Field School for Cultural Documentation

Sailing the Potomac
Sailing the Potomac


The Cultures of Tourism along Alexandria’s Waterfront:

A Field School for Cultural Documentation

May 19- June 20, 2014
Arlington, Virginia

 Sponsored by the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress,
and the Folklore Studies Program,
George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia

Course Content

This intensive course will offer hands-on ethnographic training for beginners in the documentation of local cultural resources, the preservation of documentary materials, and the public presentation of cultural heritage.  Instruction will cover such areas as research ethics, preliminary research, interviewing and sound recording techniques, ethnographic observation, and field note writing. Training will also be provided on the archival organization of documentary materials gathered in the field and the use of documentary materials for exhibitions and other public presentations.  Course instruction will include lectures, hand-on workshops, discussions, and supervised team-based fieldwork with a carefully selected cultural community.

Study Community: The Alexandria Waterfront

The fieldwork conducted during the course will examine the culture of tourism and leisure along the City of Alexandria’s waterfront.  Alexandria’s “Old Town” is situated in the eastern area of the city along the Potomac River.  It was originally laid out in 1749, and constitutes the city’s historic district.  It is a popular tourist destination, known for colonial architecture, art galleries, antique and novelty shops and restaurants.

Students will work in teams to document the vibrant culture of the waterfront, focusing mainly on boating, tourism and recreation.  The field school will partner with the Sailing Club of Washington.  Students will learn to sail the Potomac as part of the field school.

Who should apply?

The field school is designed for adults who have a strong interest in ethnographic documentation but little previous training or experience in this area.  Preference will be given to persons who are in a position to utilize newly learned skills upon returning to their home communities.  School teachers, museum curators, local historians, leaders of cultural groups and foundations, librarians, community organizers and activists, and undergraduate and graduate students are among those who have benefited from the Center’s previous field schools.

Dates, Course Expectations and Location

The field school will begin on Monday, May 19, 2014.  Coursework will be based on the Arlington campus of George Mason University, accessible via Metro.  Because of the short-term nature of the class, students must attend all class sessions and should have at least 30 hours total to dedicate to fieldwork (May 26-June 18).

The first week of classes (Monday through Friday, 1:30-5:30 PM) will take place in the classroom.  Students will learn how to design a team fieldwork project, to conduct ethnographic observations and interviews and use digital recording equipment, and the basics of field archiving.  Students will be assigned to teams and will create a fieldwork plan with the assistance of the instructors.

Fieldwork activities will begin in the second week of the course.  During weeks 2, 3 and 4 students will be on-site at least 30 hours working in teams to conducting fieldwork. There will not be regular class sessions, but teams will meet with a professor once a week to assess their progress and make adjustments to their research strategy.

During the final week of class, June 22-27, research teams will finalize their ethnographic collections and prepare them for the archiving as part of the Northern Virginia Folklife Archive.  They will also conduct a final presentation of their findings to the public.

Cost, Housing, Credit Options and Special Requirements

The field school is offered as a 3-credit college course.  Students may enroll as graduate or undergraduates.  Students who are not currently enrolled at George Mason University can apply as non-degree students: before May 5, 2014.

The tuition fee for undergraduate and graduate students is listed in the chart below:


Virginia resident

Non-Virginia resident



$ $3,549.00




The tuition fee for the field school is includes instruction, equipment, supplies and all other course materials. 


Students are responsible for locating, reserving and covering the cost of their accommodations during the field school.  Students have the option of reserving rooms in one of GMU's residential dorms.   Dormitories are located on GMU’s main campus in Fairfax.  The cost ranges from $22-39 per night.  Information on applying for housing is found at Students who wish to live on campus should apply for summer housing as soon as possible.


An application form is attached below.  A total of 18 participants will be selected from the pool of applications.  The application deadline is April 15, 2014


For more information, contact the field school’s academic director, Debra Lattanzi Shutika.
Email: dshutika AT gmu DOT edu; Phone:  (703) 993-1170. 

The Application form can be found here: