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Cultural Documentation Methods & Techniques

For several years the American Folklife Center (AFC) has provided training in documentation methods and ethnographic field research principles through field schools that may last up to three weeks in length and also through workshops of shorter duration. These programs are carried out in partnership with a local cultural institution, a community-based organization or higher education facility. Held in both domestic and international locations, these programs provide participants with hands-on training needed for effective fieldwork concerning folklore and related fields.

Topics covered include: project planning, research ethics, intellectual property rights, interviewing, writing field notes, sound recording, documentary photography, archival methodologies, and delivering public presentations on research findings.

Anna Tome records women's songs in Kenya, 2009
Anne Sintoyia Tome, of the Laikipia Maasai community, records Maasai women's songs during the 2009 training program in Kenya. Photo by Guha Shankar.

Several teaching and training guidelines have been developed by AFC staff and colleagues in other institutions and disciplines. These documents include how-to guides and links to web sites that provide practical advice and insights into the process of conducting a local-level documentation project. Indigenous groups and other cultural cultural communities are increasingly employing these tools as a means of maintaining, preserving and protecting their intangible cultural heritage and intellectual property from appropriation and misuse.

A notable example of work being done in this arena is a collaborative pilot training project conducted by the AFC, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO),External Link Geneva, Switzerland, the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS)External Link at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, and community partners, Maasai Cultural Heritage, situated in Nanyuke, Kenya.

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   September 30, 2014
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