A new book has been written by Robin Ridington and Jillian Ridington about their fieldwork among the Dunne-za Athapaskans of northeastern British Columbia. Titled ‘When you Sing It Now, Just Like New: First Nations Poetics, Voices, and Representations, the book is something of a career retrospective. It complements Robin Ridington’s earlier monographs, Trail to Heaven (1988) and Little Bit Know Something (1990) by extending the ethnography and arguments about Athapaskan knowledge in both. The new book devotes several initial chapters to the audio collection of Dunne-za songs and stories both Ridingtons recorded. Much of this part of the book is methodological including extensive discussions about how to make and use audio files in ethnographic research. There are real high points for me like the presentation and discussion hunting stories. (Robin Ridington fits those stories into his broader contention that stories are a form of technology for subarctic Athapaskans.)
The second section of the book reprints several of the essays Robin Ridington published during the 1990s (ie post Little Bit Know Something). The third part includes essays about native ethnopoetics and First Nations literature. Included is an updated version of his 1992 essay about doing fieldwork in court during the Delgamuukw trial. Also included is a pair of essays analyzing Thomas King’s fiction.
The Ridingtons’s book is supported by a website hosted by the University of Nebraska Press. There, you can download five audio files of the Ridingtons’s informants telling stories and of the compilations the Ridingtons produced with audio documentarian Howard Broomfield. I love being able to hear the voices of the people telling the stories that are transcribed in this ethnography. It reminds me of Aaron Fox’s Real Country: Music and Language in Working Class Culture (or here) which is also supported by a website with audio files. In a previous post about Fox’s book I raised some questions about posting audio files and wondered aloud about the longevity of such sites. Kerim Friedman’s recent SavageMinds post about the ethics of geotagging fieldwork photographs might be relevant in this discussion as well. Presumably ethnographers like Ridington and Fox have consent to distribute sound files on the web just as they would have permission to publish transcripts of talk.
I’d like to post on a website the Tahltan narratives I recorded during my dissertation fieldwork. They would accompany the lengthy written transcripts I use in my dissertation. I am not sure, however, my informants would want that kind of access to their voices. It may simply be a matter of informing them of how it would work. But what’s in it for them? Are there concerns about posting sound files from anthropological research on the web that I am not considering?