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AFS Review: Featured Folklorist

Featured Folklorist: Jan Rosenberg (Heritage Education Resources, Inc.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Evangeline Mee
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Jan Rosenberg, founder and President of Heritage Education Resources, Inc. (HER), has been active in the AFS Folklore and Education Section and the Independents Section. She is currently a co-convener of the Folklore and Education Section.

Left: Jan Rosenberg in Bloomington. Photo by David Snodgress I Herald-Times

Jan Rosenberg ––

I didn’t “discover” folklore; it discovered me. I attended a small private high school (Sandy Ives also attended back in the 1930s) where the folk music revival and theater programming were very strong. I liked the music (especially drop-thumb banjo) but was more interested in technical theater, which was introduced to me by my mother. It was something I excelled in over all of my other studies, and I learned how expression could be shaped to tell a story. By the age of fifteen I decided I wanted to be a folklorist.

I think my connection to folklore and education came from what was basically a traumatic experience of schooling from elementary to community college. After a series of academic challenges, I went on to study folklore as an undergraduate at Indiana University when there was just a handful of folklore undergraduates. I found my niche in the field, and graduate school was the logical advance in my training. It was at the University of Pennsylvania where Kenny Goldstein introduced me to folklore and education, when a public school in northern Pennsylvania advertised a contract position for a folklorist to work in a public school setting—one of the first Folk Arts in Education programs funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. From that positive experience I moved on to designing an archive for a children’s museum in Philadelphia. From that post I became more involved in folklore and education in a formal setting: I was employed by the Bureau of Florida Folklife Programs in 1986 to work with the School Board of Palm Beach County. This involved fieldwork in the county, classroom work, and community involvement with tradition bearers, fourth-grade students, teachers, principals, and curriculum writers. Although there were moments when there was some personal conflict with the Bureau, this experience shaped my identity as an advocate and hired hand for folklore and education. It also led me to other kinds of projects that I do today with programming and research in the history of folklore and education in the history of American education.

Right: Rosenberg is collecting memories of the old schools in Bloomington. She talks about the project in front of the former McCalla school, named after a former school superintendent. Photo by David Snodgress I Herald-Times

After working with the Bureau and with an arts agency in Arkansas, I created a non-profit called Heritage Education Resources (HER) which received 501(c)(3) status in 1997. HER’s mission is intentionally broad: to provide resource materials and services for individuals and groups interested in exploring heritage and cultural diversity. Through HER I have been involved in many projects, all of which have a connection to folklore and education. Some examples include a photography exhibit highlighting the assemblage of items on the fence surrounding the site of the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City, working with grade school students to explore the history of Hope, Arkansas’ school for African Americans prior to Integration, and coordinating projects with tradition bearers and students in the Mississippi Delta for the Smithsonian folklife program. HER has worked with a faith-based organization’s activity of home building and is currently designing and implementing an archive and research center with an oral history component for a 116-year-old Baptist church in Indianapolis. All of these projects are educational in nature, providing time and space for identifying the education endeavor embedded deep in each set of traditions.

In addition to programming, I continue research in the historical nature of folklore and education and have published on these connections. The missions of education and folklore are strikingly similar, with the major distinction between the two being in the forms of transmission. In education, the school is the source for learning, whereas in folklife it is the family and community. Yet in each there is an importance attached to personal knowledge, knowing about, and knowing. Teachers have been using folklore in their lessons forever. The field of folklore and education, in my opinion, need to continually press this point forward.

I can’t say I belong to just one community. I remain an advocate and hired hand for many communities—folkloristic, educational, ecumenical, and political. I’ve had moments when I feel estranged from my fellow folklorists working in education because my work and their work don’t quite fit together. And then there are people in other communities that make me proud to be a folklorist because they can come to me for counsel and service. I doubt any of us identify with “one” community. Rather, we use our training and sensibility to be multiple and contextually arranged. 



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