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Cultural Documentation Guidelines

The teaching and training guidelines below provide practical advice and insights into the process of conducting a local-level field documentation project. These guides cover essential topics such as: project planning; research ethics from the perspectives of the fields of folklore, anthropology, ethnomusicology and museum studies; and intellectual property policies, law and use with special reference to the work of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, Switzerland. Other subjects include: interviewing tips and techniques; writing field notes and producing summaries and logs of recordings; participant permissions and release forms; and links to sites that will help you understand digital recording technologies.
The free Adobe Reader is required to read .pdf files that are provided as attachments below.

Maasai planning meeting, 2009
Project Planning -- A successful project begins with a clear assessment of the resources you have on hand and ones that you will need to acquire in the areas of research, production, presentation and archival storage. Such planning needs to take place well before the the project is initiated. The handy project planning template, originally developed by Smithsonian Institution curator Paula Johnson, is available as a spread sheet (Excel) that can be adapted for various projects: [EXCEL/42 KB].
Ole Tingoi interviews in Durham, 2008
Ethics in Research and Documentation -- The ethical responsibilities of professional researchers to the individuals and communities who collaborate with them in the course of research projects are central concerns for a number of scholarly organizations. Become acquainted with the positions and principles of the American Folklore Society,External Link the American Anthropological Association,External Link the Society for Ethnomusicology,External Linkthe Society of American Archivists,External Link the International Council of Museums,External Link and the American Library Association [PDF/7.68KB] on this crucial topic. External Link
WIPO logo and brand Intellectual Property -- The WIPO Intellectual Property HandbookExternal Link offers a comprehensive introduction to the policy, law and use of intellectual property (IP). In particular, WIPO provides a forum for international policy debate and development of legal mechanisms and practical tools concerning the protection of traditional knowledge (TK) and traditional cultural expressions (folklore)External Link against misappropriation and misuse, and the intellectual property aspects of access to and benefit-sharing in genetic resources. WIPO's Creative Heritage Project External Linkprovides legal-technical assistance to member states, regional organizations and communities on critical issues such as IP and the Documentation and Digitization of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Maasai interviewing herders, 2009
Interviewing Guides -- An interview is more than following a list of pre-formulated questions or depending on your instinct, empathy or specialized knowledge of community history in order to obtain "good" answers. Importantly, it is a matter of respectful and interested listening, letting the story unfold, and paying close attention to the verbal and non-verbal cues that signal the speaker's own interests and sense of importance of the topic under discussion. All together, these best practices will enable you to understand, from the perspective of individuals, the everyday activities, cultural traditions and artistic performances that structure and enrich community life:[PDF/23KB].
fieldnotes image
Field Notes -- A record of the researcher's activities in the field includes general observations about the progress of fieldwork, impressions of interviewees, summaries of conversations, descriptions of the natural and built environment and drawings and diagrams of buildings and artifacts. In addition, information about lighting conditions during photography and sources of extraneous sounds on recordings will aid in the interpretation of project documents. At the very least, field notes provide a useful chronology of the fieldworker's activities. At best, they are the intellectual core of a project's documentation, preserving the observations and ruminations of the fieldworker as the project unfolds:[PDF/26KB]
Dorothy Lee interviews CLifford Wolfe at the Omaha tribal powwow, 1984
Interview Logs -- Logs are concise, written summaries of recorded interviews. They are not as extensive as the verbatim transcript but are more substantial than the quickly jotted field notes you take. Logs are an important means of providing yourself and colleagues with key understandings of the subject matter, themes and perspectives contained in an audio or video recording of community members. The "Louisiana Voices" websiteExternal Link contains examples of various forms of fieldwork documents including logs, transcripts, and fieldnotes.
Mary Hufford, folkorist, interviewing West Virginians, 1986
Permissions and Release Forms -- Obtaining the consent of the individuals who share their stories and knowledge with you during the course of documentation is an essential ethical and practical responsibility. These sample forms, some of which have been used in actual fieldwork projects, may be adapted for use in your own research. They can be downloaded as one pdf document:. [PDF/180KB]
Maasai interviewers, August 2008 Digital Audio Recording --The Oral History Association's web site provides a range of information from an introduction to digital audio recording technology to a comparison of the technical specifications of several commonly used portable digital recorders: Link Other excellent sources of information on recording equipment include’s Guide to Field Recording ToolsExternal Link and the Vermont Folklife Center's Audio Equipment Guide.External Link

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