Jan Bender Shetler: Tanzanian cultural heritage research and preservation

This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of The Bulletin.

Shetler interviewing Mara people in Tanzania.

JAN BENDER SHETLER ’78, the director of global education and former professor of history at Goshen College, is set to retire this year, concluding a career dedicated to historical research, community involvement and cultural preservation.

Jan Shetler ’78

Throughout her tenure, Shetler has been a beacon of academic excellence, particularly in her endeavors within the Mara Region of Tanzania. Her commitment to ethical research practices and cultural conservation has resulted in the establishment of the Mara Cultural Heritage Digital Library. This digital repository, launched publicly in 2022, houses a wealth of primary sources, including audio recordings, videos, texts and visual materials, reflecting Shetler’s extensive research.

However, Shetler’s vision extends beyond academia. She views the digital library as a means of giving back to the Mara community. Through grant funding, she has ensured that these resources are accessible not only to scholars worldwide but also to the Mara Region’s inhabitants, fostering a deeper connection to and appreciation for their cultural heritage.

Shetler’s continuing work with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which supports ongoing access to and documentation of the oral history interviews with Mara elders, underscores her dedication. And she has continually involved students in her research.

“Since coming to Goshen College, students have been working on transcription and digitizing, gaining experience with the project,” said Shetler. “Students use this content directly when working with prominent themes in African history and beyond.”

By Gunnar Sadowey