Call for Submissions

Teaching with Ethnographic and Folk Arts Collections: Challenging History

A Call for Submissions | Alexandra Antohin, Guest Editor

Publication Scheduled for Fall 2023. Sign up here for updates.
Submit an Article or Inquiry to info@jfepublications.org.
Submissions due April 1, 2023.

In 2021 Local Learning received funding to engage a consortium of experts from around the nation to develop learning materials for Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS), the Library of Congress’ premier educational program focused on helping educators enhance students’ critical thinking, analysis skills, and content knowledge using the Library’s collections of millions of digitized primary sources. The Local Learning project team offers teaching tools and materials that engage the digitally available archival holdings of the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress alongside local and regional collections, bringing them into conversation with each other to create a fuller, more complex narrative of American communities, history, and people. This special issue of the Journal of Folklore and Education offers a deep dive into ethnographic primary source materials, organized around the theme “Challenging History.”

Challenging History: Teaching hard history and topics that may engage unjust content.

Challenging History: Offering training and learning resources through oral histories and primary source collections gathered through ethnographic research to offer diverse perspectives for analysis and inquiry.

Core to this issue are the materials that the project team developed, tested, and refined over the past two years in classrooms, museum settings, and with community-based learning opportunities. Our project partners include the Vermont Folklife Center, Oklahoma State University Library, Oklahoma State University Writing Project, and HistoryMiami Museum. We invite submissions that

  • Explore learning activities, framework articles, case studies, and research that demonstrate the value of ethnographic and oral history primary source materials in K-12 classrooms, with emphasis on their value in exploring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) concerns through the lens of “Challenging History.”
  • Examine curricular approaches that connect original source materials and their interpretations (e.g., comic books as a secondary source) as a way to feature the complexity of the oral history interview as a record, present counternarratives, deepen the representation of marginalized histories and communities.
  • Explore ways to adapt materials for English language learners and migrant educational settings.

Over the past 150 years, folklorists, ethnomusicologists, and other ethnographic researchers have created a unique, enormous corpus of ethnographic field collections unfamiliar to most educators. These multi-format, unpublished groups of materials documenting human life and traditions have been created, gathered, and organized by folklorists or other cultural researchers as part of community-based field research. Such collections are created works, brought together through the intentions and activities of the ethnographer, often working in collaboration with members of the community whose traditional expressive life is the focus of study. The largest and most significant collection of these materials in the United States is the Archive of Folk Culture at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, but similar, smaller collections are held by individuals, organizations and academic institutions across the United States.

Why focus upon primary sources? These collections contain irreplaceable records of the life of our country that will amplify curricula across disciplines and learning settings. They show, for example, the occupational culture of Cuban American cigar rollers in Florida and migrant workers in Vermont. They record the personal experience narratives and life histories of thousands of Americans expressing the significance of many of the most important experiences of their lives, such as immigration, courtship and marriage, birth and death, and wartime military service. They include one-of- a-kind recordings of music, from klezmer, Slovenian polka, and Piedmont blues to conjunto, bluegrass, and gospel. They capture the artistry of Irish step dancing, Puerto Rican bomba, Brazilian capoeira, and Appalachian square dance. They hold stories and images of bay houses on Long Island, sharecropper cabins in the South, and adobe buildings in the Southwest. They describe locally and culturally characteristic foods, foodways, and the family and community events of which they are a part. They capture valuable information about worldview and belief, expressed through cultural practices of many kinds. They are a repository of images and interviews gathered in projects to document quilts and quilt making, traditional boats and boat building, and many other material culture traditions. Most importantly, they demonstrate complex, nuanced perspectives on the cultures of the United States, providing vehicles for challenging long-held assumptions about the sources of collective American identity and providing opportunities for vital engagement—and for greater awareness and understanding—across the often seemingly intractable boundaries of culture, race, religion, and class.

The records that comprise these collections were created by scholars and activists whose perspectives are rooted in the ethnographic disciplines of folklore studies, ethnomusicology, anthropology, and oral history. Through these lenses, these collections are viewed less as concrete historical records than as evidential components of the ongoing, dynamic process of human cultural change. And although they do often reflect historical truth, they are valued as powerful reference points for understanding individual and community perspectives on memory, meaning, and identity. In addition, these materials are consciously created through the interaction of multiple actors—researchers, interviewees, community members—and reflect the perspectives and biases that influence all human interaction. The nuances that underlie the interpretation of these materials are often not noted by those unfamiliar with the processes that birthed them. As both creators and stewards of ethnographic materials, we hope this special issue will bring ethnographic perspectives to their interpretation, enriching the ways in which they are framed and taught.

Guest Editor for this special issue is Alexandra Antohin. She is an anthropologist with over ten years of experience leading and supporting ethnographic fieldwork projects. She is committed to supporting educators and cultural institutions to engage in community-based, qualitative research. As the Vermont Folklife Center’s Director of Education, she helps design and deliver learning materials for undergraduate and secondary school students and the general public on the application of ethnographic methods as a foundational approach to inquiry and ethical representation. Previously, she worked as the Research and Program Director (2017-2020) for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Avoice Virtual Library Project, a digital archive dedicated to capturing Black legislative behavior in the United States Congress. Antohin completed her doctorate in Social Anthropology at University College London.

We are grateful to our Advisory Committee for their input on this special issue:

Michael Knoll, Vice President of Curatorial Affairs, HistoryMiami Museum
Andy Kolovos, Associate Director and Archivist, Vermont Folklife Center
Vanessa Navarro Maza, Folklife Curator, HistoryMiami Museum
Tina Menendez, Director of Education, HistoryMiami Museum
Sarah Milligan, Head, Oklahoma Oral History Research Program, Oklahoma State University
Shanedra Nowell, Associate Professor of Secondary Education in the School of Teaching, Learning and Educational Sciences, Oklahoma State University-Stillwater
Guha Shankar, Folklife Specialist in the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress


The Journal of Folklore and Education (ISSN 2573-2072) is a publication of Local Learning: The National Network for Folk Arts in Education. Please share this announcement with colleagues and educators in your community. This endeavor is supported by the Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) program of the Library of Congress, National Endowment for the Arts, and donors who are interested in keeping this a free resource to educators around the world. Content created and featured in partnership with the TPS program does not indicate an endorsement by the Library of Congress.

Learn more about the Local Learning Teaching with Primary Sources program here.