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  • Peter T. Bartis (1949–2017)
  • Margaret Kruesi

Peter T. Bartis devoted his career to documenting folk culture and veterans’ stories at the American Folklife Center (AFC), Library of Congress. Always open and ready to listen to each person who came to the Folklife Center Reading Room, he was known to us as an outstanding colleague and friend of many people in his Capitol Hill neighborhood. Peter was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, April 26, [End Page 75] 1949; he died December 25, 2017, of cancer. He was 68.

Peter was Senior Folklife Specialist at the Library of Congress. He began work there as a fieldworker on the AFC’s first field project, the Chicago Ethnic Arts Project, in 1977, accepting a full-time position in the Center at the Library on June 22, 1977. He received his BA from Boston University in 1972, his MA in Folklore from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1974, and his PhD in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982.

While interviewing Greek American families in Chicago, Peter reflected on his own family’s history of immigration from Greece to Rhode Island, talking about how, in his mother’s family, there were priests in each generation. “There was always a priest in our family, until this generation . . . for generations. . . . Maybe I’m being a priest in my own way; I’m trying to find these old traditional things.”1

Peter’s mentor at the University of Pennsylvania was Dr. Kenneth S. Goldstein, and, like Kenny, Peter was fascinated with fieldwork and dedicated to the practicalities of documentation. Kenny directed the AFC’s Rhode Island field project in 1981, and Peter served as a fieldwork team member and local expert on this and several other AFC field projects. Peter’s most influential and lasting contribution in this area is his publication Folklife and Fieldwork: A Layman’s Introduction to Field Techniques, first published by the Library of Congress in 1979 and now in its 4th edition. Peter saw the need for a fieldwork guide for non-specialists that would parallel Kenny’s practical and theoretical guide for academics. Folklife and Fieldwork has been widely distributed and used in classrooms, remaining popular almost 40 years after its first publication.

Peter’s dissertation is an extremely well-written and accessible account of the first 50 years of the Archive of Folk Song at the Library of Congress, which was later renamed the Archive of Folk Culture and is the core of the AFC’s Archive today. Peter initially mined the Archive to write its history, and in recent years, he was called on, as AFC records manager, to curate records of the Archive that were created over the subsequent 40 years.

Peter was a life member of the American Folklore Society (AFS), giving presentations at AFS annual meetings over the years, particularly on the AFC’s Veterans History Project, for which he worked as senior program officer for 7 years. Peter fostered important relationships with members of Congress in support of this project, using his experience from coordinating the AFC Local Legacies Project in 1999–2000. The Local Legacies Project was initiated by members of Congress and individuals across the nation to commemorate the Library of Congress Bicentennial and to celebrate America’s richly diverse culture. Peter’s experience coordinating this large effort put him in an excellent position to build the Veterans History Project (VHP), which was created by an Act of Congress in 2000. In 2001, the AFC contracted with the American Folklore Society to provide experienced folklorists and oral historians to lead workshops for community and veterans’ groups. Peter was a coordinator between the AFC and the AFS on this partnership, which continues with AFS providing training in oral history to those who need skills to contribute to the VHP collection, which now includes more than 100,000 veterans’ stories. Peter’s own interviews with veterans are part of the VHP collection; most are available online.2

Just before his retirement from the AFC, Peter made a generous gift to fund an internship at the AFC to give other young people the opportunity that he had when he...


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