Field School for Cultural Documentation

Field School for Cultural Documentation Image


Documenting Community Gardens in DC National Parks

A Field School for Cultural Documentation

June 5-July 6, 2023
Arlington, 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: Community Gardens in National Parks

The fieldwork conducted in community gardens that are part of DC national parks. Students will work in teams to document the vibrant culture of the gardens, focusing on the culture that emerges from these communal areas as well as sustainability practices, garden leadership, planting, harvesting, and celebrations held at the gardens, horticulture practices, and how the gardens function as a practice within the national parks where they are located.

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. The course is an outstanding opportunity for graduate students and advanced undergraduates who have an interest in ethnographic fieldwork or sustainability practices.

We also encourage 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 Mason’s previous field schools.

Dates, Course Expectations and Location

The field school will begin on Monday, June 5, 2023.  Coursework will be based on the Mason Square 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 (June 12-July 6).

The first week of classes (Monday through Friday,5-9 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 20-22, 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 1, 2023.

Tuition Assistance

This year the Field School will offer a limited number of tuition scholarships. Interested students should note that on their application below.


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 $37-50 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, 2023


For more information, contact the field school’s academic director, Debra Lattanzi Shutika.
Email: dshutika AT gmu DOT edu

The Application form can be found here.