Anthropology

Archiving Frustration

A few months ago I started a small archiving project (see my last post about it by clicking here). It’s been a slow process due to procrastination, but I’ve physically gone through each piece of material that needs to be archived (there are hundreds), and I’ve decided to store it digitally. What this means is that instead of just storing everything in a box and having it all sit in an excel file, I want to create a digital online collection or exhibit of the material. I have categorized the materials by format medium and correspondence type, and I’m ready to start inputting. So here’s my problem…

I’ve sat here for three hours today searching online for a free or low-cost exportable software or web-publishing platform that includes the following:

  • ability to import images and scanned files [as images if need be]
  • ability to link these items in order to create categories or collections that are publicly viewable
  • a utility that allows me to create a timeline based on already-uploaded images and their metadata element sets, which brings me to:
  • the ability to create an element set for each uploaded image (i.e. to add a field for dates to create the above timeline, location, contributors, tags, etc)
  • ability to use HTML within those above fields in order to add relevant links and tags OR have a ‘related links’ field or plug-in

I have discovered Omeka, ePrints, ScholarPress, Scribe, and  LifeSnapz.  I want the ease of Omeka mixed with the academic integrity of EPrints, the thoroughness of Scribe, and the aesthetics of LifeSnapz. The ScholarPress site is down so they aren’t even in the running. If I had to narrow it down even farther I’d want an Omeka mixed with LifeSnapz assuming Omeka would allow me to edit the dublin core’s look on the public site (see I’ve learned all kinds of things today)… but I can’t stand any of them enough to warrant the number of hours I’ll have to spend with whichever platform I choose.

I just found something called Memory Miner… and that’s exactly what I’m looking for… except it would do nothing for all of the newspaper clippings I’ve got… and I need to share it publicly (and with a largely academic community).

So – that’s where I am – someone shoot another option at me… please?

A Rebuttal Against NPR: Ethnomusicology Edition

A recent article posted by NPR has disquieted ethnomusicologists across the country on social networking sites, message boards, and mailing lists. The following was stated in an article that discusses college student debt:

“So what are the most worthless degrees or, at least, the hardest to monetize later on in life? Kantrowitz says he often hears from religious studies and theater majors who have a hard time paying back their loans… Ethnomusicology is another example. Kantrowitz describes one student who was thinking of borrowing more than $100,000 to pay for that degree. “There are only two main occupations for a degree in ethnomusicology,” he says. “One is being a music librarian, which doesn’t pay very well. The other is being [on the] university faculty, teaching other students about ethnomusicology.” -NPR Staff

There are several things wrong with this statement, and perhaps Kantrowitz should check his sources before publishing such nonsense. Ethnomusicology doesn’t get nearly enough media as it is, and we certainly don’t need anything negative, nevermind when it’s blatantly incorrect. There certainly are far more than the two above occupations for those with a degree in ethnomusicology. Additionally the last time I checked, a degree in library science is necessary to be a librarian. Many ethnomusicologists do choose to pursue a career in academia as faculty. However, do they only “teach ethnomusicology?” Of course not – they are researchers and performers. They teach music classes that many other faculty are simply not qualified to do – including several genres of popular and roots music. In addition to world music survey courses, these courses tend to fill up with hundreds of students each semester, adding thousands of tuition dollars to the university pocketbook.

What else do ethnomusicologists do? They work at publication firms such as National Geographic, at iTunes, at Pandora Radio and other major music ventures, at Billboard venues and other “top music lists”, at museums, at art institutes, at festivals as directors and coordinators, at the Smithsonian, at record companies including the Recording Academy, at archives, for governments as cultural consultants, as humanitarians, as arts consultants, as primary and secondary teachers, as arts administrators, in applied fields, as healers, as anthropologists and musical historians, as musical archaeologists, as performers, as publication editors, as authors, in studios,as independent researchers, in media studies, as a program director, grant writer, tour publisher/manager, festival publicist, a consultant to film score composers or video game developers, radio DJ, as travel journalists and photographers, or a military consultant… what about working for TV stations like PBS, NG, or Discovery? Eat that, NPR.

At the end of the day, a lot of ethnomusicologists choose a less-than lucrative (usually) career in academia as university faculty, however the possibilities are endless. I don’t know any ethnomusicologists who are “in it for the money”. Ethnomusicologists are a rare breed, and have skills that the rest of the world needs whether they know it or not – we have the skills to discuss increased globalization and acculturation, cultural/spiritual sensitivity, and human diversity. I’m disappointed in NPR, a supposedly conscious public media outlet “on the side of the arts”. Where’s the love?

Doing Visual Ethnography in New Orleans

This past week, I had to read this book for a Field & Lab class. The text proved to be advantageous as an approach that manipulates one’s ethnographic mindset into thinking visually rather than textually. While it’s not a how-to manual for visual ethnography, it does represent a particular enlightening approach that many novice researchers could benefit from reading.  It is primarily for ethnographers who wish to incorporate visual facets into their work, and in that it achieves its goal.

Although it seems a rather simple concept, training the mind to consider various media as potential representations of knowledge (Pink) has rerouted my thinking much as though learning right-hand piano on the left hand would do. In my limited experience, I’ve generally used video and photography whenever possible, however not with the deliberation as a means to create and represent knowledge – instead, more as a supplement to fieldnotes, or simply a way to remember those intricate details of settings or outfits that my mind would let slip away (as a means to “inform ethnography”). Both certainly are beneficial.

Of particular relevance is that Pink spent a great deal of time discussing how important [and different] it can be to work closely and for extended periods of time with your subjects in order to access the personal happenings in their daily lives and to eventually record histories and narratives. While this is one of the chief standards of ethnographic research, Pink notes that doing so within the framework of visual ethnography would allow one to get more intensely personal photographs and video. Again, this seems blindingly obvious, however it creates a certain mindset for the ethnographers to center themselves within.

The first couple chapters situate themselves in this idea of mindset. How do we train ourselves to become visual ethnographers? The endless premeditated reflexivity of our own research is one possible answer that seems to recur regardless of what we’re attempting to progress towards, and certainly a recurring theme of our disciplines’ ideology.  The text piqued my curiosity in consideration of an anthropological approach to consumption: of material possessions, and perhaps of visual media itself. What will the photographs I include in my work conjure thoughts of for those who read/view it? Pink briefly discusses how visual images and technology are woven into the culture of those we study as well as the academic culture in which we work. If there were a credo to visual ethnography, these points would unquestionably be bulleted.

A couple weeks ago in New Orleans, I found myself sitting on an elevated sidewalk in the French Quarter listening to a band of street musicians. The members were all homeless street kids, those I would consider “gutter punks”. Moments after sitting, I realized I had sat next to a couple who also fell into this category and after making small talk about how we both enjoyed the group, without being prompted the female began talking with me about their transient lifestyle, her own musical experiences as a street artist, and the relationship dynamics between those in their community. Although I wasn’t expecting it (nor was I prepared), I asked her if she would let me record our conversation. Two hours later, it ended up being the most productive unstructured interview I’ve concluded. This taught me several things about preparation, which Pink discusses throughout her text. I had two pieces of equipment with me at the time – an iPhone, and a 14 megapixel digital camera which does not record audio or video. Luckily, I had already downloaded several recording applications to my iPhone and was able to swiftly place it between us in an unobtrusive way. This allowed me to record the entirety of it. It also allowed me to take various video clips of the band as I was recording our conversation with the same piece of “equipment”. Towards the end of our time together, I was able to use my digital camera to take photos of them, and of the couples’ fantastic [and significant] tattoos.  In this way, visual research unexpectedly became part of my project.

Pink discusses visual media in many cultures as being an understood and “un-taboo” practice. In this New Orleans instance, various ethical issues arose that also came up in this text. Towards the end of the week, I found myself seeking out this gutter punk community, especially after my interview with a particular woman (above) where she clued me in on where they typically hang out, and where they sleep (I found this to be privileged information). For the first couple days, I found myself paying them for photos (anywhere from $1 for a photo to $20 for an interview, which I always offered and they never specifically asked for). Towards the end, I felt as though I were “stalking” them, taking high-resolution photos from several yards away using zoom, and at one point sneaking next to one sitting on the steps of the river and pretending to take a photo of the river when in fact I was interested in him, in his particular location, in his particular moment. Is this  part of fieldwork? As an aside, my purpose for this is that I’m documenting their locations in order to create a mapped delineation of their community – using visual representations to create knowledge. Ethical issues arose from the gutters themselves…

…as Pink states in this text, often ethical decisions cannot be made until you’re standing in the field. This is a continuous process.

NOLA Notes Pt. 1: Amzie

We were at a cafe on Saturday morning. Amzie’s black top hat was dusty around the rim – you’d leave a starkly contrasted trail with any finger swipe.  He had his winter jacket on; rust-colored with gold buttons – it reminded me of the jacket Bette Midler wore in her “Oh Industry” scene from Beaches shown below – without the frilly shoulder cuffs.

(Note that my favorite quote from this movie is also in this clip – can you guess which one? When I was young I had this entire scene choreographed and my dorkiness came through over this past holiday season when I accidentally remembered it)

His pants were tight black leather with alternating black & red star cut-outs from ankle to knee.  On his right thigh, a weathered black leather fanny pack.  He wore red doc martens which looked like they’d been traipsing the Quarter for months. His thick white beard wrapped from ear to ear – mustache to match.

I dumped copious amounts of honey into my tea as I glanced over at him reading the “A Section” of the Times Picayune while Om Lounge soared over the cafe space, complete with scratch beats.  As for the rest of the soundscape? Tips (change) being counted behind the counter, a barista ripping receipts as he takes orders, coffee chatter, the cappuccino machine frothing, two dogs barking at each other from opposing sides of the room, and a calliope from the steamboat Natchez announcing its lunch voyage on the river.  A tall thin black guy in his late twenties leaks a sonic glimpse from his headphones as he checks Facebook on his Sony Vaio.

This Week's Ambush Cover

I glanced over and Amzie was perusing the front page of Ambush, a local queer publication.  On the cover was a giant advertisement for “Big Freedia’s Big Gay Birthday Bash”, a Sissy Bounce show I had plans on attending later that evening (and did). He squirted ketchup on his hash browns.

It was good to see Amzie (my partner calls him ‘The Wizard’). One of my facebook posts over the weekend involved a metaphor of my soul as a wilted fleur de lis (the symbol of New Orleans) – Amzie is one of those characters that rehydrates it.  Several months ago I made a post about him and the homemade bass he brought in my living room while I was having a yard sale.

After breakfast at the cafe, I was walking down Decatur and my partner and I did a double-take when we saw a homeless guy picking through the trash. Normally, people do a double-take when they’re not used to seeing them, when they’re culture-shocked, or when they’re doing something “odd”. We did one and simultaneously said “he’s new”. That’s a good reminder for me that New Orleans is home. We can be in a neighborhood crawling with thousands of residents and tourists and still distinguish when new migrants/homeless folks are in the area – it means they aren’t part of  the group that we [as a neighborhood] collectively watch over. That reminds me – I didn’t see Bill or James this weekend (my two homeless friends). I hope they’re both okay.