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Emily Buhrow Rogers Named ACLS Fellow at Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Monday, September 14, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lorraine Cashman

Folklorist, museum anthropologist, and American Folklore Society (AFS) member Emily Buhrow Rogers is one of the first recipients of a new postdoctoral fellowship program offered by the American Council for Learned Societies (ACLS) aimed at advancing COVID-19 related community initiatives. Her position will focus on developing multimedia, online stories for Folklife Magazine, a publication of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Smithsonian Institution.  Emily recently completed graduate studies at Indiana University, earning her M.A. in folklore studies and her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology.

According to the ACLS, the aim of the program is to “to galvanize the power of humanities scholarship and training in addressing critical challenges facing communities hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Each fellow will partner with a non-profit organization on publicly engaged projects that document and respond to the damage the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked and that advance collective understanding of the societal fault lines that helped worsen its impact, notably inequality, increasing precarity, divisive media, and racism.” 

Reflecting on her new position at the Center, Dr. Rogers noted “I am thrilled to be joining this project with the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Not only is it an important chance to document the wide-ranging effects of the pandemic on the arts, but it also presents an opportunity to better understand one of the things that artists do best: creatively overcome obstacles and adapt to new realities.”

During graduate study at Indiana University, Emily served as Editorial Assistant for Museum Anthropology Review and she is currently the Customs Editor for Mississippi Folklife, published by the Mississippi Arts Commission under the managing editorship of Emily’s IU folklore studies classmate Maria Zeringue. Emily worked previously for the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, where Museum Anthropology Review was then edited and where she curated the 2015 exhibition Cherokee Craft, 1973. Before her studies at Indiana, she worked in support of the Smithsonian-based Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology, a material culture studies training program for graduate students in cultural anthropology, folklore studies, and Indigenous studies.

“Among folklorists, Emily is unusual for the combined strength of her editorial experience, her museum experience, and her experience collaborating with artists and tradition bearers to pursue documentary work in community contexts,” said her research collaborator and former doctoral advisor Jason Baird Jackson. He continued, noting: “Her new Smithsonian role will surely draw upon her strengths in all of these areas. Working remotely, away from the Smithsonian during the present COVID-era, she can also benefit from having worked there previously—in the National Museum of Natural History—during and following her museum studies training at George Washington University. In her earlier role, she helped craftspeople and communities reconnect with Smithsonian heritage objects and collections. In her new role, she will help them share their stories through high profile Smithsonian media projects.”

Emily completed her doctoral studies this past summer. Undertaken with the approval of the Tribal Council and the Office of the Chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, her dissertation is an ethnography of contemporary craft practices among the Choctaw people in Mississippi. It focuses on the swamp cane basketry for which the Choctaw are famous, but also considers such crafts as beadwork, the making of clothing, and the manufacture of the racquets used in stickball games. In addition to accounting for the importance of these crafts for Choctaw people today, her study considered how knowledge of techniques and the of materials used in making are key, but sometimes scarce, cultural resources that Choctaw artists and craftspeople creatively work to gather and share. Her studies with Choctaw makers were supported by several funders, including the Center for Craft, which, like the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, is also hosting a new ACLS Leading Edge Fellow.

“The Smithsonian has long been a place where Americans turn to understand their experience,” said Michael Atwood Mason, director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in a news release about Emily’s appointment. “And it has also been a place where emerging professionals seek opportunities to learn and grow, to share their ideas and discover new perspectives. We are grateful to the American Council of Learned Societies and the Luce Foundation for their partnership and the recognition that this is a key moment when all Americans want to explore how COVID-19 is impacting individuals and communities across the nation.”

In addition to her new role at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Emily is a Visiting Scholar in Folklore in the Indiana University Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. In this capacity she is a member of the Material Culture and Heritage Studies Laboratory, with which she has been continuing her studies of museums and material culture in the American South.

The AFS has been a constituent society of the ACLS since 1945 and the Society is an active participant in the Council’s work. Reflecting on this relationship and the new fellowship program, AFS Executive Director Jessica Turner notes: “ACLS has created a fellowship program to support recent PhDs in the present economic climate through strategic partnerships with significant public institutions, serving to strengthen the support and visibility for the humanities at a critical moment." The ACLS Leading Edge Fellowships are supported by the Henry Luce Foundation, which also funds the American Folklore Society’s partnership activities with the China Folklore Society.

A second application round for ACLS Leading Edge Fellowships is expected to be announced later this fall. Information about the program is available online from ACLS. The Council is soliciting expressions of interest from other community-facing organizations who may wish to partner as Fellowship hosts.

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