About the Field School: How Folklife Archives Work

Where the processing begins

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.

Waiting for my Rooster to Crow

Rooster App

I read about the new Rooster App on the Washington Post, and it sounds perfect for me and my newly busy life. I grieve the fact that I don’t have blocks of time to read fiction, but this seems like the perfect solution:

You don’t need to wait at the docks for the latest installment of Charles Dickens’s “Old Curiosity Shop.” But what if your iPhone could recreate the excitement — and convenience — of reading a novel in serial form?

Check out a new app called Rooster, which has the backing of some of the biggest names in the tech industry. It launches Tuesday in the Apple app store, and was created specifically for the iPhone. Every month, Rooster will send two novels to your phone: a classic tale and a contemporary story, paired to provoke interesting reflection.

But these books aren’t just dumped on you in one I’ll-never-get-to-it download. Instead, the novels arrive in your cellphone in manageable installments, according to a schedule you set yourself. “War & Peace” looks so much less daunting as a serial tale consumed every day at lunchtime like “The Days of Our Lives.” The service costs $4.99 a month.

I was excited to get started, but as soon as I downloaded the app, I got a message “please request an invitation.” So I did.  A few seconds later I got a message that basically said I’m on a waitlist and will receive an invitation when one is available.

What’s that about?

I’m happy and willing to pay the $4.99 a month to give Rooster a try.  I’m not sure what the developers are thinking–perhaps there are free memberships to get people hooked, thus the wait?  It’s completely unclear.

I am extremely disappointed. I really wanted to give this one a try.

For now I’m contenting myself by reading Gay Degani’s serialized novel, What Came Before.  It is wonderful and highly recommended.  But I’m still annoyed about Rooster.

Why I am working so much?

“Respect the sanctity of the snow day,” said one of my wise colleagues earlier this year.  As a department chair, I make every effort to remember her advice, but usually not for myself.

Today our university is closed in response to the Titan winter storm, but I’m still working, grading papers, reviewing dissertation drafts, and the trying to get ahead of the loads of administrative work the is required for my job.

I was contemplating all of this when I came upon this article, published today in InsideHigherEd, which does a great job explaining why I’m working instead of enjoying that novel I’ve been dying to read all semester.

 
In Search of Lost Time
March 3, 2014
 
As I am writing this article, I should be writing something else: an email to an editor, an email to an author, a letter of recommendation, notes for tomorrow’s classes, comments on students’ papers, comments on manuscripts, an abstract for an upcoming conference, notes for one of the books I’m working on. I cannot remember the last time I ended a day having crossed everything off my to-do list.
 
Why do academics work so much?

1) Part of it is habit. When we’re just starting out, we learn to say “yes” to everything. Join this panel? Yes. Send article in to special issue? Yes. Write a book review? Yes. Join committee in professional organization? Yes. Indeed, we learn to look for things to say yes to. This is how you build your C.V. Go to conferences, publish, get involved. If you don’t do it, you won’t get that elusive tenure-track job. Then, should you become one of the few who get the job, you’ll need to maintain a level of production in order to get tenure. Should you get tenure, you’ll want one day to get promoted. If that happens, and you reach full professor, well, best to keep publishing … just in case. What if your university falls on hard times? Or you need to move? Tenure is good, but portable tenure is better. So you just get on that treadmill and never get off.

2) Part of it is economics. At my university we have no “cost of living” raises. We have merit raises, but only when the state budget allows. So you always want to be in the top tier — the “Highest Merit” group — just in case there’s money for a raise. And I’m speaking here as one of the lucky, tenured few. For adjuncts, the situation is more dire. Everywhere, they teach more classes and for less money just to make ends meet, and may not even manage to do that. Employed at the whim of the academic labor market, adjuncts are increasingly joining the ranks of the working poor.

3) Busy-ness is also built into the structure of academic work. The more you do and the longer you’re in the profession, the more opportunities and obligations accrue. Writing letters for colleagues and students, getting onto committees, contributing to a book edited by a contributor to the book you edited, giving invited talks, writing grant proposals, and so on.  Some of this work is interesting (I enjoy traveling and giving talks, for example), but it’s still work.

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2014/03/03/essay-why-faculty-members-work-so-much#ixzz2uvUWfklB
Inside Higher Ed

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives: Annie Dillard

 

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.

Amtrak Writer’s Residencies

Amtrak Writer’s Residences offers round-trip train rides solely for the purpose of writing.

I love taking the train, even if it would make sense to fly.  Trains are like ideal mobile offices.  You have a view, the ability to walk and go out to lunch, but your away from your daily routine and interruptions.

 

Then today I read this on The Wire, so I guess I’m not alone:

Amtrak has begun offering “writers’ residencies” to, well, writers – long roundtrip rides aboard Amtrak trains dedicated solely for the purpose of writing.

After New York City-based writer Jessica Gross took the first “test-run” residency, traveling from NYC to Chicago and back, Amtrak confirmed that it is indeed planning to turn the writers’ residencies into an established, long-term program, sending writers on trains throughout its network of routes.

First, let’s get it out of the way: The Wire is 100 percent on board with this idea. Pun intended, because we’re writers. We love writing, and we love trains, and we love them both together.