Teaching Ethnography: Writing the Final Product

Last Thursday was the last day of class for the Writing Ethnography group.  For the last month we’ve been workshopping selections from their final projects in class and I’ve been meeting one-on-one with students to talk about their writing and how to best shape their final products.  Most students will hand in a 15-20 page ethnographic account; some will submit projects that are much longer.

I teach ethnographic methods every semester.  This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to teach ethnography in the context of a writing course.  Certainly writing is always at the center of the work I do as a folklorist; the attention to narrative structure is a hallmark of good folkloristic work.  What I found extremely satisfying about the project is how well the ethnographic process integrated with the writing process.  Just as the students were getting their stride in their fieldwork, they were also finding their authorial voices in the construction of their ethnographic projects.

You may recall that I blogged about a student a few weeks ago–a student who to date has not handed in a single draft.  Well, he’s still at it; he came by my office with a draft of this final project.  It turns out he has been writing and drafting, at least since he came back to class.  His was a remarkable piece of work: ethnographically thick and well supported by secondary sources.

Tomorrow the final portfolios come in and I will be buried in what I expect will be the most engaging undergraduate essays.  My only regret is that this class is not required for all students in folklore and anthropology.  Teaching intensive writing along with ethnography could do so much for the field.

I love this job.

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