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 home >> educational resources >> getting started >> publications >> maritime folklife >> part 2

Documenting Maritime Folklife: An Introductory Guide

Part 2: How to Document

How to document:

The Project Plan

The first step in any project to document maritime cultural resources is the formulation of a plan. This plan should address basic questions about the work to be undertaken, including:

  1. What are the goals of the project?
  2. What are the boundaries of the study area?
  3. What methods are to be used to collect data?
  4. Who will be involved with the project and what tasks will they be assigned?
  5. What equipment and supplies will be required?
  6. What funds must be obtained?
  7. What is the project's timetable?
  8. How will field data be organized and preserved after the project has been completed?
  9. What cultural specialists and institutions, if any, are to be involved?
  10. How will the public be informed about the project?
  11. How will the public be involved with the project?
  12. What products will be developed with the collected data?

Even though aspects of the plan may change over the course of the project, much time and effort will be saved and confusion avoided if the answers to as many of these questions as possible are determined before other project activities commence.1

Projects can be conducted at various levels of intensity. One project might attempt to survey a community's expressive culture comprehensively. Another might seek to document one type of cultural expression, such as net-making skills or architecture. A third might be concerned with documenting a single, local boat type. A project's level of intensity will depend on a number of factors, including the needs of the project, available time and resources, and the expertise of personnel.

If the project is to be a group effort, a project coordinator should be selected. The coordinator will determine the assignment of tasks and coordinate project activities. Tasks may be assigned in accordance with fieldworkers' specific knowledge or interests, or along the lines of the study area's demographic or geographic profile. The coordinator may also decide if project participants are to work singly, in pairs, or in teams.

Cultural institutions such as historical societies, museums, libraries, and archives can enhance the success of a project in a number of ways. In addition to providing access to their collections, they can often supply technical assistance concerning methods for collecting, cataloging, and preserving field data. Some repositories lend tape recorders, cameras, and other field equipment. It is important to choose a suitable repository to insure the preservation of field data long after the project has ended. Making the selection at the start of the project will allow fieldworkers to comply with any special requirements and procedures established by the repository. For example, if cataloging procedures require that all photographs be accompanied by specific data (such as date, subject, place of the photograph, and name of the photographer), fieldworkers will be prepared to record these data when the photograph is taken. Many repositories have forms which can be used by fieldworkers for collecting and cataloging field data, and for the acceptance of donated materials.

The goal of a project might be to document some aspect of an area's maritime heritage and preserve the documents in an archive. Alternatively, a project's goal might include not only collection and preservation of data but also dissemination of portions of it. There are many ways to inform others about local maritime heritage. One can plan exhibits, walking tours, or presentations of maritime skills at public schools in conjunction with the study of local history. One can arrange a local maritime folk arts day consisting of demonstrations of a variety of traditional skills such as boat- building, net-making, oyster-shucking, story-telling, and cooking. Possible publications include local histories, cook books, photo albums, and anthologies of local tales.

The development of such projects requires careful planning and, in some cases, budgeting. If funds are necessary, it may be appropriate to solicit contributions from local businesses and organizations. If a project requires major funding, investigate granting institutions, locally based corporations, and foundations.2 Local or state arts councils, state humanities councils, state historic preservation offices, municipal offices of cultural affairs, and state folk cultural offices can sometimes provide funding and/or information about grant programs sponsored by other agencies.


1. A good procedural outline for project planning can be found in Anne Derry et al., Guidelines for Local Surveys: A Guide for Preservation Planning. National Register Bulletin 24. Rev. ed. (Washington: National Register of Historic Places, Interagency Resources Division, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1985), 9-27.

2. See, for example, Norman Frankel, ed. The Grants Register 1985-87 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984), The Foundation Center. The Foundation Directory. 9th ed. (New York: The Foundation Center, 1983), and David G. Bauer, The "How To" Grants Manual: Successful Grantseeking Techniques for Obtaining Public and Private Grants (New York: American Council on Education; Macmillan, 1988).


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   May 15, 2015
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