Ethnography 101

What happens when a public historian temporarily becomes an ethnographer? That’s part of what I’ll be finding out this summer.  I only have a basic understanding of anthropology and once dabbled in anthropology during my undergraduate career. I took on anthropology and sociology as a minor  my junior year (after my break up with my secondary education minor). I ended up only pursuing sociology, although I did well in the anthropology classes I did take. I suppose I just couldn’t leave anthropology alone.

Last two weeks in my internship my intern supervisors began to advise us on how to conduct interviews (I have a different oral history background), how to write field notes, and the like. With my first field note write, I think I’m getting into the swing of things and soon I’ll be conducting interviews/oral history. It is interesting to look at heritage in a different formalized and qualitative way.

Last Wednesday, I also attended a Beyond the Beach/Indiana Dunes tourism meeting in Porter, Indiana as part of participant observation and in the stead of Field Museum staff member.  Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail, by the way, is multiple trails used to direct visitors through a number of natural and cultural resources in the Indiana Dunes region. I learned quite  a bit about the work that goes into obtaining  grant funding for historical and environmentally-based tourist programs such as Beyond the Beach. The meeting was also an opportunity to learn about what resources are valued in that Indiana Dunes region, which is being considered as a part of the Calumet Heritage Area.

Pierogi and the People

Apparently, going to something called Pierogi Fest is my internship duties description and I’m happy with that. And if you’re thinking “will all of her blog posts have food references in the title?” The answer is no…maybe.

I want to briefly mention what I did today at my internship. After some required reading (assigned from a syllabus, no less), I’m starting to get a better idea of what these projects are about. In a meeting today we went over guides for doing interviews/oral histories. I can see that this internship is all about the intersection between heritage, industrial and labor history as well as environmental conservation. Personally, I’m happy to see attempts that make heritage and history useful for communities. As a public historian, my greatest hope for my future career is that my work can actually achieve something positive for an individual or group. I don’t want everything I do to remain in a book or a museum case (mind you I still enjoy studying the family tree of the eighteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt and other similarly “useful” historical knowledge).

I wonder if any of you would like to comment on what responsibilities historians have to the the pubic.  Can historians simultaneously be activists?

Hot Dog, I’ve Got an Internship!

Today was my internship orientation and official first day at the Field Museum. Overall, the day went really well  (after my mad dash for the Metra train this morning) and I’m looking forward to what’s to come. Plus, who can be mad at the great views from Museum Campus of the lake and Lakeshore Drive?

So what will I be doing this summer? Well, without drowning you in the details (okay I’m still getting a grasp of it too) I’ll sum up the projects I’ll be working on.  The largest and overarching project I’ll be focusing on, along with fellow interns and staff from the The Action Center/Environment, Culture, and Conservation Center, is research for the proposed Calumet Heritage Corridor. Heritage corridors or areas are large geographical areas that have multiple historical, cultural, and environmental assets; their designation comes from the National Park Service. The Field Museum and partners such as the Calumet Stewardship Initiative are working to increase environmental stewardship in a large area stretching from southeastern Chicagoland to northwest Indiana. The Calumet region has a number of notable features from its ethnic communities to its industrial history (which has periodically been detrimental in the community as well). I’ll be working on research of that region through participant observation and interviews. Learn more here: http://www.calumetstewardship.org/

That research, combined with other inquiries into the diverse urban communities of Chicago, will also be used to build what the Field is calling their Contemporary Urban Collection. The collection will attempt to lead ethnological collections towards an examination of modern urban people, not just indigenous peoples. Read more about that here: http://fieldmuseum.org/explore/department/ecco/contemporary-urban-collections

And did I mention my supervisor bought my fellow interns and I each a hot dog for lunch? And not any hot dog, of course a Chicago-style hot dog. Be jealous.