This month, the Moses and Frances Asch Collection was inscribed to UNESCO’s Memory of the World International Register. This unique collection was provided by Folkways Records founder Moses Asch and his wife and is now housed in the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives. It includes the Folkways catalog, featuring material of both prominent and lesser-known writers, artists, poets, documentarians, ethnographers, and musicians from around the world, including Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, Harry Smith, and Langston Hughes.
UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme aims to preserve and promote the world’s documentary heritage. The Moses and Frances Asch Collection is the second Smithsonian collection added to the Memory of the World International Register, and one of only eight collections from the United States to be recognized. It joins the John Marshall Ju’hoan Bushman Film and Video Collection, which was added in 2009 and is maintained by the Smithsonian’s Human Studies Film Archives.
“The Moses and Frances Asch Collection serves as a unique testament to the breadth and depth of the twentieth century human experience,” Center director Michael A. Mason said. “By recognizing its importance, UNESCO continues to support the living legacy of the collection and of our shared cultural heritage.”
The Moses and Frances Asch Collection (1926–1987), acquired by the Smithsonian in 1987, includes a diversity of correspondence, audio, and visual materials from Folkways Records and other labels founded by Asch. One of the most influential record labels of the twentieth century, Folkways Records’ 2,168 titles include traditional and contemporary music from around the world, documentary recordings, spoken word in many languages, instructional albums and documentary recordings of individuals, communities and natural sounds. Its albums remain accessible to the public through Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.