We’re into the second week of fieldwork with the field school. I’ve been meeting with research teams and talking about their progress I find that students have two major obstacles to overcome. The first is moving into the field. The second is setting up and completing interviews
Moving Into the Field
The first week of fieldwork, students are out in research community observing, meeting people and getting a feel for the parameters of the project. When I’m teaching a fieldschool, I generally send students out in groups of 2-4 and ask them to do their initial observations together. This is good for safety (no one should be in a study community alone, no matter where it is), but also to develop comaraderie. The first few times out I generally find out who the most outgoing students are, who’s most likely to hang back, and who is likely to be a natural. Students often report the first week in the field is the hardest. They have to practice ethnography and use every opportunity to engage the research community.
While the initial contact can be difficult, it’s not the biggest obstacle. Even the most reserved student can become an expert observer of a social scene. The next step-engagement and oral history-can also be a challenge.
The Oral History
Much as been written about the ethnographic interview; some researchers mistake the interview as ethnography itself, a major oversight. Ethnographic interviews are most reliable in a larger context of participant-observation research. They provide the necessary depth, allow informants to explain their social milieu, and provide the unseen aspects of ethnographic collection, allowing the researcher to see how the past has influenced the present.
Last week students were asked to dedicate their time to setting up and completing their oral history interviews. Some had immediate success; others had to ask for my help to make the connection to get informants so they could complete this part of the project. In all cases students came back from their interviews with a new understanding of their field site and the people with whom they are working.
The final hurdle is the public presentation, which will take place on June 19 at the Alexandria Seaport Foundation (2 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA). Ethnography is a form of public scholarship. It requires the collaboration of a community and the results are belong to that community. I pleased with the work the students have completed this summer and I look forward to their public presentations and the feedback we’ll all receive at the public forum.
When Debora Kodish arrived in Philadelphia in the early 1980s with her new doctorate in folklore from the University of Texas, there was no one in the city documenting everyday life in its many and varied neighborhoods.
No one organization was looking at what the African drummers were doing, what the Hispanic street artists were up to, what the Vietnamese musicians were playing, what the Italians in South Philly were saying – or at why they were doing what they were doing and saying what they were saying.
Kodish and some young colleagues huddled in a room at the Fleisher Art Memorial, and started asking the questions.
From those sessions, a small, fiercely focused independent organization grew – the Philadelphia Folklore Project, a reflection of Kodish’s commitment, energy, and voracious appetite for documentation.
Now 61, Kodish is stepping down after 27 years of leadership. Selina Morales, 32, a folklorist trained at Indiana University and a four-year PFP vet, will take the helm of this still-unique, still-focused organization.
The official transition will be marked at PFP’s annual birthday bash Saturday at the Painted Bride Art Center, 220 Vine St. There also will be two honorees, percussionists Elaine Hoffman Watts and Nana Korantema Ayeboafo, the former working in klezmer, the latter an African drummer.
“Both totally groundbreaking,” Kodish said recently, sitting with Morales in the back gallery of the project’s home, a rowhouse on West 50th Street near Baltimore Avenue.
The large front gallery is occupied by the current exhibition “Honoring Ancestors,” a joint effort with the Community Education Center, marking CEC’s DanceAfrica Philadelphia! festival.
Kodish and Morales sat at a table covered with a red-checked cloth in the Bill and Miriam Crawford Dining Room, a permanent installation in the PFP building. Its walls covered with political images, posters, fliers, and newspaper pages that once adorned the dining room walls of the Philadelphia activist couple’s home, it is a prime example of the project’s work.
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Students just completed the second week of the field school; the first week of actual fieldwork. I’ve met with each team and they’re doing a fantastic job. I will be posting photos from the field this weekend to keep readers up to date on their activities.
What we’ve discovered so far: that Alexandria has a vibrant and active waterfront. It’s an honor to document the the day-to-day life here.
Photo: Sailing Club of Washington. Photo by Ashlee Payne
The 2014 Field School is the fourth consecutive field school I’ve taught with the Library of Congress (LOC). Each year we struggle to balance the class time and preparation versus the time students are out in the field. Before the program migrated to the Folklore Studies Program at Mason, the conventional set up was a full week (eight hours/day) in the classroom, followed by two weeks of field work.
When I took the LOC field school in 1995, that was the formula we used. It was helpful to have class time, but I recalled getting antsy to get into the field as the week wore on. After we started our fieldwork, I found it difficult to remember some of the procedures we learned a week before. We made it through the process, but taking on my own field school, I wanted to try to strike a balance between classroom and practicum, lecture and tutorial.
I also had to work within the limitations of my institution. The course is taught as a regular 3-credit course over a six-week summer session. It’s a graduate course cross listed with an advanced undergraduate section. Typically all graduate courses are offered in the evenings (to accommodate working students),but the LOC faculty can only teach during business hours. I was afraid the timing would kill the class, but I’ve been fortunate to find students who are committed to learning the methodologies and the projects we’ve undertaken.
During the first two years, we tried to complete the classroom work the first week of the field school. That rarely worked, as we often had to schedule additional teaching days in week two. This year I tried something different–I asked the registrar to schedule the class for double sessions in week 1, thus we had two full weeks of class time in the first week. As a trade-off, students will finish a week early in June.
This schedule worked perfectly. This year’s students were also particularly quick learners, but we still had plenty of time to do group work, practice interviews, and field note writing. I felt more confident sending this group into the field than I have in the past, and honestly, all of the field school students have been excellent.
There was one other unexpected surprise: our project is coinciding with a redevelopment of the Alexandria Waterfront, which will probably start in the next year. Many of the people we’ll be talking to are anxious to talk, on the record, about their experiences working in Old Town, supporting maritime culture, and the long and sometimes painful process of negotiating the future of Alexandria’s historic district. These are ideal conditions to conduct an ethnographic project. The students have been welcomed graciously by Alexandria’s citizens, merchants and politicians.
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The 2014 Field School for Cultural Documentation will take place May 19-June 27. Students will document the Alexandria, VA waterfront before the institution of the new waterfront revitalization plan. I will be blogging regularly about the project and teaching ethnography throughout May and June.
From the Washington Post:
More than ever, successful novelists must also be savvy publicists. That market reality demands a combination of unrelated skills that many writers simply don’t possess.
But Sarah Pekkanen does. The Washington area writer launched her career as a novelist in 2010 with a paperback called “The Opposite of Me.” Since then, she’s been an instructive model of how to make it as a writer of women’s fiction. With valuable endorsements from mega-sellers Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult, she’s taken to social media effectively, developed a dedicated following and sold rights to her work around the world.
With her fifth novel, “Catching Air,” ready to publish next week, Pekkanen has been developing ever-more innovative ways to attract attention and new readers.
She’s currently getting estimates from a Rockville company for putting actor Ryan Gosling’s face on a stick. “I can bring it on tour,” she says. “He can photo bomb my pictures with readers. Dignity at all costs, that’s my motto. Franzen is weeping from jealousy.”
Read the rest of this article on the Washington Post.
An insightful exploration of University Presses.
Originally posted on The Scholarly Kitchen:
As I announced on the Kitchen a while back, I have been working on a research project in the university press area. Specifically, I have been trying to determine how university presses could sell more books, both print and electronic, directly from their Web sites. There may be several posts to come from this research, but for now I want simply to report what the participating presses had to say about their operations and their aspirations for direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales.
The survey was put into a Web form, which the presses were invited to fill out. Sixty-nine did so, which is a considerable portion of the total press community. The aim of the online survey was to capture specific data; I have been following up with telephone interviews with many of the respondents in order to get at more qualitative information. On the forms…
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The Folklore Studies Program at George Mason University is one of the few programs in the U.S. the offers comprehensive instruction in ethnographic methods and data collection. Thirty-seven years ago, my colleague, Professor Emerita Margaret Yocom founded the Northern Virginia Folklife Archive. Students have been submitting original work to the archive since.
In 2011, working with colleagues at the Library of Congress, I began the Field School for Cultural Documentation at GMU. The field school has been in existence for nearly 20 years; I’m pleased that GMU has the opportunity to host the field school and offer students professional training in research methods and project planning. Field School graduates acquire real-life work skills in ethnographic data collection, in-depth interviewing, and project management. Many go on to take positions as professional ethnographers for government agencies and private industry.
As part of the field school, students are told that their collections will become part of the Northern Virginia Folklife Archive. It’s an important aspect of the project–students need to understand that the field school is not simply a class project. They’re doing real and significant research that will be available to other scholars, researchers and community members who will want to know more about the places and people the field school documents.
This year we’re transferring all of the hard-copy files and objects in the physical archive (located at George Mason University) to a fully digital archive as part of the National Folklife Archives Initiative. Most of the work we’ve collected since 2011 is now available through the archives.
Why archive the materials? So much of the work that graduate and advanced undergraduates do is read by one person-the instructor. This is unfortunate. Students are capable of producing fantastic collections that might be useful for future research and understanding. Too many important collections get tossed out.
Sometimes students become territorial with their collections and are reluctant to share it with the archive. For classes other than the field school, M.A. and Ph.D. theses, students have the option of donating their materials to the archive. If a student has pending publications on work, I ask them to consider donating to the archives after their work is completed or published. That way they are the first to write about their collections, and future researchers can still benefit from their work.