Here you will find a variety of stories documenting the rich, home-grown, vernacular culture of the Arizona-Sonora desert and borderlands region. The music, dances, foods, traditions, adornment, rituals, jokes, manual and occupational arts that make these desert lands unique and beloved. As “Big Jim” (for whom this archive is named) has said: this is a “big land filled with small details.” We invite you to browse through the different stories and topics and honor, with us, the people whose inventive ways and ordinary genius reminds us that there’s always beauty in the most unsuspected places.
The James and Loma Griffith Arizona-Sonora Digital Folklore Archives is an educational internet portal to make accessible knowledge of traditional cultures of the Arizona, Sonora, and greater Borderlands region.
The Griffith Archives were created in 2011 by the not-for-profit folklife organization Tucson Meet Yourself to celebrate the 40-plus-years legacy of public folklore of its founder “Big Jim” Griffith, on the occasion of his recognition as one of the nation’s leading folklorists with the National Endowment for the Arts’ “Bess Lomax Hawes Award”/National Heritage Fellowship.”
The Archives include documentation of folk artists and folklife practices in the United States’ Southwest and Mexico’s Northwest. It contains materials gathered by Dr. Griffith’s over more than forty years of folklore work in the borderlands as well as more recent materials connected to the ongoing research, mapping, inventory, and public presentation of the folk arts carried out by other folklorists and community scholars in Arizona —both in connection with the annual Tucson Meet Yourself festival and the University of Arizona’s folklore research activities.
Arizona has a long and fruitful history in the documentation of folklore. In 1943, folklorist Frances Gillmor founded the Arizona Folklore Committee at the University of Arizona. That academic Committee was an extension of an earlier community-based Folklore Club founded in 1933 by Mexican-American parents at Carrillo School in one of Tucson’s oldest barrios. Over time, commitments were put in place for the UA to employ a folklorist to lead extensive folklore fieldwork and public activities in the region. Jim Griffith served in that position from 1970 to 1999. After some time, an endowment was created at one of the university’s research units –The Southwest Center in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences– to permanently hold the public folklorist position; since 2004 Dr. Maribel Alvarez has served in that role.
A separate Southwest Folklore Collection, consisting of fifteen manuscripts including extensive recordings and documentation, are currently housed at the university’s Special Collections library.