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The Field Schools for Cultural Documentation

What are the field schools?

Every year, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress sponsors at least one intensive, introductory field school on cultural documentation in partnership with an educational institution. Held in various parts of the United States, the field school provides hands-on training in ethnographic documentary techniques needed for effective fieldwork concerning folklore and related fields. The field school is typically three weeks in duration, 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.

During the 1994 American Folklife Center's field school in San Luis, Colorado, Laura Hunt (left) and Beverly Morris (right) interview Corpus Gallegos on the vega, a cattle grazing area held in common by the community.
During the 1994 American Folklife Center's field school in San Luis, Colorado, Laura Hunt (left) and Beverly Morris (right) interview Corpus Gallegos on the vega, a cattle grazing area held in common by the community.
Photo: Miguel Gandert.

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.

Fieldwork research themes explored in previous field schools include: social history and cultural change on the Columbia Pike in Arlington, VA;External Link the history, cultural meanings, and uses of Provo Canyon, Utah; the history and traditions of family-run orchards in the Utah Valley (in and around Provo); maritime culture in transition in Crisfield, Maryland; water use and water rights in an agricultural community in southern Colorado; the social, economic and aesthetic dynamics of farmers markets in Colorado Springs, Colorado; the intersection of nature and culture along the Kokosing River, in Knox County, Ohio; the history, uses, and cultural meaning of Bloomington, Indiana's town square; and culture and disability in Bloomington.

"In my first few months of graduate school, I have already drawn extensively on my field school experience. I frequently refer to things I learned both in the classroom and in the field as I contribute to seminar discussions, and I've used the training in documentation to pursue my own research for term papers and ongoing projects." -- Lisa Powell, Field School participant, 2005

"I think fieldwork is stupendous. The greatest advantage of the field school was that it allowed me to systematically experience the entire process of a fieldwork project, from planning to presenting, with handy instructions and on-going feedback from the staff throughout ..." -- Kyun Yun, Field School participant, 2000

Team members Delia Alexander (left) and Tamara Hemmerlein examine recently-processed slides from their field research during the American Folklife Center’s June 2000 field school in Bloomington, Indiana.
Team members Delia Alexander (left) and Tamara Hemmerlein examine recently-processed slides from their field research during the American Folklife Center’s June 2000 field school in Bloomington, Indiana.
Photo: David A. Taylor.

Who are they for? Who does the teaching?

Typically, fifteen participants are selected for each course. Most have little experience or previous training in cultural documentation, but do have a strong desire to obtain this training and a good potential to apply it in their future work. Past participants have included graduate and undergraduate students in folklore and related fields, school teachers, librarians, museum curators, arts and humanities council staff members, cultural activists, and oral historians.

Field school instructors usually include professional folklorists, archivists, documentary photographers, and local community scholars; members of the American Folklife Center's staff always serve on the faculty.

When and where is the next field school?

Marilyn Bañuelos (right) photographs Connie Romero as she interviews rancher Corpus Gallegos on the vega, during the 1994 American Folklife Center's field school.
Marilyn Bañuelos (right) photographs Connie Romero as she interviews rancher Corpus Gallegos on the vega, during the 1994 American Folklife Center's field school.
Photo: James Hardin.

The 2014 field school will be held from May 19 to June 27, 2014. The theme for the field school is The Cultures of Tourism along Alexandria’s Waterfront and research will be conducted in the City of Alexandria, VA's ’s waterfront.  Alexandria’s "Old Town" is situated in the eastern area of the city along the Potomac River.  It was originally laid out in 1749, and constitutes the city’s historic district. Please contact Professor Debra Shutika, the Field School Director, for more information about the program.

What do participants say about their experiences?

"As an independent consultant ... and not a salaried folklorist, it legitimized my independent work and fueled a new pride in my goals, reinforcing the idea that there is great value in recording and interpreting, through a personal perspective, the human experience ..."
-- Colette Lemmon, Field School participant, 2000

"We received an apprenticeship along with our ethnographer's toolkit from the field school at Kenyon. In the field, we quickly put the tools you provided us to work. Our accelerated experience will make the project planning and implementation I do in the future seem like second nature."
-- Chris Grasso, Field school participant, 1999

Selena Lim, Gloria Paterson, and Bob Thometz
Selena Lim, Gloria Paterson, and Bob Thometz
(left to right), practice setting up and operating field documentation equipment during a workshop on
audio-recording techniques at the 2002 AFC
field school in Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio.
Photo: David A. Taylor.
At the American Folklife Center's June 2000 field school
At the American Folklife Center's June 2000 field school
in Bloomington, Indiana, team members Chris
Tobar-Dupres (right) and Ronald J. Stephens (center) interview Claude Rice about Bloomington's
courthouse square.
Photo: David A. Taylor.

"I see the field school model you have developed for documenting local culture as a foundation for how we might train and ultimately mobilize people around the state to more actively document their communities. At a minimum, I want to investigate how to incorporate this model into educators' professional development..."
-- Trina Nelson Thomas, Field School participant, 2000

"Archivists, special collections librarians, and others with ethnographic collections would find it valuable to see the process of fieldwork through from start to finish...It makes for quality reference work when the librarian or archivist knows how the collection is created and organized ..."
-- Laura Hunt, Field School participant, 1994

 

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   April 4, 2014
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