What is a field school?

Field School student Melissa Beard visits the JFK gravesite.
Photo by Debra Lattanzi Shutika

Field School for Cultural Documentation is an ongoing project of the American Folklife Center (ANC) at the Library of Congress.  Typically 4-5 weeks in duration, the field school is held over the summer months, and covers a variety of topics that provide participants with a basic introduction to cultural documentation in the field. Topics covered include: research ethics, project planning, interviewing, documentary photography, sound recording, writing fieldnotes, archiving, and delivering public presentations on research findings.

The first half of the course is devoted to classroom lectures on a variety of topics and workshops about documentation equipment and related techniques. The second half of the course is devoted to the application of documentation methods through team-based fieldwork. At the end of the course, research teams make public presentations on their research findings and submit their fully organized documentary materials (photographs, audiotapes, fieldnotes, tape and photo logs, etc.) for archival deposit.

In the last two decades the Field School for Cultural Documentation has grown into an annual event: staff from AFC would partner with folklore faculty from universities across the U.S. to train graduate and undergraduate, as well as community members, in the practice of cultural documentation.

In 2010 the Folklore Studies Program at GMU was invited to offer the Field School; this summer marks the 3rd annual Field School at Mason.  I feel fortunate that I was able to secure Arlington National Cemetery as our field school site.  It marks the first time the Field School has documented an Army installation.  This week I will be blogging and tweeting about the field school experience, drawing on student research materials and photographs, and explaining how the field school is emblematic of the types of classes offered through the Folklore Studies Program at Mason.


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