the early 20th century, the fledgling recording industry began to release records featuring birdsongs: both actual recordings of caged birds and humans imitating birds in styles that ranged from straightforward birdcalls to vaudeville-style shlock to virtuoso performances. During the 1910s and 1920s, the art and performance of bird-imitations produced amazing and eccentric celebrities; by 1925, commercial recordings of bird imitators had been released on six continents.

Ian Nagoski, founder and director of Baltimore’s Canary Records, draws examples of rare early recordings from his recent digital release "Ecstatic & Wingless: Bird-Imitation on Four Continents, ca. 1910-44" to explore this forgotten art form and illuminate the world of vaudevillians and bird-fanciers, of canaries, nightingales, finches, and the people who studied them, poeticized them, and tried to be them.

Music researcher Ian Nagoski has previously explored the porous boundaries of culture through 78rpm recordings of early 20th century immigrants who came to America from collapsing European and Near Eastern empires. In the process, he has unearthed the stories of great, forgotten performers and made their unforgettable performances available to modern audiences. Recently, Nagoski was asked to selected a bird song from "Ecstatic and Wingless" for inclusion on the MoonArk, the first permanent art installation on the moon, created at the Frank-Ratchye Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University.

Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at 202-707-6362 or

Botkin Lecture Series Past Events Archive

Includes descriptions of each lecture, photos, and informational essays from the event flyers. Links to webcasts of lectures are included as available.

2015 Lecture Series

2014 Lecture Series

2013 Lecture Series

2012 Lecture Series

2011 Lecture Series

2010 Lecture Series

2009 Lecture Series

2008 Lecture Series

2007 Lecture Series

2006 Lecture Series

2005 Lecture Series

2004 Lecture Series


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   July 26, 2016
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