The Folklife Archives was founded in 1913 by Carl Wilhelm von Sydow who the same year was appointed examiner for subject of Folklore. Thus, von Sydow was given responsibility for a new academic discipline in Sweden. Inspired by Dansk Folkmindesamling, von Sydow initiated a collection already in 1907. He had the intention that the collected material would form a special collection; a folklore archive at Lund University, managed and made available for study in much the same way as seminary libraries. The collected records formed a folklore collection associated with Lund University and the Folklife Archives was from the beginning integrated with the education and research of the academic discipline today known as Ethnology at Lund University.
The Folklife Archives in Lund differ from the country's other tradition archives with its clear and long term connection to teaching and research. An important part of the collection is the interviews carried out by different student generations in the context of teaching and field work. The contact between the collection, research and teaching has proven fruitful for both the archive and the department over the years. The Folklife Archives provide material for dissertations and theses while collection adapts to the ethnological research issues. A large part of the research conducted in ethnology has been based on archive material.
In the beginning the focus of interest was mainly folklore. Customs and celebrations were described in detail and songs, riddles, tales, legends and proverbs were recorded. About 1930 there was an increased interest in studying material culture. The collection expanded to the peasantry's working methods and tools in agriculture, handicrafts, hunting and fishing, housing and accommodation, social relationships within the village community and the guild. In the 1960s and 1970s ethnologists began to take interest in contemporary research. The documentation work came in the form of questionnaires, field work and interviews that focused on the present. This was the case particularly concerning externally funded documentation of industries and residential areas. Since the late 1970s, the fieldworks in ethnology teaching are carried out as themed local studies in collaboration with a local cultural heritage association or a museum. The collections grow through donations, student work, contemporary research projects and questionnaires. The questionnaires, or directives, are often designed in collaboration with researchers in ethnology and are distributed 3-4 times a year. In 1991 a large donation with folk music and folk dance was given to the archive, a collection formed as the result of teen years work by ethnologists, musicologists and folk musicians (The Scania Music Collections). Since 2012 the Folklife Archives forms a separate department at Lund University.
In a letter to Gösta Hyltén-Cavellius, von Sydow writes about the Folklife Archives' first premises: For several years, we must content ourselves with a space under the stairs of the University Hall, a scrub with a single window that sat so high up that I, a rather tall man, could not with my outstretched hand reach the edge even when I stepped on a staircase… Today, the Folklife Archives are housed at Arkivcentrum Syd (ACS), located southeast of the center of Lund. On these premises the archive documents are stored in the right temperature and humidity, shelf units move with electronics and there is plenty of space in the open reading rooms. ACS is planned to serve as a cultural meeting point and houses a large auditorium where public lectures are arranged. A joint reception for all archives on the premises improves the service.