Call for Submissions

Death, Loss, and Remembrance Across Cultures: A Role for Folklore in Education

A Call for Submissions | Mark E. Helmsing and Bretton A. Varga, Guest Editors

Initial drafts due April 1, 2022.

What happens when educators have the opportunity to teach/learn about death, loss, and remembrance? Do they acknowledge or ignore these realities and experiences, including social and emotional needs of learners who encounter death, loss, and remembrance? What are the implications of avoiding or embracing opportunities to teach and learn about death and loss? How do lessons about death, loss, and remembrance unfold in educationally constructive ways across cultures and communities?

This issue aims to gather the diverse practices, approaches, and examples of people learning about death, loss, and remembrance on behalf of educators. Folklore is rich with examples of how to engage with death, loss, and remembrance. For instance, folklorist Solimar Otero describes her godmother Tomasa’s saints and orichas, the presence of which reminded Otero of her deceased family members. Through folk practices of remembrance, this encounter touched Otero’s life “in both ephemeral and tangible ways” (Otero and Martinez-Rivera, 2021, 5). Otero’s example of remembrance of the deceased offers an entry point to learning about identities, histories, and communities through traditions, rituals, and culture.

In the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing humanitarian, ecological, and racial crises, considering ways to teach about and through death, loss, and remembrance is especially timely. Educators are seeking culturally responsive tools and approaches to help process trauma and harm. The arts and humanities can be used pedagogically, with folk arts particularly attentive to communities’ life cycles and cultural rituals. Folklore includes the traditions, arts, and stories that make cultural communities unique and strengthen our social bonds. The methods of folklore—such as observation, identifying important traditions and rituals, and deep listening to diverse narratives through interviews—create opportunities for educational equity in classrooms because the study of folklife centers on students’ linguistic, cultural, and social pluralities. Folklore can be a resource in helping heal from the trauma of loss and death while also aiding ongoing efforts to reckon with historical trauma from our shared histories. Such healing and reflection on loss and death can occur through cultural practices of remembrance. Across cultures, loss and absence are customarily observed through special rituals, creating and sharing stories, poems, and songs; artistic and expressive performances; and private and public displays of mourning, such as remembering loved ones with bodily tattoos or written displays on automobiles.

Studies in cultural memory suggest how ghosts and hauntings can help educators, students, artists, and folklorists become more attuned to the interconnectedness of death, loss, and remembrance. As Eve Ewing (2018) claims in her account of school closures in Chicago, “[g]host stories serve as an important counter-story; a ghost story says something you thought was gone is still happening here; a ghost story says those who are dead will not be forgotten” (154).

Learning from literature, art, music, folklore, and folklife can include experiences with touching the past, feeling the ephemerality of the present, and contemplating the future. This special issue invites contributions demonstrating cultural practices such as how communities respond to death and loss, perform memorialization and remembrance, and refer to ghosts/hauntings to communicate what is lost but not forgotten.

Essential questions that contributors may use to inspire their writing, interviews, or media submissions include questions that:
Consider traditions, art, and rituals of death, loss, and remembrance through a cultural framework

  • How do various cultures and religions display, create, and promote notions of ephemerality, disappearance, and mourning to understand and attend to remembrance?
  • How does art intersect with death, loss, and remembrance through exhibits and public displays within the context of social injustice (e.g., the murder of George Floyd)?
  • The exploration of death through a cultural lens may include both opportunities and pitfalls for students. What frameworks and models can help in examining this topic productively and sensitively? Topics may include the role of representation in memorialization, the techniques of cultural appropriation, and the pedagogy of trauma-informed care.

Explore how ghosts and hauntings can be generative in (re)conceptualizing the world around us

  • How can resources/archives juxtapose different temporal representations as rephotographs, soundscapes, and interactive documentaries (e.g., Welcome to Pine Point) as ghostly traces of memory enabling us to make sense of that which we cannot touch, yet nonetheless touches us?
  • How can ghosts and hauntings help learners interrogate lasting conditions (re)producing and upholding structures of oppression (e.g., colonialism, racism, social and ecological injustice, white supremacy)?
  • How might ghosts and hauntings be productive in unveiling new angles of inquiry relating to public mis/representations of history (e.g., statues, monuments, placards) perpetuating historical injustices and intolerance?
  • Culturally responsive teaching asks educators to recognize students’ cultural displays of learning and meaning-making (see Gloria Ladson‐Billings). Culturally sustaining teaching sees culture more deeply as an asset that should be explicitly supported (see Django Paris). How can educators pair the concept of ghosts and hauntings with folklore to foster productive, compassionate spaces of cultural connectivity and sustainability?

Guest Editors for this special issue:
Mark E. Helmsing, PhD, is Assistant Professor in the School of Education and Affiliate Faculty in the Folklore Studies Program and Department of History and Art History at George Mason University. His research works within public pedagogy, historical culture, and vernacular histories to examine how people feel about the past and how the past makes them feel. He has conducted fieldwork in schools, museums, and public spaces throughout the United States, such as the Arab-American National Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and National Museum of the American Indian, and internationally with learning about the Holocaust in Germany and Poland and about contested public histories and memories in Cyprus.

Bretton A. Varga, PhD, is Assistant Professor of History-Social Science at California State University, Chico. His research works with(in) critical posthuman theories of race, art, and temporality to explore how visual methods and artistic mediums can be used to unveil historically marginalized perspectives and layers (upon layers) of history that haunt the world around us.

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

Vonzell Agosto Professor of Curriculum Studies in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of South Florida-Tampa
Karen Canning Founding Director, GLOW traditions
Kaitlyn Kinney George Mason University
Lynne S. McNeill Folklore Program Chair, Utah State University
Willow Mullins American Culture Studies, Washington University in St. Louis,
Shanedra Nowell Associate Professor of Secondary Education in the School of Teaching and Curriculum Leadership, Oklahoma State University-Stillwater
Kay Turner New York University
Cathryn van Kessel Associate Professor of Social Studies and Curriculum Studies in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta
Monique Verdin Multimedia artist and author and member of the United Houma Nation

Works Cited

Ewing, Eve. 2018. Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side. University of Chicago Press. 

Otero, Solimar, and M.A. Martinez-Rivera, eds. 2021. How Does Folklore Find Its Voice in the Twenty-first Century? An Offering/Invitation from the Margins. In Solimar Otero and M.A. Martinez-Rivera, eds. Theorizing Folklore from the Margins: Critical and Ethical Approaches. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 3-21. 

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 National Endowment for the Arts and donors who are interested in keeping this a free resource to educators around the world.