2 March, 2002
How do you begin to gather information? What are some of the first things that we will be doing to begin our research on Little Diomede?
When coming to do field research as a social scientist its very important to make it a priority to make connections with people, and keep in mind that the process of doing this kind of social science research is very personal. Dr. Jolles feels that "what other scientists call 'data' is often the detailed story of a person's life" which can lead to a much deeper understanding of the human experience. The information that we will be documenting over the course of this research expedition is very much tied to the personal and family histories of real people and will be made public in the form of notebooks that will be returned to the community.
In fact, one of our first tasks is to begin by distributing copies of a 300 page notebook that Carol has compiled from previous interviews with elders, some of whom have since passed away. She has come prepared with seventy copies and we begin by knocking on doors, introducing ourselves and making sure that a copy is given to every household in the village as well as to the school for use as part of the curriculum. This project is very much seen as a joint project between the researcher(s) and the community from which the information comes, and the information that we are gathering will be made public and returned to the community.
During this first phase of her field work, I will be accompanying and parcticipating with Carol in the interview process as she begins to record a series of individual interviews about subsistence knowledge and activities and the way that such knowledge is shared and used. We will also be interested in learning about changes that have taken place, and continue to take place, to the way of life here on this arctic island. It's important to remember that as remote as Diomede is, it has had modern amenities such as electricity and telephones since the 1970s. Some traditional ways have long since given way to change, for example, snowmobiles have replace dogsleds. Modernization and access to technology has effected change here just as it has throughout other towns, villages, and cities across the United States.
A great deal of knowledge exists outside the written record. That knowledge is extremely valuable and worth preserving and sharing. When great value is placed in and on peoples total life experience, their words and expressive culture comes into play, and importance is placed on how people relate to and explain their daily experiences and their pasts. In addition to a written history, social science research can involve stories, carvings, songs, dances, oral histories. And these areas are important cultural elements that we hope explore and document as part of this first phase of the project.
One of the goals is to interview and work with both men and women, focusing on the different skills, roles, and knowledge that each gender plays in a subsistence community. We are also interested in working with people from different generations (elders, middle aged adults, and if possible, teenagers and other younger people) who are in the process of learning subsistence skills.
The term subsistence refers to the knowledge, tools and processes involved in food getting activities as well as to the traditions that support them. In order to develop an understanding of how people have survived in arctic conditions, Dr. Jolles feels that it is also necessary to look at the food storage and preparation activities that are an integral part of subsistence communities.
In addition to parcticipating in the interview process, and working with Dr. Jolles to develop working relationships within the community, a large part of my role in this project will be photo-documentation. Along with written copies of the interviews, I will be contributing copies of the images that I am taking to be incorporated into future notebooks and returned to the community as part of their community history. We also hope that as a teacher, I can draw on my experience as an educator to help make this knowledge relevant to people outside the community itself, and to build a relationship between our two schools of children and the communities that they are each a part of.
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