Tales from the Field School
Folklife Center News,
Fall 2005, Volume XXVII, Number 4
Recording Fish Tales:
A Field School Participant's Experience
By Lisa Powell
Sitting on a wooden stool at the counter in Eddie Robinson's Fly Shop in Orem,
Utah, listening to talk about fish caught on the Provo River, I finally felt
inconspicuous. I had been sitting on that same stool for the past few days,
trying to make myself as invisible as possible, despite the notebook and
pen in my hand, camera around my neck, and the microphone and cassette recorder
that my partner and I kept ready between us. We were gathering information
about fly-fishing practices and traditions on the Provo River, and many of
the fishermen we spoke with directed us to this very counter. Though we had
arranged interviews with Mr. Robinson and his staff, we learned much by being "shop
them tie flies and listening to their interactions with customers. The fishermen
who passed through the shop either knew or wanted to know the Provo, and
if they weren't calling to each other across the river, they were swapping data
over the counter. Though my time in Provo was limited, and my chances of
ever knowing the river like they do were slim, I still found their conversations
intoxicating. I longed for a day when I would get to fish that river and
stop by the shop with my own stories to share.
I spent time in the fly shop
not only to learn about fishing, but also to learn and practice the process
of cultural documentation. As a participant in the American Folklife Center's
2005 Field School for Cultural Documentation at Brigham Young University,
I was one of fifteen students dedicating three weeks to acquiring skills
essential for doing ethnographic research and archiving. Though I was very
new to the study of folklore and the practice of documentation, I came to
the field school with high expectations for what I would learn and do during
the short time we were there.
In April 2005, I had presented a paper on traditions
and ritual in a small women's group
at a folklore conference in Oregon. I went to the conference having had no
training in anthropology or folklore; I had joined the panel at the suggestion
of my social history professor. In part because of a reflective spirit brought
about by the then-recent passing of Alan Dundes, much conference discussion
took on the question of "what is folklore?" Being new to the field, I realized
I needed to explore this question more myself. As I listened to other conference
participants describe the fieldwork behind their studies, I also realized
that, though my methods had not been unredeemable, I had a lot to learn about
ethnographic documentation. When I found notice of the field school on the
American Folklore Society website, I applied immediately. The Field School
promised to provide a concentrated dose of theory and practical training
for collecting folklore. By providing us with coursework and equipment training,
followed by the opportunity to do fieldwork and create a final display and
presentation, the field school would help me learn to do ethnography right.
I was particularly intrigued by the theme of the field school-"Tradition Runs
Through It: Recreation and Environment in the Provo Canyon." I would begin
graduate school in American Studies in the fall, and I hoped my own work would
involve looking at national parks and public land use in the West. The field
school's theme seemed perfect
for exploring and learning applicable methodology in context.
The field school
turned out to be all that I hoped for and more. Our classes during the first
half of the program, taught by instructors from the American Folklife Center
and BYU, introduced us both to general theory and practices in folklore,
and to specific information we would need to know to work in and around the
Provo Canyon. Our interactive sessions included learning to write fieldnotes,
planning and conducting productive interviews, documentary photography, archiving
materials, and ethics. We practiced using analog sound recording equipment
and 35 mm cameras, documenting each other and willing victims around the
BYU campus. We heard stories from those who lived and played in the Provo Canyon
area, and, we received useful information about the history and culture of
the Utah Valley and Church of Latter Day Saints.
We took our inaugural trip
into the Provo Canyon in the middle of our first week at the field school. Led
by the director of the BYU archives, we stopped at places both popular and often
passed by. We entered the grounds of a tiny power plant that looked surprisingly
like a sanctuary; its shady grove of trees and elegant buildings had once
harbored a school to build young men's
character and knowledge of electricity. We drove to the top of SquaPeak,
an elevated overlook where people build bonfires and local couples spend
quiet time together. We visited long-time residents of small communities
tucked between the highway and the mountains, and we explored a family nature
retreat center near Robert Redford's Sundance resort. The tour was a dizzying
trip of winding roads both literal and figurative, and we ended the evening
with a cookout and bonfire. Sitting by the fire, looking up at the jagged
top of the canyon meeting the starry sky while talking and singing and roasting
sweet treats, I could easily see why the canyon was such a magical place
for so many people in the area.
Though I learned much from the classes, practice
sessions, and discussions with the faculty, it was the fieldwork that grounded
their teachings in reality. The faculty divided the students into five teams,
each focusing on a different aspect of Provo Canyon's history and recreational
activities. For someone who has watched "A River Runs Through It" over two dozen
times, my assignment to the fly-fishing team was ideal. After initial readings
and discussions, we decided to explore the fly-fishing community and sense
of place on the Provo. We contacted a number of fishermen who had been preliminarily
interviewed before the start of the field school, and we met informants while
walking along the banks of the Provo with our faculty advisor. These informants,
and the local knowledge of a member of my team, guided us toward the fly
Every interaction we had with a Provo River fisherman both inspired
and humbled us. They possessed amazing skill and intimate knowledge of both
better called an art-and a place. For many, fishing was an essential part of
their family histories; we talked with a grandfather and grandson who both
fished the Provo, a father who was beginning to teach his baby girl to fish,
and a young man to had lost his own father at a young age but found his life-long
mentor in the man who taught him to cast and tie flies. For some, fishing
was an element of their daily lives-they went out to fish on the Provo multiple
times per week. Most spoke with reverence for the Provo River and the fish
that swim in it; many also spoke of the history of human-induced change on
the river, as the road through the canyon widened and more people came to
fish, both encroaching on the river's natural course.
In addition to investigating the traditions of Provo Canyon communities,
we as field school participants also constructed our own community. The field
school provided a framework, some might say "excuse," for the students, faculty
and staff of the program to put aside our typical daily concerns as we worked
together to collect information and understand others. Members of the field
school community who were local to the area opened their homes and shared
their local knowledge, helping those of us from out-of-town to navigate the
area and feel truly welcome. We who stayed on-campus in the dormitories bonded
over late nights typing field notes in the computer lab and telling stories
from daily fieldwork as we brushed our teeth. All of the field school participants
brought their own unique backgrounds and experiences to the program, and
we learned much from working and playing together.
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. I know that
other field school participants are having similar experiences, as I have
also enjoyed the exchanges that have been part of the ongoing field school
community. As I recall hanging out in the fly shop, recording fish tales,
logging interview tapes, talking around bonfires, and seeing sunlight sparkle
on the Provo River, I know I won't forget the lessons or the experiences from
the field school anytime soon.
"Tradition Runs Through It: Environment and Recreation" -- Ninth Annual
American Folklife Field school for Cultural Documentation
Just a few miles up the road from the city of Provo, Utah, home of Brigham Young University (BYU), one suddenly finds oneself in a canyon replete with alpine scenery: snowcapped mountains, waterfalls, pine trees, and a gushing, sparkling river. Provo Canyon is home to two resorts: Robert Redford's renowned Sundance and a family camp called Aspen Grove. Additionally, there are two century-old residential communities in the Canyon: Springdell and Wildwood.
Driving along the roads that pass through the canyon, one is struck by the sight of many clusters of friends and family members engaged in diverse recreational activities: tubing, fly fishing, mountain biking, barbecuing, and group dating (more on this later). Late into the night, the landscape is dotted with campfires. There is even an outdoor Sunday church service at Wildwood in summertime. "You can't beat the architecture that God provided," is how it was put by Wildwood resident Scott Loveless when interviewed by a team of AFC field school students.
Kristi Young, Curator of the Wilson Folklore Archives in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections at the BYU Library, determined that the many social, recreational and spiritual uses of Provo Canyon for a varied array of individuals and communities would be a rich topic of investigation during the American Folklife Center's (AFC) ninth annual field school. AFC has developed a three-week, intensive field school model and partners each year with an academic or cultural institution to provide hands-on training in essential techniques for ethnographic fieldwork, and to document aspects of local cultural communities in the process. So it was that from July 17 to August 6, 2005, fifteen students both from the Provo area and elsewhere in the United States gathered at BYU for "Tradition Runs Through It: Environment and Recreation." They learned ethnographic documentation techniques, including interviewing, writing fieldnotes, photography, and sound recording, as well as research ethics; and they applied their new skills in documenting the cultural and physical landscapes of Provo Canyon. The work done by these students over a three-week period paves the way for additional research by BYU students participating in the Utah Heritage Project (which is another joint venture of the AFC and BYU) over the next year.
The field school was divided into two parts. For the first ten days, students had daylong classroom instruction. For the next ten days they conducted fieldwork and prepared final presentations and an exhibit to which the community was invited. The attendance at the final program was standing room only.
Each student was assigned to one of five three-person fieldwork teams, each of which documented a particular aspect of Provo Canyon. The research topics were fly-fishing, courtship, canyon residential communities, a well-known local family that has lived in the canyon for over one hundred years, and the changing physical and demographic face of the canyon. Each team was assigned a faculty advisor. Staff listened to interview tapes, and reviewed fieldnotes and photographs, in order to provide personal feedback that the students could incorporate into their future fieldwork endeavors. Co-directors of the field school were Kristi Young of BYU and David Taylor of AFC. Other full-time faculty included Ilana Harlow and Guha Shankar of AFC and documentary photographer Rich Remsberg.
After the field school had ended, many students expressed an appreciation for the experiences they had been afforded and expressed their feeling that it would have a positive effect on their futures. "I loved my experience in field school!" wrote Christina Bishop of Utah. "I learned so much and it has actually sparked interest in furthering my education in this field of study. I felt that the entire atmosphere was one of acceptance and openness and I really appreciated that. I was impressed with everyone's dedication to their various projects and to their topics. I learned very much from my instructors and found their insights to be invaluable!"
"I loved the school," wrote Amy Newman of Utah. "It has been the highlight of my education. I learned so much that will help me in my career."
In an e-mail to field school faculty, student Stephen Taylor of Philadelphia
wrote that the field school exceeded his expectations. He described the development
of personal ties to Provo Canyon once he himself had experienced it with new
friends, ". I felt a deep connection with the environment. Spaces that had
never crossed my eyes or ears a month earlier now became important places in
And he elaborated upon his personal learning experience:
"When it came to preparing us to go out in the field, the demonstrations, hands-on training, and other advice were invaluable when we were actually in people's houses or back yards or shooting photos in the Provo Canyon. When the course really came to life was when we were placed into teams and given a chance to use the lectures we attended, the readings we'd read, and the hands-on training we'd received to go out into that "field" about
which we'd heard so much.
My group studied dating in the Provo Canyon. The youngest people we interviewed were two seventeen-year-old women going into their last year of high school who explained that they travel into the canyon with groups of friends four or more times a week during the summer. Most of our other interviewees were couples. All of the ones in their twenties and thirties told us stories of dating rituals in the canyon from first dates with large groups, to engagement stories in special places along the Provo River.
The oldest couple we interviewed, who were in their eighties, gave us a different perspective: growing up on farms and working six days a week didn't give them much time to go up the canyon. In those days, the cars weren't always powerful enough to climb the mountain roads, and the roads themselves were either nonexistent or not very car-friendly. Going to the Provo Canyon for recreational activities was a special treat done with the family perhaps once a year.
In two generations, the Provo Canyon went from a place that was hard to
reach and was only reached on special family occasions to a recreational
spot that local teenagers use in a way that challenges the assumption that
all American teens just want to hang out in malls."
Participants in this year's field school were Rachel Adams (California), Brenda Beza (California), Christina Bishop (Utah), Sharon Carey (Virginia), Jan Harris (Utah), Andy Jorgensen (Idaho), Divya Kumar (Maryland), John Murphy (Utah), Amy Newman (Utah), Robyn Patterson (Utah), Lisa Powell (Kentucky), Heidi Spann (Utah), Steve Taylor (Pennsylvania), Jason Thompson (Utah), and Lisa Tolliver (New York).
Plans are underway for the Center's 2006 field school for cultural documentation. It will be held in partnership with Colorado College (the Center's partner for the 1994 and 1995 field schools), in Colorado Springs, CO. The tentative dates for the course are July 16 through August 5. Updated information, including course fees and application procedures, will soon be available on the Center's website.
* Note: The 2006 field school scheduled to be held in Colorado
was canceled due to an insufficient number of applicants.
Folklife Center News,
Fall 2004, Volume XXVI, Number 4
Utah Field School Explores "The Fruits of Their Labors"
by David A. Taylor
Sense of place was a central issue during the American Folklife
Center's seventh field school for cultural documentation --"The
Fruits of Their Labors"-- held at Brigham Young University,
in Provo, Utah, from July 11 to 31, 2004. The field school was co-sponsored
by the Center and BYU. Participants in the field school had the
opportunity to document the history, traditions, and multiple meanings
associated with orchards in Utah Valley, in the vicinity of Provo.
The field school participants conducted their research at a time
when Utah Valley orchards -- known mainly for apples, apricots,
peaches, and pears -- have come to symbolize cultural loss as a
result of change. In Provo, as in many towns and cities around the
United States, population g growth has accelerated residential development,
which has, in turn, led to the loss of agricultural land. Loss of
agricultural land and the concomitant loss of the way of life associated
with it, not to mention the loss of agricultural production, is
keenly felt in Provo and neighboring communities. This is especially
the case not only because Utah Valley's orchards were once a very
prominent feature of the natural landscape, but also because their
development can be traced back to the area's Mormon pioneers, who
used orchards, and other forms of agriculture, to make their new
home bountiful. As well, the orchards are seen to reflect the pioneers'
work ethic and self-reliance. Furthermore, many current residents
of the are a have had direct involvement with orchards because they
contributed volunteer labor to orchards that were operated by the
Mormon church for charitable purposes.
Although a number of orchards are still in operation in the Valley,
they are diminishing rapidly. Thus, the field school's documentation
of the orchard s was seen to be timely and important by members
of orchard families and many others.
As with the Center's previous field schools, "The Fruits of Their
Labors" field school was divided into two parts. During the first
half of the course, participants received instruction, through lectures
and hands-on workshops, on such topics as research ethics, orientation
to the study area and the research topic, preliminary research,
archival considerations, project planning, documentary photography,
sound recording, interviewing, ethnographic fieldnotes, and teamwork.
During the second half, participants were organized into five three
- person teams and then proceeded to carry out field research using
the various techniques they had learned in the classroom.
While all five teams explore d the topic of orchards in Utah Valley,
each one came at it from a different angle. For example, the teams
explored foodways, teams church - sponsored orchards, farm stands,
values, and orchard families, respectively. Each team interviewed
several people with knowledge of its sub-theme and also photographed
relevant people and scenes. Throughout the fieldwork phase, all
participants wrote daily fieldnotes about their research experiences,
and did their best to stay on top of writing catalogs of the interviews
they conducted and the photographs they took.
Following the conclusion of fieldwork, the teams worked with BYU
exhibition designer Shaun McMurdie to create large exhibition panels,
featuring text they w rote and photos they took, that presented
a summary of their research findings. When brought together, all
five panels constituted an attractive exhibition that was erected
beside the entrance to the special collections department of Brigham
Young University's library. On the evening of the penultimate day
of the field school, an opening reception was held for the exhibition,
which was attended by field school participants and faculty, many
of the people who had been interviewed by the participants, and
numerous others from the community. One of the high points of the
field school, the opening showcased participants' work and provided
a welcome opportunity for the researchers and their informants to
meet one last time and discuss the work that had been accomplished.
The field school's fifteen participants were people with a strong
interest in learning how to document local culture, but with little
or no previous experience in this area. They included: Maria Avery
(Baltimore, MD), Russel Bachert (Hendersonville, NC),Diane Call
(Provo), Harlow Clark (Provo), Nancy Jagelka (Washington, DC), Derek
Jensen ( Provo), Howayda Kamel (Cairo, Egypt), Nicole Long (Baltimore,
MD), Catherine McIntyre (Salt Lake City), Essam el Gharib Mohamed
(Cairo, Egypt), Al Schorsch (Chicago), Sarah Siebach (Orem, UT),
Gloria Throne (Lawrence, KS), Mike Watowa (Topeka, KS), and Gina
The field school's directors were AFC folklife specialist David
Taylor and BYU folklorist Kristi Bell. Other faculty members were
folklorists Ilana Harlow and Michael Taft, from the Center; documentary
photographer Rich Remsberg, from North Adams, MA; and exhibition
designer Shaun McMurdie, from BYU. Guest lectures were presented
by a number of Utah folklorists, including Jill Terry Rudy (BYU),
Jacqueline Thursby (BYU),William A.Wilson (BYU), Elaine Thatcher
(Utah State University), Carol Edison (Utah Arts Council), Craig
Miller (Utah Arts Council), and Ronda Walker Weaver. BYU faculty
members April Chabries, Gary Daynes, and Richard Kimball discussed
their documentary film about Utah Valley orchards, "The Best
Crop." Three BYU undergraduates ably served as course assistants,
and their work involved considerable advance fieldwork with orchardists.
The assistants were Raven Haymond, Christina Thomas, and Webster.
During the summer of 2005, a second field school for cultural documentation
will be held at BYU. This time the topic of the field research will
be the history, cultural meanings, and uses of Provo Canyon, just
north of the city of Provo. It will run from July 17 to August 6.
In addition to the BYU field school, the Center will also be co-sponsoring,
with Salisbury University, another field school in 2005, which will
be held in Salisbury, Maryland, from June 12 to July 3. The theme
of this field school will be the foodways of Maryland's eastern
shore. Additional information about both field schools, including
tuition fees and application procedures, will be posted on the Center's
in due course.
* Note: The 2005 field school scheduled to be held in Maryland
was canceled due to an insufficient number of applicants.
Folklife Center News,
Fall 2003, Volume XXV, Number 4
Crabs 'R Us: Field School Documents Chesapeake Bay Maritime Culture
by David A. Taylor
This year's American Folklife Center field school for cultural
documentation was held in Salisbury and Crisfield, Maryland, June
13 to July 2, and concentrated on the documentation of continuity
and change in Crisfield's maritime culture. On the eastern shore
of the Chesapeake Bay, Crisfield is a longstanding center of crab
fishing and the home of many commercial fishermen, known locally
as 'watermen.' Crisfield is also known as the home of the late Lem
and Steve Ward, who were two of the most prominent carvers of waterfowl
decoys in the country.
Cosponsors of the school were Salisbury University and the Ward
Museum of Wildfowl Art, both in Salisbury. Another important partner
in the field school was the Crisfield Heritage Foundation. Additional
support was provided by the Smithsonian's Center for Folklife and
Cultural Heritage, Maryland Traditions (a cooperative of the Maryland
Historical Trust and the Maryland State Arts Council, with funding
from the National Endowment for the Arts), the University of Maryland
Eastern Shore, Rural Development Center, the Mid- Atlantic Folklife
Association, and private donors.
As with the Center's previous field schools, the main goal of
the one held last summer was to provide comprehensive training in
key techniques for documenting local cultural heritage, organizing
and preserving documentary materials, and sharing documentary materials
with others. During the three weeks of the field school, participants
learned a wide variety of things in the classroom, including research
ethics, project planning, approaches to preliminary research, and
ethnographic observation and writing. They were also given instruction
in how to conduct interviews and use a camera and sound-recording
Then, working as members of three-person research teams, they
left the classroom at Salisbury University and put their newly acquired
training to use through fieldwork in Crisfield. All the participants
addressed the broad research topic, 'Crisfield Traditions in Time,'
but each of the five teams approached the topic through a different
Student researchers interviewed a diverse section of the Crisfield
community, including seafood-business owners and workers (including
Spanish speaking migrant workers from Mexico), schoolteachers, watermen,
city officials, religious leaders, truck drivers, parks and marina
managers, and boat captains. The week of fieldwork resulted in 46
audiocassettes, 822 color photographs, and reams of fieldnotes.
The field school culminated with a public program at Crisfield
High School, on July 2, during which each of the five research teams
gave an illustrated presentation on their research findings. Documentary
material generated by field school participants will be made available
for research at the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art. Copies of materials
will be placed at the Crisfield Heritage Foundation in Crisfield
and at the Nabb Research Center in Salisbury. These materials will
be made available for the 2004 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which
will highlight maritime communities of the Mid- Atlantic region.
Participants in the field school included people from the local
area as well as others from as far away as Texas and Utah. They
were: Kristi Bell, a folklore archivist from Provo, Utah; Grace
Mary Brady, a legislative assistant from St. Leonard, Maryland;
Wendy Clupper, a graduate student in theater and performance studies
from College Park, Maryland; Roslyn Croog, a photographer from Catonsville,
Maryland; Maria Gonzalez, a graduate student in preservation and
conservation studies from Austin, Texas; Lisa Greenhouse, a historian
from Baltimore; Todd Harvey, a folklife reference specialist from
Washington, D.C.; Tim Howard, a graduate student in history from
Crisfield; Ronda Walker, a folklorist from Springville, Utah; Gary
Leventhal, a film and video producer/director from Baltimore; Dan
Parsons, a graduate student in history from Salisbury; Roberta Perkins,
a research technician from Arden, Delaware; Jennifer Perunko, a
maritime historian and preservation specialist from Arlington, Virginia;
Jordan Rich, a graduate student in folklore from Bethesda, Maryland;
and Sonya Spery, an undergraduate student in anthropology from Salisbury.
Field school faculty hope that all the participants will apply the
training they received to their current and future work. The course's
principal instructors, who also coordinated the project, were folklorist
Polly Stewart, from Salisbury University; folklorist Lora Bottinelli,
from the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art; and folklife specialist David
A. Taylor, from the American Folklife Center. Others provided instruction
as well, including Catherine Kerst, from the American Folklife Center;
folklorist Tatiana Irvine; and photographer Richard Newman.
The course's numerous guest speakers included Betty Belanus, from
the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Smithsonian;
folklorist Shelly Drummond; folklorist Kelly Feltault; anthropologist
Harold Anderson; journalist Brice Stump; folklorist Rory Turner,
from the Maryland State Arts Council; and folklorists Carrie and
Michael Kline. James Lane, president of the board of directors of
the Crisfield Heritage Foundation, played a key role in conducting
advance field work (undertaken with Lora Bottinelli), introducing
course participants to Crisfield's history and culture, and suggesting
Plans are already underway for next summer's field school. It will
be held at Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah, and is scheduled
to run from July 11 through July 31. More information about the
course, including its research focus, course fee, and application
procedure, will soon be available on the Center's Web site.
Folklife Center News,
Fall 2000, Volume XXII, Number 4
Indiana Field School Explores Life "On the Square"
By David A. Taylor
For three weeks this summer, Bloomington, Indiana's, courthouse
square was probably the most closely examined town square in the
From June 11 through July 1, fifteen people enrolled in the Folklife
Center's field school for cultural documentation explored the history,
uses, and meanings of Bloomington's square. Conducted in partnership
with Indiana University's Folklore Institute and the Evergreen Institute
on Elder Environments, the field school was the fourth field school
sponsored by the Folklife Center since 1995, and the first held
Like the Center's previous field schools, the Bloomington field
school was an intensive course in the basic techniques for ethnographic
field research, designed for adults with little or no previous experience
in this area but with excellent potential for applying the training
to their current and future work. The first half of the course included
classroom lectures and discussions on such topics as fieldwork and
responsibility, folkloristic perspectives, ethnographic observation,
fieldnotes, project planning, documentary photography, interviewing,
sound recording, organizing and archiving field data, and analyzing
and presenting field data. Hands-on workshops covered equipment
and techniques for interviewing, photography, and sound recording.
An open-to-the-public roundtable discussion called "Remembering
the Square," that involved a number of long-time Bloomington residents
and was moderated by John McDowell the chairman of Indiana University's
Department of Folklore & Ethnomusicology, provided field school
participants with an introduction to various local perspectives
on the town square.
During the second half of the course, each of the fifteen participants
was assigned to one of five three-person teams. Then, calling upon
lessons learned in the classroom, each team planned and carried
out field research that addressed a different aspect of the history
and culture of the town square. For example, teams explored meanings
of the square and the role of arts, foodways, youth, and narratives.
On the last day of the course, each of the research teams made twenty-minute
public presentations about their research findings.
This year's course participants were: Delia Alexander, a graduate
student in ethnomusicology at Indiana University; Chris Tobar-Dupres,
a graduate student in folklore and folklife at the University of
Pennsylvania; Jillian Gould, a museum educator at the Eldridge Street
Project, New York City; Tamara Hemmerlein, director of the Old Jail
Museum, Crawfordsville, Indiana; Colette Lemmon, an independent
consultant from Preston Hollow, New York; Samantha May, an oral
history project coordinator at the Port Moody Station Museum, Port
Moody, British Columbia; Maria del Pilar Muriel, an undergraduate
folklore student at Indiana University; Jennifer Neely, an undergraduate
folklore student at Ohio State University; Ginger Nickerson, a graduate
student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the
University of Michigan; Michael G. Spinks, a graduate student in
English at Indiana State University; Ronald J. Stephens, a professor
in the Department of Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln;
Trina Nelson Thomas, director of education and public programming
at the Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis; Rea Trotter, an
oral historian from Windsor, Colorado; William Wilder, a professional
storyteller from Greenville, South Carolina; and Kyun Yun, a graduate
student in folklore at Indiana University.
David A. Taylor, folklife specialist at the Folklife Center; Inta
Carpenter, associate research scholar and associate director (special
projects) at the Folklore Institute, and Phil Stafford, director
of the Center on Aging and Community, Indiana Institute on Disability
and Community, directed the course and served as the principal faculty
members. Other faculty members included Folklife Center folklife
specialist Cathy Kerst and Bloomington photographer Pat Glushko.
Teaching assistance and administrative support were also provided
by John McDowell, Sandy Dolby, Velma Carmichael, Hallie Stone, and
Andy Kolovos, all of the Folklore Institute, and Erin Roth of Traditional
Funding and in-kind support for the course were provided by the
American Folklife Center, the Evergreen Institute on Elder Environments,
the Folklore Institute, the Indiana Arts Commission (through its
Traditional Arts Indiana initiative), an anonymous alumnus of Indiana
University's Department of Folklore & Ethnomusicology and the
department's Richard M. Dorson Endowment Fund. CFC, Inc., of Bloomington,
provided a storefront office space on the square that became the
field school's highly visible headquarters during the second half
of the course.
Course faculty and participants were buoyed by the enthusiastic
response they received from Bloomington residents. Many Bloomingtonians
gladly consented to be interviewed about the town square by field
school participants. The local daily newspaper, The Herald-Times,
ran three stories about the course. Bloomington's public- access
radio station, WFHB Community Radio, broadcast two programs about
the town square that were developed by the field school. The Monroe
County Historical Society Museum, in Bloomington, hosted a public
event that featured the field school teams' slide-illustrated presentations
of their research findings. Many members of the community, including
a large number of people interviewed by field school participants,
attended the event at the museum. Bloomingtonians JoAnn Campbell
and Denise and Barry Lessow served as community evaluators and provided
insightful feedback to field school participants and faculty at
the conclusion of the course.
Field school participants, all of whom devoted much time and energy
to their team's research and final presentation, were enthusiastic
about what they learned during the course. Contacted a few weeks
after the end of the course, they were happy to share their observations
about the experience. "I think fieldwork is stupendous," said Korean
folklorist Kyun Yun, a graduate student at Indiana University. "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," she added. For museum project
manager Samantha May, the greatest benefit of the field school was
that it validated work she had previously conducted for her institution
and made her aware of alternative research methodologies as well
as a broader range of options for public programming. For consultant
Colette Lemmon, one of the primary benefits of the field school
was that it enabled her to look at her own work in terms of its
value beyond collecting materials for short-term projects (such
as exhibitions, publications, and grant proposals) and begin to
think in terms of recording information as a detailed resource for
future researchers or members of the community of study. Furthermore,
she said, "As an independent consultant who has selected my own
areas of focus (based on heart and gut) 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."
A number of participants commented on the value of the course's
team-based research approach. For example, Chris Tobar-Dupres said,
"It was wonderful and challenging to conduct fieldwork and analyze
data in a group. The parts became greater than the whole. In our
group, when one member tired there were two others to help out.
Tasks could be shared and ideas built upon. I found it incredibly
intellectually and emotionally stimulating."
All the participants had definite ideas about how they will apply
the training they received during the field school. Some applied
the training almost immediately. For example, Samantha May began
applying what she learned in the field school the day after she
returned home by reevaluating projects at her museum with the aid
of a planning template used in the field school, considering types
of public programs discussed during the field school, and sharing
information with colleagues about newly learned photographic techniques.
Trina Nelson Thomas saw a number of potential applications in her
work at the Indiana Historical Society. She remarked: "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." Ronald J. Stephens said the
field school will serve as a model for a project he is developing
that seeks to extensively document a historically significant African
American community in Michigan. For Colette Lemmon, "the field school
laid some important groundwork in terms of what I'll be able to
bring to the table to help plan a collaboration between two tribal
museums and a state-funded institution," and the instruction in
interviewing techniques will be used to better present the stories
of Native American veterans in an exhibition at the New York State
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Gallery.
In Bloomington, the work of field school participants is still
reverberating. According to co-director Phil Stafford, "'On the
Square' provided a wonderful vehicle for accomplishing several ends:
training future fieldworkers, building community awareness about
the value of collaborative research and building community, period."
Co-director Inta Carpenter observes that, "for Indiana University
students who participated, the field school experience turned Bloomington
into more of a home, giving them a sense of place and people and
history where before there had been mainly a blank slate. As they
draw on the skills and perspectives they learned last summer, the
benefits are spilling over into class work, dissertation plans,
and community activities."
Although the amount of time field school participants spent in
the field was brief - only seven days - the amount of documentary
material they collected was impressive. The five fieldwork teams
amassed many hours of tape-recorded interviews, hundreds of color
slides, and hundreds of pages of fieldnotes and tape and photo
logs (printed on paper and also stored on computer disks). The "On
archival collection was donated to the Monroe County Historical
Society Museum, where it will be preserved and made available
to the public.
The Folklife Center is considering potential sites and research
topics for a 2001 summer field school. To receive more information
when it is available, contact David A. Taylor by writing to him
at the Center or sending an email message to [email protected]
Folklife Center News,
Winter 2000, Volume XXII, Number 1
Folklife Center Field School Explores Life Along the Kokosing
By David A. Taylor
"The field school was far and away the best part of my collegiate
education to date," wrote first-year Ohio State University folklore
graduate student Susan Hanson. "And I anticipate that everything
to come will be more manageable as a result of my having had the
opportunity to participate in the program," she added.
Chris Grasso, a staff historian at the Western Reserve Historical
Society, in Cleveland, wrote: "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." Hanson and Grasso were
part of a group of fifteen people with a strong interest in cultural
documentation, but with little or no previous experience in this
area, who participated in an intensive, three-week-long field school
the Folklife Center sponsored last summer in partnership with Kenyon
College's Rural Life Center. It was held at the college's Gambier,
Ohio, campus, June 13 through July 3,  and was funded, in
part, by a grant from the Ohio Humanities Council. It was jointly
directed by Folklife Center folklife specialist David A. Taylor
and Rural Life Center director Howard L. Sacks, a professor of sociology
Developed in response to a continuing, nationwide demand for practical
training in cultural documentation training that is in short supply
both at the local level and in the academy--the Ohio field school
was the third sponsored by the Folklife Center. Two previous field
schools were developed, in 1994 and 1995, in partnership with Colorado
College and the University of New Mexico's Center for Regional Studies.
The fieldwork portions of those courses focused on life in a farming
and ranching community in southern Colorado and farmers' markets
based in Colorado Springs, respectively.
The participants in last summer's field school were selected from
a pool of applicants who responded to publicity about the course.
An important criteria used in their selection was their potential
for applying the training to their future work. The fifteen participants
were: Eleanor Dahlin, a contract archaeologist from Houston; Grasso;
Hanson; Paul Kulp a public school teacher from Marietta, Ohio; Norma
Jean Loughrey, a local historian from Brinkhaven, Ohio; Lori Liggett,
a graduate student in American studies at Bowling Green State University;
Selina Lim, a graduate student in political science at Ohio State
University; Luis Alejandro Madrigal-Mercado, a graduate student
in rural sociology at Ohio State University; Elisabeth Nixon, a
graduate student in folklore at Ohio State University; Gloria Parsisson,
a local historian from Centerburg, Ohio; Andrew Richmon, a librarian
from Gambier, Ohio; Linda Stoltzfus, a graduate student in history
at the University of Akron; Mark Tebeau, a historian at the Western
Reserve Historical Society; Robert Thometz, a grant writer from
Columbus, Ohio; and Brenda Young, a graduate student in American
studies at Bowling Green State University.
Sacks and Taylor were the principal instructors at the field school.
They were assisted by: Stephanie Hall, folklorist and automation
specialist at the Folklife Center; Ray Heithaus, director of the
Kenyon Center for Environmental Study, and professor of biology
at the college; Mary Hufford, folklife specialist at the Folklife
Center; and Gregory Spaid, photographer and professor of art at
the college. Several residents of Knox County (where the college
is located) also came into the field school's classroom and provided
information about various aspects of local history, culture, and
the natural environment.
As with the Folklife Center's previous field schools, a specific
theme was selected for exploration, and this year's theme was "Life
Along the Kokosing." Newly designated as an Ohio scenic river, the
Kokosing is the main waterway running through Knox County, a rural
district characterized by a large number of small, family-run farms.
The main goal of the fieldwork was to study the ways the river affects,
and is in turn affected by, Knox County's residents and visitors.
It was the task of the participants to determine what exactly to
study and how to go about the work.
In part, the theme "Life Along the Kokosing" was also selected
because the research done by the field school's participants could
serve as the foundation for future research that Sacks expected
would be undertaken in the coming academic year by students in his
fieldwork class. (Sacks and his students have conducted fieldwork
with Knox County farm families and other local residents for many
years and used the research as the basis for a number of impressive
public programs.) The northwest corner of the county, comprising
the small farming villages of Waterford and Batemantown, was selected
as the main geographic focus of the research.
The field school was divided into two main parts of equal duration:
(1) classroom instruction and orientation field trips, and (2) fieldwork
and analysis and presentation of research findings. During the first
half of the course, participants received full days of classroom
instruction on a variety of subjects, including an overview of Knox
County (surveying its history, culture, economy, and natural environment),
project planning, and research ethics, as well as techniques for
documentary photography, ethnographic observation and writing, interviewing,
sound recording, and organizing field data. During this part of
the course, participants also left the classroom and went, en masse,
on short field trips designed to better acquaint them with the character
of Knox County.
For example, led by biologist Heithaus, they took a canoe trip
down the Kokosing River for a distance of ten miles or so. Along
the way, they observed some of the ways local residents orient themselves
to and make use of the river. They also inspected the river's inhabitants
by dip- netting small fish and other creatures that Heithaus identified
and described as indicators of the river's health. The canoe trip
had other functions as well. Taking place only a few days into the
course, it provided a good opportunity for participants to work
together as members of teams (to propel their canoes downstream),
and the shared experience--enlivened by a number of spills along
the way helped the group bond together. As Sacks and Taylor emphasized
throughout the course, teamwork--a new research experience for most
course participants--is the key to successful ethnographic fieldwork
involving more than one researcher.
Another memorable experience was a group trip to an indoor livestock
auction in nearby Mt. Vernon, the county seat of Knox County. This
trip followed classroom lectures and discussions about ethnographic
observation and writing. The purpose of the exercise was to apply
lessons learned in the classroom in a field situation. The auction
and various activities that surrounded it provided a research opportunity
simultaneously rich in activity, sound, and aroma! Back in the classroom
the next day, a lively discussion ensued about such things as asking
effective questions, using strategies for observing complex events,
taking insider and outsider perceptions into account, and being
aware of ethical considerations when doing fieldwork.
One more field trip followed instruction in interviewing and photography
and was intended to give participants an opportunity to test these
documentary techniques while learning more about life in Knox County.
Participants were divided into two groups and each one went to visit
a different farm and meet members of the family that runs it. Both
were "century farms" (farms in continuous operation for one hundred
years or more). One was a cattle operation (the Cassell Farm), and
the other was a sheep operation (the Shinaberry Farm).
Many field school participants were eager to learn more about documentary
photography and they had ample opportunities to do so. During the
first half of the course, Greg Spaid delivered lectures about photographic
equipment and technique and showed examples of the work of top documentary
photographers. He also gave numerous assignments that allowed participants
to improve their technique with a 35mm camera. During frequent sessions,
participants' slides were projected on screen for all to see and
critique. This permitted participants to see the results of their
photography very quickly and receive advice they could use to improve
their work. (An arrangement had been made with a photo lab that
enabled rolls of film to be processed and returned within a few
The course was also designed to address another need: participants
had expressed the need for guidance in organizing and preserving
tape recordings, photographs, fieldnotes, ephemera, and other materials
generated during field research. Folklife Center archivist Stephanie
Hall provided instruction that ranged from numbering systems of
archival containers to the use of computer programs. One point she
stressed was the need to plan for the organization and preservation
of documentary materials at the start rather than at the end of
a field project, when a pile of material has been collected. Hall,
Sacks, and Taylor all emphasized the importance of attending to
archival chores, fieldnote writing, and related tasks on a daily
After seven days of classroom lectures, field trips, and practice
with documentation equipment, the course then moved on to address
planning for the fieldwork that would take place during the second
half. Sacks and Taylor explained that the fifteen participants would
be divided into teams of three. Each team would be responsible
for developing a research plan that would address some aspect of
the overall theme "life along the Kokosing," carrying
out the fieldwork, and making twenty-minute slide-illustrated presentations
about their findings at the end of the course. The team dimension
was again stressed. Members of the teams were instructed to share
fieldwork chores evenly (interviewing, photography, and notetaking
was to be rotated so that everyone gained experience in every technique),
and teams were encouraged to work cooperatively with other teams
whenever that made sense.
The five teams each with a colorful self-selected name such as
"The River Bottoms" and "The Cicadas" then proceeded to develop
their individual sub-themes and research plans. Five sub-themes
emerged: the history of businesses in a small cross-roads village
on the Kokosing, the lay of the land with an emphasis on ways of
moving water for agricultural purposes, local foodways, recreational
uses of the Kokosing reservoir, and cottage industries with an emphasis
on woodworking shops operated by Amish families. At this point,
the course instructors stepped back, assumed the role of advisors,
and let the teams embark on the research each had selected. The
teams' plans were refined and the team members moved ahead to identify
informants and pertinent upcoming events, schedule and conduct interviews,
and carry out other fieldwork activities.
As their fieldwork unfolded, team members put in long hours in
the field and, later on, at their computers, as they strived to
keep up with the job of writing fieldnotes about the day's activities.
At one point early in the fieldwork phase, several of the teams
determined that an aerial perspective was required to obtain a comprehensive
understanding of the local landscape. And so, in the best tradition
of teamwork, they pooled their resources and hired a local pilot
to take representatives of three teams aloft for an hour of aerial
photography above the study area. The images they shot were later
distributed among all five teams.
During the brief fieldwork period--only six days--the teams worked
diligently to gather information needed to inform the themes they
had selected. Predictably, mistakes were made along the way (someone
neglected to check whether a microphone was in the bag of recording
equipment before the team left for an interview; the team member
with the car forgot to show up to carry the others to a scheduled
interview; and so on), but in this way lessons were learned and
learned well. Many epiphanies occurred along the way, too, especially
ones that resulted from the realization that one is learning how
to enter a different cultural world.
During the last few days of the course, the teams wrapped up their
fieldwork; organized their tapes, slides, fieldnotes, photo logs,
and other field data; and started planning their final presentations.
On the penultimate day of the course, in the presence of some members
of the local community, the director of the Ohio Humanities Council,
a reporter from the Mount Vernon News, and the course instructors,
the five teams presented their reports, which were complemented
by the photographs, sound recordings, and artifacts they collected.
Even though their time in the field was brief, the research and
analysis the teams accomplished was impressive. For example, one
team described the work process and equipment used by Amish furniture
makers and its relationship to their beliefs. Another team described
the various techniques farmers use to move water on and off their
fields as well as the vernacular way of thinking about water management
that guides their actions.
The next day, after a session devoted to analyzing the whole field
school experience, the teams turned over their documentary materials
to Howard Sacks for deposit in the Rural Life Center's archive.
Sacks and Taylor were delighted to see neat piles of items covering
the top of a conference table 45 hours of taped interviews, over
1,300 slides, and some 500 pages of fieldnotes and tape and photo
logs (on paper and also in computer files), plus signed release
forms obtained from all the informants all properly numbered, organized,
and otherwise ready for immediate deposit in the archive.
Time will tell the extent to which participants in last summer's
field school will apply the training they received. However, early
indications seem very positive. For example, the Folklife Center
has learned that two participants are using the training in connection
with a major exhibition about workers' perspectives on manufacturing
industries in Cleveland, another is using it to analyze historical
papers from an ethnographic perspective, and another using it to
better organize and preserve research materials gathered during
previous research in her community.
Back in Knox County, the impact of the field school is still being
felt. Notably, the course has stimulated a number of new research
projects at Kenyon College's Rural Life Center. Howard Sacks reports:
"Students in my undergraduate fieldwork course are continuing to
examine life along the Kokosing. Drawing on materials collected
over the summer as well as their own research, the class is creating
a cultural tour guide of the river that will include a booklet and
audio recording. The summer fieldwork conducted on local food production
has contributed to the creation of a guide to Knox County's food
producers, part of an effort to build a local agricultural economy."
"The initial work done in the field school has greatly aided our
launching of these community projects," says Sacks. He also notes:
"The surrounding community is receptive to our work as a result
of the publicity associated with the school. The body of data collected
by field school participants has helped us conceptualize our projects
more quickly. And funding agencies are impressed by the groundwork
accomplished in the school."
What's next in the way of field schools? The Folklife Center has
accepted an invitation from Indiana University's Folklore Institute
and the Evergreen Institute, both in Bloomington, Indiana, to jointly
sponsor a three-week-long field school in Bloomington this summer.
Scheduled for June 11-July 1, it will follow the same model the
Folklife Center used for last year's field school at Kenyon College.
The focus of fieldwork during the Indiana field school will be the
social and cultural history of Bloomington's town square.
For more information about the course and how to apply to become
a participant, contact the co-directors: Dr. Inta Carpenter, Director
of Special Projects, Indiana University Folklore Institute, 504
North Fess, Bloomington, IN 47405; (812) 855-8049; [email protected];
Dr. Philip B. Stafford, Evergreen Institute, 501 North Morton, Suite
210, Bloomington, IN 47404; (812) 856-5526; [email protected];
or Dr. David A. Taylor, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress,
Washington, D.C. 20540; (202) 707-1737; [email protected]
Folklife Center News,
Fall 1994, Volume XVI, Number 4
Documenting Traditional Culture: A Colorado Field School
By James Hardin
Three hundred years ago, in 1694, Diego del Vargas, governor of
Spanish New Mexico, led an expedition into the San Luis Valley in
southern Colorado, just to the east of the Continental Divide, between
the Rocky and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. In July 1994, three
folklorists from the American Folklife Center in the Library of
Congress joined colleagues from Colorado College and the University
of New Mexico for another expedition to the valley. They led a group
of nine students on a cultural exploration of the little town of
San Luis and the nearby farm owned by Corpus Aquino Gallegos and
his family. San Luis, a few miles north of New Mexico on Route 159,
is the oldest town in the state, and still reflects its Spanish
The students carried cameras, tape recorders, and notebooks, and
were there to practice the skills and techniques they had learned
during a week of coursework at Colorado College called "Documenting
Traditional Culture: An Introductory Field School." The course was
designed for adult residents of Colorado and New Mexico who have
a strong interest but little or no previous training in cultural
documentation. The nine participants were natives or residents of
the region between Albuquerque and Colorado Springs. One was a librarian
from Colorado College, another a painter and director of an art
school in Colorado Springs; there were several school teachers,
several graduate students, and a professional videographer. Thus,
each had a personal or professional reason for wanting to develop
or hone his or her skills in cultural documentation.
The Colorado field school came about at the invitation of Mario
Montaño, a professor in the anthropology department at Colorado
College. Montaño became acquainted with Center staff through
graduate school friendships and as a member of the field team for
the Center's Lowell [Massachusetts] Folklife Project. In October
1993, Montaño met with the Folklife Center staff at the Eugene,
Oregon, American Folklore Society meeting to discuss the possibility
of cosponsorship of a field school with the college. He saw the
Colorado field school as a way to provide "community scholars" with
basic documentary skills they could apply in their work, and to
develop partnerships and share resources among several institutions
in his own region as well as with the American Folklife Center in
For a number of years, Center staff have discussed (both among
themselves and with other colleagues) the possibility of conducting
a field documentation training school. Graduate-school training
in field documentation for folklorists often stresses theory rather
than practice. Yet, the number of jobs in the public sector calling
for practical skills has increased (arts coordinator at the state
and local level, for example). Such positions involve working with
a cultural community to develop books, recordings, exhibits, and
festivals, and there is a shortage of folklorists with the requisite
training and experience.
Montaño enlisted the University of New Mexico as a project
partner, through its department of communication and journalism,
oral history program, and Center for Regional Studies. The university
agreed to provide staff, equipment, and other services. Associate
dean Victor Nelson-Cisneros, of Colorado College, and Tobias Duran,
director of the Center for Regional Studies of the University of
New Mexico provided support throughout the project. Working with
Colorado College and the University of New Mexico, the Center produced
an intensive, two-week-long field school that ran from July 10 to
The six faculty members--Stephanie Hall, Timothy Lloyd, and David
Taylor from the Center, Mario Montaño from Colorado College,
and Miguel Gandert and Carlos Vasquez from the University of New
Mexico--taught through a combination of lectures, workshops, discussions,
slide presentations, fieldwork exercises, and curriculum materials.
The primary purpose of the school was to instruct students in
the methods of cultural documentation and the use of documentation
equipment; the underlying purpose was to instill an understanding
of folklife. The course began with a week on the Colorado College
campus, training participants in project planning, interviewing,
still photography, research ethics, ethnographic writing, computer
applications, archiving, and the development of educational products.
Mario Montaño and Colorado College sociologist Devon Peña
provided an introduction to the history and culture of Colorado's
San Luis Valley, where the remainder of field school activities
would take place.
David Taylor told the students that success in any fieldwork project
depends on the development of a plan of action, which includes a
list of topics to be explored and goals for the investigation; timing
(particularly if topics have a seasonal dimension); and the availability
of people and equipment to do the job. If the goal of the project
is to be a book or exhibit, the researcher must secure the photographs,
recordings, artifacts, and permissions that will ensure the success
of these products.
Stephanie Hall taught a class on arranging and preserving fieldwork
material. The work is vital, she said, if the material is to be
of use (either for the researcher himself or for others). Photographs
and negatives must be "housed" in acid-free protective sleeves and
containers; they must be numbered and keyed to fieldnotes. If the
researcher intends to place his material in an archive, museum,
or library, he must consider the specific requirements of the institution
regarding cataloging and organization.
Tim Lloyd explained that success in fieldwork also depends in
large part on the human interactions that are essential to such
research. The fieldworker must be assertive enough, on the one hand,
to enter a strange community and seek out the people who can provide
the information he seeks; and careful enough, on the other, to treat
the information so as not to violate the trust he must establish.
The fieldworker must be focused on the purpose of his own scholarly
investigation, alert to the sensitivities of the people he interviews,
flexible enough in schedule to respond to opportunities that present
themselves, and knowledgeable of the technical capabilities of his
equipment--no mean feat, especially when the site for this effort
may be a barnyard or a bar, a city street or a backyard garden.
After five long days of classroom instruction, the school moved
to the college's Baca campus, located in Crestone, Colorado, in
the San Luis Valley. Baca facilities (named for one of the early
pioneers in the region) included living quarters, restaurant, seminar
room, and computer lab. It was base camp for three and a half days
of fieldwork at several ranches near the town of San Luis, and at
other important agricultural sites in the area (gravity-fed irrigation
ditches called acequias and the San Luis common grazing area, called
The students worked in teams of three, each devoted to interviewing,
audio recording, taking photographs, and making fieldnotes on one
aspect of local agriculture: crops, livestock, or water use. They
considered the three topics from a cultural perspective, however,
and thus studied a whole range of associated customs, beliefs, and
The Corpus Aquina Gallegos Ranch, established in 1852 by Dario
Gallegos, is possibly the oldest family agricultural business in
continuous operation in the state of Colorado. Mario Montaño
had arranged with Corpus Gallegos to bring the field school students
there for their investigations. Each day the students traveled to
San Luis in vans and made the Gallegos homestead a central meeting
place and departure point for their activities.
Fieldnotes of three of the students provide an introduction to
several areas of ethnographic interest (presented here unedited
to give a flavor of the effort). Connie Romero records a detailed
description of the Gallegos ranch site; Laura Hunt gives an account
of an activity in the daily ranch life; and Roberto Venegas gathers
a personal history from a key member of the local community.
Connie Romero's fieldnotes describe the Corpus Gallegos ranch:
The site is divided into two areas, the old original site of
the settlement, which consists of kind of a core of the ranch
established in 1863. The other, or newer site of the ranch may
very well correlate with the transition from sheep herding in
this valley to cattle ranching in the 1930s.
The original site of the ranch, as well the newer extension,
is built along the north edge of the acequia madre. The original
house consisted of a small adobe farmhouse at the edge of the
acequia with a site orchard approx. fifty yards to the north of
the house adjacent to what is currently Hwy. 142.
The site appears to extend to the north and south from this
original settlement. The current livestock area extends approx.
80 yards south from the site of the original house, and the house
that is presently occupied by Joe and Corpus Gallegos, his father,
is located due north of the old house. . . . The house itself
is a two- story, stucco frame house that has been added onto since
The current garden of the house runs to the north and west of
it, furthest away from its entrance and consists of several rows
of garden vegetables, incl. corn, squash, and onions. The corn
is planted in two rows and appears to be in about the middle of
its growing cycle, late July. Joe Gallegos has apparently built
but not occupied an additional house approx. 100 meters north
of the present house. Its design and architecture seem to be consistent
with contemporary rural affluent housing, using a great deal of
wood, but shows few if any traditional elements incorporated into
its design or construction. Its features, which may be consistent
with energy saving element, may reelect Joe's interest in energy
conservation, bio-diversity, and organic farming.
Laura Hunt's fieldnotes provide a sense of a day spent by the
team investigating issues of water use in the region. She both describes
a particular activity of water management and explains the importance
10:25 A.M.: Van arrived at the Gallegos Ranch. Spent an hour
watching them prepare the horses for cattle run. Beverly began
following Corpus with the audio equipment as we waited.
11:30 A.M.: Corpus drove Beverly, Laura, Roberto, Stephanie,
and Miguel to the Diversion Point, where the People's Ditch branches
off from the Culebra Creek. On the way he stopped at the point
where the People's Ditch was unpaved on one side of the road,
and paved on the other side. The upper portion of the People's
Ditch was unpaved because the winter temperatures would be too
harsh on the cement, and damage it regularly.
The Diversion Point was located in the San Luis Common Grazing
Grounds (vega), so we passed by many cattle and horses (and many
colts and calves). Apparently most of the cattle on the Common
Grazing Grounds belongs to a few small farmers above, in the high
Corpus adjusted the flow of water through the Diversion Dam,
which feeds the San Luis People's Ditch.
. . . .
12:25 P.M.: We crossed a creek on the way to the irrigation field
where Corpus was to change the water. There were cattle grazing
on this field, soon to be moved to another field (in a few days).
To "change the water" means to rechannel the direction of the
stream of irrigation water on the hay or rye grass patch. You
do this by moving portable dams made from tarps attached to 4-5
foot log poles. You place the tarp over the ditch, shovel dirt
onto the edges at the bottom of tarp. Then you remove a shovel
or two of sod from a high rise or berm so the water will run in
to the area desired. This is done at 3 or 4 spots on a 4 acre
patch. Takes about 45 minutes. This irrigation is done 3 or 4
times a season. This chore can be done by one person but two make
the job much easer. Stephanie Hall helped Corpus "change the water."
Severo Serna is president of the People's Ditch Association, and
one of his responsibilities is to adjudicate conflicting demands
for water. He maintains a small ranch of his own and also has a
junkyard business, both located about a mile from the Gallegos ranch.
After stopping at his home to ask for an interview, the team investigating
water use found him at a local cafe having breakfast. They used
their first meeting both to schedule a later interview regarding
his role in the community and to elicit background information from
him. Roberto Venegas's fieldnotes recorded Serna's personal history:
Mr. Serna mentioned that he had grown up in Durango, Colorado
until age six, when his father decided to move to San Luis because
of a lack of work during the Depression. He decided to volunteer
for the army in order to get away from San Luis. He fought in
World War II as an anti-aircraft gunner. He was stationed in the
Philippines as well as New Guinea.
After returning from the war, Mr. Serna moved to Pueblo to work
in the CF&I steel mills. This job only lasted six months .
. . so he returned to San Luis.
Mr. Serna married a Japanese woman whose father owned a ranch
in the San Luis Valley. His father-in-law grew cauliflower, cabbage,
and spinach. We inquired if he had any relation to the Hayashida
family farm in Ft. Garland. Mr. Serna responded that there was
no connection. Severo only mentioned that his wife was from the
Abiqui/Chama area of New Mexico. . . .
Surprisingly, Mr. Serna mentioned that he had traveled to Japan
three years ago and to Russia seven years ago. He spoke primarily
of his trip to Russia. He first went to Estonia, then to St. Petersburg,
and finally to Moscow. He seemed to enjoy the people in St. Petersburg
more than those in Moscow, whom he found rude once they realized
he was American.
Mr. Serna was an extremely pleasant man who I and the group found
very enjoyable. As a nice gesture, he paid for our coffee as we
left the restaurant.
The interview reveals a number of things regarding Serna's attitudes
and international experience that go far beyond the initial desire
for information about water. With a few introductory questions,
the researchers soon found themselves in a complex web of history
and personal experience. At this point they might have wished to
reevaluate their investigation, either to reassert a focus on water
use issues or to follow one or more of the several themes introduced
by Serna. Furthermore, Serna's gesture in paying for the coffee
reminds the researchers of another complication in the field research
situation, that community members regard themselves as more than
just subjects of research; in their minds, they are hosts to the
That duality of roles carries over into the substance of investigations.
While the ostensible subject of the folklife interview may be agricultural
practices, the folklorist is also concerned with associated cultural
expressions. In attempting to establish rapport with Servero Serna,
the students discovered a good storyteller. Seeking information
on water use, they encountered a personal history. Such moments
require patience and flexibility in order to balance the formalities
of human interaction and the requirements and needs of the research
plan. In a San Luis cafe, the researchers found themselves in exactly
one of those complex field-documentation situations that had been
described to them in the Colorado College classrooms.
The van ride back to Baca headquarters provided a respite from
the days activities but by no means brought them to an end. There
was much to do before and after supper. Earlier, Stephanie Hall
had warned students that "for every hour the folklorist spends in
the field, he or she must spend two reviewing and rewriting his
notes, and logging photographs."
Computer technology is especially helpful if collected material
is to be placed in an archive, because a numbering system for notes,
recordings, and photographs can be established at once. David Taylor
and Stephanie Hall worked together to develop a system for computer-assisted
cataloging in the field during the Folklife Center's Maine Acadian
Cultural Survey in 1991. The cook's rule of washing as you go can
be applied to the folklife field project: catalog the data obtained
each day, the photographs and fieldnotes, and much time will be
saved later on.
For Pam Duran, the training paid off. Shortly after the July field
school, Duran began a documentary history for the fiftieth anniversary
of a school in Albuquerque for the Center for Regional Studies after
her summer training. For her, the field school provided a model,
a frame within which to construct her project, a procedure for taking
fieldnotes, and a "method to keep track of all the stuff."
In the late afternoon, Stephanie Hall supervised students in the
Baca computer lab, while other instructors reviewed their photographs.
Again, technology facilitated the fieldwork experience. A Crestone
photographer, J.D. Marston, developed the film, and instructors
selected appropriate images for comment and mounted them for an
evening presentation and critique. Instructor Miguel Gandert offered
advice on: changing position for a better composition, ensuring
that the face of the subject is in focus, avoiding overhead sunshine,
omitting extraneous material, turning the camera for a vertical
image, getting close to the subject to focus on important information,
watching for the effect of bright white buildings on light meters,
and much more.
In many ways, one of Gandert's comments might serve as a motto
for fieldwork in general: "Learn to anticipate action." Folklife
will not always be still. The photograph or tape recording or fieldnote
represents a moment in the process.
On one occasion, Corpus Gallegos provided such a moment in telling
a joke, recorded by field school student Mario Lozoya (to understand
the joke, of course, the listener would have to know that fajitas
are sometimes made with pork):
As Corpus Gallegos sat in the rear of his truck, he said he
wanted to tell us a joke and we all gathered around him to hear
it. He started by saying, "Well there were three barn animals
gathered together: a cow, a chicken, and a pig, and they were
all talking about life and how hard life was for each of them.
The cow complained how bad life was for a cow and said, "Yea,
they pull at my titties all the time and poke me with a stick
all the time when they want me to move." The chicken said, "You
think you have it rough! They always shoo me aside and wring my
neck and throw my food on the ground." The pig said, "I don't
have any complaints. They feed me the food they eat and even put
it in the trough for me. And I heard that for Christmas they're
going to make fajitas."
Folklorists study jokes in a number of ways, and might compare
this one, for example, with other similar versions in this country
and in agricultural communities throughout the world. Giving voice
to animals (also a characteristic of the fable) is one of the oldest
techniques of storytelling, creating a distance between humans and
animals that makes the story's lesson less immediately threatening.
Tim Lloyd says that folklore takes place at the "intersection of
artfulness and everyday life." A joke provides a welcome interlude
in the daily round of ranching duties for Mr. Gallegos (an artistic
performance by a man whose chief occupation is ranching); ironically,
it provides a similar break in the documentation efforts of the
student folklorists (at the same time it provides material to document).
Connie Romero's description of the Gallegos ranch; Laura Hunt's
description of ranching activities; Roberto Venegas's account of
Severno Serna's personal history; Mario Lozoya's example of humor
and performance--with the accumulating documentation, the researchers
began to see the integrated composite of expressive culture in the
traditionally Hispanic town of San Luis, Colorado.
Back at her job at the Tutt Library, Colorado College, following
her field school training, reference librarian Laura Hunt has a
new appreciation of how special collections materials are generated.
"Archivists, special collections librarians, and others with ethnographic
collections would find it valuable to see the process of fieldwork
through from start to finish," she says. "It makes for quality reference
work when the librarian or archivist knows how the collection is
created and organized."
Beverly Morris is an oral historian of Aleut descent, at the Institute
of American Indian Art in Sante Fe, New Mexico, working on a project
to document Indian language and esthetics. She will also be training
other Native Americans in oral history techniques. The image that
remains in her mind from the summer field school is Corpus Gallegos
using his shovel and other simple tools to irrigate a large field,
moving the water in the traditional way, a man in harmony with the
As she teaches others in her community, she will help them to have
a voice they did not have in the past, introducing and giving access
to people with ancient oral traditions the new technologies of recording
machine and computer, showing them even how to get on-line, and
how to document and speak for their own traditions.
Of course, many of the folklife expressions Morris and the other
field school participants learned to document are not specific to
one group but touch on our common humanity, for folklife provides
a redemptive creativity that is available to all human communities.