Urban Fieldwork for Humanists and Interdisciplinarians

April 2017

Not so long ago, humanities scholars did not work on contemporary art, culture, and societies, but only on cultural production from “the past.” This has changed, and very strikingly. This workshop investigates the conditions of transition in the post-socialist world, where the culture-scape since the early 1990s has evolved at a rapid pace and in many unexpected ways. The turn toward contemporary culture by humanities scholars—toward topics such as cultural politics, public art, civil rights, and free expression, and the evolution of cityscapes and hybrid city identities—now seems a new way of making one’s work relevant and meaningful. Humanists with “on the ground” aspirations need to learn new models, methodologies, and frameworks for including fieldwork with sites and people in their research, as well as the more familiar forms of archival work on textual or visual or material sources. These methods include photographing and filming at sites, observing and gathering information about everyday environments, and studying conditions of transition in real time. The multimedia materials that fieldwork yields are very rich, and humanists need a better understanding of how these materials can best be incorporated into larger, often collaborative, often digital projects, and, indeed, what kinds of projects might be imagined using the materials that fieldwork produces. In particular, working with people—the present-day interviews, meetings, conversations, and oral histories that have become a new aspect of our research projects—is new territory for humanists. Another new element is the broad range of uses available to us for using “mapping” as a geospatial practice, as well as for visualization and more general specialization of arguments and narratives about cities and cultures. This workshop aims to bring together scholars at diverse career stages to discuss normative fieldwork practices in disciplines such as anthropology and human geography, and to discuss the challenges fieldwork researchers may face in post-socialist/post-soviet regions, working toward a set of best practices for humanists in the field, and the most promising directions for humanities project development in the contemporary post-socialist world.