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Setting Up a Field School

Ever since I participated as a UBC student in an ethnographic field school in 1994, I’ve wanted to be involved in such a project again. I always hoped that my involvement would be as an instructor. Now, with the encouragement of a First Nation in the BC interior and the strong support of my college, I am in the planning stages of a field school which will take students to live on a reserve and conduct research in collaboration with community members in the summer of 2011. I want to use this blog to keep track of the steps involved in setting up the field school. Hopefully, it will serve as a useful diary for me and, perhaps, a suggestion of steps for others interested in similar projects.

I will reveal the name of the First Nation once we are further into this process. It is, however, a community I have worked with as a consulting anthropologist since 2008. Their resource manager had the idea to bring students to the community to conduct small research projects in aid of the community’s own research agendas. Despite being thrilled to be asked, I was concerned about the lack of experience my first and second year students have in primary research, research methods and ethics. I didn’t jump at the chance to set up a field school as a result.

Over the following year or so I spoke with colleagues at Douglas and elsewhere who encouraged me to reconsider. The opportunity afforded me, my students, and the college seemed too good to pass up. Last fall, I met again with the resource manager at the First Nation and she remained enthusiastic. As a result, I committed formally to the planning of the Douglas College Anthropological Field School. I also met with colleagues who have run archaeological field schools to gain some insights into the pitfalls of running a program like this.

Since then, several steps towards the establishment of the field school have been completed. They include:

  • drafting a discussion paper in which the rationale and the format of the field school are presented
  • sharing the discussion paper with college administrators
  • writing new course curriculum guidelines to establish the field school course
  • applying for funding from a college fund for release from one teaching section
  • preparing a list of summer tasks, including drafting student application procedures, reading ethnographic and methods literature, completing an ethics approval process, and writing a student handbook.
  • This week, I am traveling to the interior to meet with members of the host community. We will discuss field school topics.

    In future posts, I will details the structure of the field school and discuss the application process.

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    Canadian Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences

    Douglas College and its Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences are pleased to announce the launch of an online journal.

    Called the Canadian Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, this journal represents a new form of academic publication and discourse. We seek articles that promote multidisciplinary debate about issues across the humanities and social sciences. And, we offer the opportunity for publicly visible, online peer review.

    Part of the mandate of the CJHSS is to remove as much editorial censorship as possible. To this end, the journal offers authors the opportunity to publish articles online with only minimal editorial interference. In combination with our public and online article review process, this approach creates an environment for free, open academic debate without the ordinary editorial and economic restrictions of traditional hard-copy journals.

    Please visit the journal at and peruse at your leisure. We aim to publish our first edition in mid to late summer of this year. At the present time we are accepting articles for publication. All instructions are on the website. Or, click here for a larger version of the Call for Papers poster.

    Please follow the Canadian Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences on Twitter @cjhssorg.

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    Renewing FieldNotes

    Right: Klappan Mountain, northwestern, BC (Aug 2009)

    After a year away from blogging, I am ready to start again. I want to continue blogging about aboriginal rights and issues in British Columbia. But, I also want to blog about two specific topics:

    1) I am starting research and writing related to the reader comments on news stories about the Tahltan moose hunting protests during the fall of 2009. This work will also involve reviewing dozens of comments posted on the news boards regarding the same hunting protests. My goals are not well formulated yet, but I am curious about the mix of pro and anti hunting rhetoric in these public forums. I am looking forward to blogging about this project because it involves the analysis of data that is already publicly available.

    2) The development of an ethnographic field school between my college and a First Nation in the BC interior. In particular, I want to blog about the process of establishing the field school. Doing so will create a record of the field school’s development and, ideally, offer a place to solicit advice about the school. The plan is to take a group of students to the community during May and June 2011.

    Further, I expect to continue blogging on topics related to the teaching of anthropology.

    And, I am involved in two other initiatives worthy of blog posts. The first is the launch of an online journal called the Canadian Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences. This journal will make peer review a public and online process. The call for papers is forthcoming. The second is the establishment of the Eulachon Conservation Society.

    There’s more to come on all these topics over the next several weeks. Thank you for returning to FieldNotes.

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    FieldNotes is Done FieldNotes is Coming Back

    FieldNotes is returning. New posts are coming soon.

    Since I stopped posting regularly on this blog last May, I have found I really enjoy not blogging regularly. I have appreciated the discussion that this blog has generated – and occasionally still generates – but my online attention has turned in other directions. For one, I find twitter to be much more immediate and much more intimate than blogging.

    I still use this blog as a resource for my own research and with my students. For that reason I will not take it down. And, I don’t rule out updating it in the future. But, until such time as my motivations change, FieldNotes is finished.

    (I will continue to monitor and moderate comments on various posts.)

    You can find me on twitter and facebook. I’m also tweeting for the Douglas College Anthropology department. That link is here: @douglasanth.

    Thank you to all for the interest and for supporting my blogging.


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    Joys of Twitter

    I’ve been twittering for about a month now. I like it a lot more than I imagined I would. Here’s why:

  • Twitter is much more intimate than blogging
  • Twitter is more immediate than blogging, particularly in feedback and continuing conversation
  • It is like IMing without knowing that someone is listening — but lots of people are
  • You get to chose who you follow, even if you don’t know them — which is different, of course, than facebook
  • Most of all, I love the serendipity of it. People find me after the first use of a word they are interested in … eg. Okanagan
  • I am so very pleased at the professional and personal connections I’ve already made.

    I get the criticisms — ‘no one cares about just anyone taking out the garbage’ — but I realize now that you might care about the mundane in the lives of the people you know and care about. As in most things, the context of your conversation is key. Often, the conversations are more substantial than household garbage anyway.

    I am on twitter at: tadmcilwraith. Please let me know where I can follow you.

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    Flip Video MinoHD: A FieldNotes Review

    Flip Video MinoHD

    Originally uploaded by TFM

    I’ve been using the tiny Flip Video MinoHD (by Pure Digital Technologies) for about a month now. I’ve had a chance to try it in a fieldwork setting (elder interviews) and while traveling on vacation. While I have never had that much interest in doing video (professionally or personally), the MinoHD is lots of fun, easy to use and (obviously) extremely portable.

    I see several advantages and disadvantages to using this camcorder for fieldwork. They are as follows:

    Advantages and Strengths

  • Small size and extreme portability (it is smaller than many digital cameras)
  • Great video quality (HD quality)
  • Reasonable battery life (about 3 hours with built-in battery)
  • Easy to use
  • Practical, yet basic, software
  • Easily capture still images from videos
  • Disadvantages

  • Large file sizes (one hour of recording time creates a 3GB file)
  • One hour of recording to internal hard drive
  • Microphone quality is ok, but for doing linguistic work, it is almost certainly inadequate
  • In sum, this camcorder is probably best for short subjects, such as talking briefly with someone standing at a particular location where video images would add to the recording keeping. I intend, for example, to use the camcorder while standing outside with an elder who is telling a story about the location in which we are standing. It is ideal for scenery. It is not great for longer interviews largely because of the need to download the video file after one hour.

    As someone who would never have considered carrying a video camera with me while doing fieldwork, I will carry this one because of its size, ease of use and convenience.

    An assortment of short videos taken on the Flip Video MinoHD is available on my YouTube channel. Or, take a look at this 30s clip of commuters walking through the Shinagawa train station in Tokyo. (Note: you must toggle the HD button in Flickr or the HQ button in YouTube to see the videos in HD. These buttons are found in the video screen.)

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    CASCA / AES Conference Starts Tomorrow at UBC

    I’ll be around the CASCA conference at UBC this week. I hope to see you there.

    BTW: If you are on twitter, please mark your Casca tweets with the hashtag #CASCA.

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    Forests for the Future: Local Ecological Knowledge Project Videos

    UBC Anthropology Prof Charles Menzies has posted four short videos on the Forests for the Future website. The videos are shot in the Gitxaała community (Tsimshian) on the British Columbia north coast. From the website:

    … from 2007 to 2009 one of our research objectives involved the development of social indicators to assist in sustainable forest management …

    The video segments … are part of our work developing social indicators. In the videos Gitxaała community members demonstrate and discuss important aspects of local cultural practices. Our indicators of social wellbeing were built upon understanding the importance of harvesting, fishing, gathering, processing and teaching about historical and contemporary Gitxaała practices that are demonstrated in these four video segments.

    The videos depict Gitxaała people harvesting resources like cedar. They discuss their practices. ‘Stories from the Smokehouse’ shows the hanging of salmon in a smokehouse and the cutting of salmon into strips. No commentary is given in any video. The videos are very neat — very interesting vignettes into the food collection and processing practices of the Gitxaała.

    Charles and the others at Forest for the Future are looking for comments on the videos. The website is set up for comments. Please do so.

    (via Charles’ Twitter feed)

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    Delgamuukw, Aboriginal Title, Harcourt and Campbell

    Conservative MP John Cummins writes a long history of aboriginal title debates since the 1991 Delgamuukw decision. In sum:

    Recognition of aboriginal title would transfer control of 95 per cent of British Columbia to native leaders who represent little more than three percent of the population. If you own it, control it and have title to it, it follows that revenues which flow from the land such as stumpage fees, mining royalties, rents and access fees for recreational and sporting activities that you impose will be yours.

    How the provincial treasury, robbed of these revenues, would maintain its obligations to all British Columbians, including roads, medical and education services, is not addressed by Campbell’s recognition and reconciliation proposal.

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    Widdowson and Howard Excerpt in Toronto Star

    Celebrating the Donner prize nominees, the Toronto Star has published a short excerpt (maybe a series of consolidations?) of Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry by Widdowson and Howard.

    (I have discussed this book on the blog before. Albert Howard weighed in.)

    Phil Fontaine responds

    The Donner Prize is supposed to reward “excellence and innovation in Canadian public policy writing.” Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry is neither excellent nor innovative. It is a diatribe cloaked in a thin veil of “research.”

    (In both articles, as is usually the case, the comments reveal all sorts of perspectives on aboriginal issues.)


    Beliefs and rituals of Aboriginal peoples are not merely “atavistic cultural” survivals that are holding them back, as book’s authors claim

    Book recycles paternalistic native stereotypes (TorStar)

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