COVID Forces Folklore Students to Adapt Research Plans

The COVID pandemic upended folklore students’ research plans. Three folklore students, Sarah Birns, Claire Denny, and Teo Rogers, were planning for or already engaged in fieldwork when the pandemic hit. Birns, Denny, and Rogers creatively adapted their work by using virtual fieldwork methods.

Birns had planned to travel to Ukraine in the spring for her thesis about dark tourism to Chernobyl. Birns instead conducted fieldwork virtually through video and written interviews. She used an online questionnaire and recruited participants through Reddit, Facebook, and TripAdvisor. She plans to take a virtual tour of Chernobyl with a travel company to approximate the in-person experience as best as possible. Birns says, “It has all been challenging and wildly frustrating, to be sure, but I am still able to gather valuable data to proceed with a modified version of my thesis.”

Denny had hoped to do fieldwork over the summer for her thesis about the Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Denny instead has been conducting interviews with tribal members and museum staff at institutions such as the National Museum of the American Indian through Zoom, over the phone, and via email. Her thesis will analyze the challenges facing rural, local cultural heritage museums in the U.S.

Rogers had intended to conduct research at Egypt-centered theaters and restaurants in Maryland for a thesis about ancient Egypt in popular imagination. The pandemic forced him to shift to an entirely digital approach, working instead with communities on Facebook and Reddit in which ideas about ancient Egypt circulate. Rogers says, “the hardest part was integrating the digital folkloristic parts into what I wanted to do.” He attributes COVID to expanding his skills as a fieldworker.

Learn more about the capstone research experience in the MAIS in folklore studies here: