Jan Rosenberg (1955-2023)

In Memoriam
Photograph of Jan Rosenberg, who has short brown hair and is wearing a white collared shirt, playing a guitar.
Photo by Mike Luster.

Folklorist, educator, and AFS lifetime member Jan Rosenberg died on January 7, 2023 in Bloomington, Indiana. Rosenberg was a founding member of the Folklore and Education Section, serving twice as its co-convener, as well as a member of several other AFS sections. She devoted her career to folklife education, using fieldwork and school ethnography to develop and present curriculum.

Jan received her BA in Folklore from Indiana University in 1978 and went on to get her PhD in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked in the field of folklore and education since 1980 and served in a variety of educational settings, including curriculum development and classroom work, ethnographic documentation and fieldwork, archive development, as well as workshops on cultural competence for educators, chaplains, and health care professionals. She had particular interest in the use of folklore in the classroom during the progressive education era of the early twentieth century. She founded her own nonprofit, Heritage Education Resources, in 1997 and developed and provided research materials and services to educators, schools and folklife organizations for the exploration of heritage and cultural diversity.

As the Folklife Coordinator for the Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council, she conducted extensive fieldwork in 12 southwest Arkansas counties and worked with residents to create programs highlighting the traditional cultures of the region. She worked as a Folklife Education Coordinator for the Florida Folklife Program and developed the “Discovering Our Delta” Education kit for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

Her publications included These Are Our Stories: Women’s Stories of Abuse and Survival (Hamilton Books, 2007), Intercultural Education, Folklore, and the Pedagogical Thought of Rachel Davis Dubois (Palgrave MacMillan, 2019), and numerous reviews for journals. She created a bibliography of works on Folklore and Education published between 1929 and 1992.

Jan was dedicated to the field of folklore. She loved music and she never lost her sense of humor, or quiet perseverance to live fully. Jan will be deeply missed by her family, people involved in her day-to-day life, and by a lifetime of friends and colleagues across the U.S. Jan still spoke of her life in folklore, research, and was working on her next book project until only a few days before her death. Jan’s third book on the subject of Arthurdale, West Virginia, the nation’s first New Deal community and its educational programs, “Arthurdale: Cultural Intervention, Education, and Folklore in a New Deal Setting,” was in its final edits and will be finished and published by her beloved colleagues.

Below are some remembrances from Jan’s friends and colleagues.

“I met Jan my first year of graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. She was 2 or 3 years ahead of me and generously shared her insights as well as guidance on papers and studies. She also made dinner several times while some of us lowly beginners were struggling late at night to meet deadlines. Jan continued to nurture many of us with words of encouragement, active listening, and sharing of her insights and skills.”
–Lucy Long

“Jan was so very committed to connecting in such personal ways with the individuals with whom she worked as well as their communities. And she had a way of establishing an intimacy during fieldwork that enabled her to do such phenomenal interviews; her fieldwork and metadata were a wonder in their detail. And, as many have said, she was so generous with her research and with her intellectual processes—not to mention that wicked sense of humor.”
–Riki Saltzman

“Jan was always encouraging folklorists to look at the antecedents to the work of public folklorists… [In her book], Intercultural Education, Folklore, and the Pedagogical Thought of Rachel Davis DuBois, … she provided us with an interesting discussion of various approaches to educational reform and pedagogy that are still relevant to contemporary interests in a wide range of fields. Jan recognized that there’s no one unified history to our work, and it’s important to gain insights into a broad range of interests that are all part of the constellation of folklore’s histories.”
–Gregory Hansen (excerpted by Riki Saltzman)

Read Jan’s “Southern Journey” on the Internet Archives.

Watch Rosenberg’s talk, “Southern and African American Gospel Folklife Education,” for Arkansas Folk and Traditional Arts.

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