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Washington DC Mural

Artist: Reginal Holliday

Photo Credits: Jonathan Flores


How do we create and keep a record? What stories help us survive? 

Lore – narratives, stories, testimonies, folk tales, oral traditions, myths, rituals, humor, customs, beliefs, ways of knowing and of being  – passes knowledge and practices down through generations. Embedded in the histories, traditions, and identities of communities, lore is a repository of collective wisdom. The life lessons passed down through families… Your grandmother telling you not to go outside with your hair wet, lest you catch a cold… The stories folks tell about which hospitals have good doctors and which ones to avoid…. Deeply rooted in experience, lore is the memory of what things were and visions of what may yet come to pass. 

Lore contains serious commentary, vital information, wit, imagination, and wonder. Lore-keepers and tellers are custodians of memory, and lore takes forms not documented in traditional archives, classrooms, or clinics. In the field of health, the significance of lore is often overlooked, though it plays a vital role in the narratives, knowledge, and practices that impact the health and well-being of diverse communities. 


For our first annual theme we ask: What are the health narratives that exist outside of formal institutions? What traditions, practices, and beliefs are transmitted through oral tradition, material culture, assemblages and gatherings, embodiment, expressive and creative forms? How do people cope with illness, and how do they seek healing? What lore circulates in spaces of health - in built environments contemporary and historical, and amongst staff and practitioners? 

We define lore broadly, drawing from its etymological core, “that which is taught: knowledge, science, doctrine, art, and learning.” What record does lore create and keep? How does lore influence health in Washington, DC, from the way Washingtonians conceptualize the history of health in the District to stories circulated in communities to shaping belief systems and health-related behaviors and offering multifaceted approaches to healing? Lore, in other words, is ubiquitous, whether we acknowledge it as such or not. And in the sense that it is everywhere and ever-present, lore is a carrier of survival. Social worker and writer Toni Cade Bambara put it this way: 

Stories are important. They keep us alive. In the ships, in the camps, in the quarters, fields, prison, on the road, on the run, under siege, in the throes, on the verge–the storyteller snatches us back from the edge to hear the next chapter. In which we are the subjects. We, the heroes of the tales. Our lives preserved. How it was; how it be. Passing it along in the relay. – “Salvation is the Issue.”

Exploring the Theme of Lore through Fellowships

We will explore this theme throughout the year through events and fellowships. We especially invite applications for fellowships that propose projects that make the intersections between lore and health justice explicit. Projects may include (but are not limited to): 

Histories of Medicine and Public Health:

Projects that research and promote the histories of health, medicine, and care in DC, especially those that are not documented in traditional archives. 

Oral History Projects:

Ethnographic Research:

Projects that record the personal stories, experiences, and wisdom of DC communities and elders. 

Projects that conduct in-depth research on the health lore and traditions in spaces and environments of health and healing, and amongst specific communities in DC better understand their cultural practices, beliefs, and custom

Community Storytelling:

Projects that organize workshops and events where community members can share and record their lore through storytelling, fostering community cohesion and cultural preservation.

Lore and Data: 

Projects that conduct environmental scans about the environment of health and healthcare in DC (e.g.. Focus on projects that systematically gather, review, and analyze qualitative and/or quantitative data (qualitative and/or quantitative). We especially encouraged mixed methods projects and projects that lean into the intersection of lore and data.

Folklore and Mythology Studies and Archives:

Academic research projects that explore the meaning, origins, and influence of folklore, mythology, and traditional narratives around health. Projects that establish digital or physical repositories of folklore, myths, legends, and traditional stories about health / medicine from DC communities, making them accessible to scholars and the public.

Expressive and Creative Projects:

Projects at the intersection of health and arts, film and digital media, music, and dance, transmitting lore through the creative and expressive arts.

Culture and Healthcare:

Projects that examine the role of cultural lore in healthcare practices, aiming to understand and integrate cultural beliefs and practices into contemporary health care. 

Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainability Projects: 

Projects that facilitate collaboration with indigenous communities to document and integrate their lore-based knowledge of health.

Digitization and Online Archives:

Projects that create digital archives and online platforms where people can access, explore, and contribute to the preservation of lore about health in DC.

Community Engagement and Empowerment:

Projects that empower communities to preserve and celebrate their lore by providing them with the resources, skills, and knowledge to document, share, and pass down their traditions.

Traditional Healing Research: 

Projects that explore and document traditional healing practices and remedies, often rooted in lore, for their potential medical efficacy and cultural significance.

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