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PhD, Michigan State University
Assistant Professor
Secondary Education 6-12

Contact Information

Send email to Dr. Helmsing

Phone: (703) 993-2384
Fax: (703) 993-2013
Email: mhelmsin (

Mark Helmsing's website

George Mason University
Fairfax Campus
Thompson Hall 1801
4400 University Dr.
MS 4B3
Fairfax, VA 22030


Dr. Mark Helmsing is Assistant Professor of History and Social Studies Education in the Graduate School of Education where he teaches in the Secondary Education (SEED) M.Ed. program, the Advanced Studies in Teaching and Learning (ASTL) M.Ed. program, and the Teaching and Teacher Education (TATE) Ph.D. program. Dr. Helmsing is also affiliated with Mason’s Center for International Education (CIE). He studies how history education in schools, museums, and mass media educate people in affectively and emotionally moving ways, or, as historian and novelist Eelco Runia puts it, how we are “moved by the past.” His teaching, research, and scholarship forge connections between curriculum and culture through the use of concepts and methods from affect studies, memory studies, and critical phenomenology and hermeneutics to ask why, for example, we are interested in old home movies, historical reenactments, Holocaust memoirs, steampunk culture, Renaissance fairs, The History Channel, and #throwbackthursday. These are examples of how we are called to attention by the presence of the past (Rosenzweig & Thelen) to activate and inform our historical consicousness (Rüsen, Simon) and our historical imagination (Kearney, Ricoeur).  Whereas much of the recent educational research on historical thinking has focused on reading textbooks and primary source documents, Helmsing’s research moves in different directions to show educators other ways of thinking with and engaging the past, from oral histories to ghost walks, museum exhibits to musical theater, video games to comics, and to deeper stirrings of cultural memory and heritage that exist in print, analog, digital, visual, oral, and other mediated forms, helping connect historical thinking to historical feeling. His work aims to help educators consider the elusive glimmers, flashes, feelings, and resonances we have when we encounter the past in our classrooms, popular culture, and public spaces, anchored by the claim that when we learn about and engage with the past we encounter and activate a number of emotional stances, from reverence and joy to shock and sadness through pride, shame, trauma, nostalgia, and other moods and atmospheres that shape our experiences with the past. 

Dr. Helmsing is currently examining the above ideas in the following projects:

1. A study of how we learn about the histories of war through the ethics and emotions of violence and the place of specific wars in our cultural memory. He is currently an inaugural fellow in the George Washington University's March for the Living Holocaust Education Faculty Fellows program to support his research and teaching in this area.

2. A study of how we learn and teach about the past in popular culture through certain allegorically expressive genres such as horror, romance, and fantasy, which is the focus of his forthcoming book, Captivating the Past: Popular History, Popular Culture, and Critical Media Literacy (due out in 2019). 

3. A study of how we make sense of and teach about the periodization of time, which Helmsing discusses in a chapter on time for a book he co-edited on keywords in social studies education. He and his doctoral students are specifically examining how we interpret, narrate, and focalize the recent past in history curriculum, textbooks, museums, and popular culture with a focus on understanding and teaching structures of feeling from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s in our curriculum.


Research Interests

  1. History & Social Studies Education
  2. Theory & Philosophy of History
  3. Affect & Emotion in History Education 
  4. Narrative Studies & Narratology in Education
  5. Museum Studies & Heritage Studies 

Recent Publications

Articles in Journals:

Helmsing, M. (forthcoming). Disability plots: Curriculum, allegory, and history. Accepted for special issue of Journal of Curriculum Theorizing. 

Helmsing, M. (2018). A love-hate relationship: Personal narratives of pride and shame as patriotic affectsBank Street Occassional Paper Series in Education, 40, 84-93. 

Helmsing, M. (2016). Becoming-American: Experiencing the nation through LGBT fabulation in a ninth grade U.S. history classThe Journal of Social Studies Research, 40(3), 173-186. 

Janak, E. & Helmsing, M. (2016). Problematizing philanthropy: How a historical study of the General Education Board in the U.S. West puts the "social" in race and region as social constructs. Race, Ethnicity, & Education, 20(2), 277-288. 

Houseal, A., Gillis, V., Helmsing, M., & Hutchison, L. (2015). Disciplinary literacy through the lens of Next Generation Science Standards. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 59(4), 377-384. 

Helmsing, M. (2014). Vitruous subjects: A critical analysis of the affective substance of social studies educationTheory & Research in Social Education, 42(1), 127-140.

Helmsing, M. (2014). An/Other American life: Minor pedagogies of heritage in the Arab American National MuseumReview of Education, Pedagogy, & Cultural Studies, 36(1), 71-88. 

Chapters in Books:

Helmsing, M. (forthcoming). It's messed up: Aversion, affect, and the Holocaust in history education. In B. Dernikos, N. Lesko, S.D. McCall, & A. Niccolini (Eds.), Mapping the affective turn: Theory, research, pedagogy. New York, NY: Routledge. 

Huddleston, G. & Helmsing, M. (forthcoming). Pop culture 2.0: A political curriculum in the Age of Trump. In P.P. Trifonas (Ed.), Springer handbook of theory and research in cultural studies and education. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. 

Helmsing, M. (forthcoming). Youth, the Vietnam War, and Becoming-American. In S.R. Steinberg, B. Down, & D. Nix-Stevenson (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of critical pedagogies. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Ltd. 

Helmsing, M., Krutka, D.G., & Whitock, A.M. (2018). Introduction: Unsettling the social studies. In D.G. Krutka, A.M. Whitlock, & M. Helmsing (Eds.), Keywords in the social studies: Concepts and conversations (pp. xxi-xxxi). New York, NY: Peter Lang.  

Whitlock, A.M. & Helmsing, M. (2018). Time. In D.G. Krutka, A.M. Whitlock, & M. Helmsing (Eds.), Keywords in the social studies: Concepts and conversations (pp. 37-45). New York, NY: Peter Lang. 

Helmsing, M. (2018). Making America great (again and again): Certainty, centrality, and paranoaic pedagogies of social studies education in the United States. In J.A. Sandlin & J. Wallin (Eds.), Paranoid pedagogies: Education, culture, and paranoia (pp. 99-120). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Helmsing, M. (2017). A small town with long roads: Wyoming as a postwest curriculum. In W.M. Reynolds (Ed.), Forgotten places: Critical studies in rural education (pp. 291-301).  New York, NY: Peter Lang. 

Helmsing, M. (2016). Life at large: Materializing social studies education for re-enchantment. In N. Snaza, D. Sonu, S. Truman, & Z. Zaliwska (Eds.), Pedagogical matters: New materialisms and curriculum studies (pp. 137-151). New York, NY: Peter Lang. 

Helmsing, M. (2016). "This is no ordinary apple": Learning to fail specatcularly in the affective pedagogy of Disney's diva villains. In J.A. Sandlin, & J.C. Garlen (Eds.), Disney, culture, curriculum (pp. 59-72). New York, NY: Routledge. 

Helmsing, M. (2014). Feeling responsible: Vulnerable encounters in social studies education. In H. Smits & R. Naqvi (Eds.), Framing peace: Thinking about and enacting curriculum as radical hope (pp. 43-48). New York, NY: Peter Lang. 

Helmsing, M. (2014). Grotesque stories, desolate voices: Encountering histories and geographies of violence in Southern Gothic's haunted mansions. In W.M. Reynolds (Ed.), Critical studies of Southern place: A reader (pp. 316-323). New York, NY: Peter Lang. 

Other Information

Dr. Helmsing is seeking George Mason students, faculty, community members, and educators in nearby schools to lend their expertise and join in collaborating on the following projects:

(1) a study of how we teach and learn about the 1970s/1980s/1990s in schools, museums, and popular culture (the Carter Administration, the Reagan Revolution, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, rise of conservatism, fall of communism, and related historical events)

(2) a study of how we teach and learn about the experiences of war in schools, museums, and popular culture (including visits to historical sites, battlefields, monuments, and memorials)

If you teach a history/social studies course at the secondary and/or college level that addresses these topics, please contact Dr. Helmsing to discuss a possible research project collaboration.