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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Linda S Watts
BIS 340
Bothell Campus

Approaches to Cultural Research

Examines different approaches to understanding the production and consumption of culture and cultural practices. Invites students to evaluate cultural research, to experience with different research methodologies, and to carry out research assignments. Explores ethnographic, textual, and arts-based methods.

Class description

As a methods class, this course introduces students to the research resources available to them (both on campus and in the community). Class members will build their background knowledge regarding the study of culture and a modest amount of experience with a variety of techniques in use within cultural study. The emphasis will be on materials and methods of textual analysis. Students can gain facility with close reading of primary sources (such as oral history, ethnography, newspapers, census records, genealogy, probate records, house inventories, photographs and other media, government documents, and the like). A suite of assignments will assist class members in demonstrating their ability to apply course content to a collaborative fieldwork project.

Student learning goals

UNDERSTANDING CULTURE: Identify what cultures, subcultures, fieldwork, and ethnographic research are; differentiate between insider and outsider perspectives; observe consciously and record systematically; recognize the fieldworker as a key instrument of research

UNDERSTANDING FIELDWRITING: Keep a notebook; write exploratory fieldnotes; record and organize double-entry notes; analyze and question your fieldnotes; consider point of view

UNDERSTANDING TEXTS: Expand your definition of what a "text" is;expand your definition of what the act of "reading" is; consider ethics in field research; identify and record your fixed, subjective, and textual positions; read cultural artifacts

UNDERSTANDING SITES: Use a spatial gaze when you look at a setting; develop a sense of place in your research and writing; identify a focal point as you describe place; map space; notice colonization in cultural settings.

UNDERSTANDING CULTURAL TESTIMONY: Design and ask interview questions; use a cultural artifact in an interview, listen closely to informants; establish rapport with informants; tape and transcribe interviews; reflect on your interviewing process; analyze spoken evidence.

UNDERSTANDING ARCHIVES: Recognize archives as tools for research; locate family and historical archives in fieldwork; choose either a diachronic or synchronic framework for organizing archives; understand, evaluate, and read electronic archives; expand the idea of archives to include alternative collections; create and write annotated bibliographies; use archives as artifacts in your research.

General method of instruction

We will employ a combination of presentation, facilitated discussion, and hands-on activities.

Recommended preparation

Students choosing this course should do so on the basis of a genuine interest in the course enterprise. Class members will be expected to maintain a high level of engagement in the learning process, including rich and thoughtful contributions to class discussion.

Class assignments and grading

Please see "basis on which grades are assigned" (below).

Class contributions will represent a significant portion of the course grade, as will a series of written assignments in which students pursue and present a project demonstrating their capacities for cultural research.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Linda S Watts
Date: 12/27/2011