The Digital Research Centre for Qualitative Fieldwork

Keeping ahead of the game

MUCEP student Mikaela Dyke uses the Avid Digital Edit Suite to edit Dr. Sharon Roseman’s video on Galicia, Spain.

Researchers in the Faculty of Arts involved in fieldwork have access to the latest technology on the market at the Digital Research Centre for Qualitative Fieldwork. Located in Clark Place on Memorial’s St. John’s campus, the centre is a state-of-the-art facility equipped with digital and still cameras, audio recorders, video cameras, a broad range of editing and graphics software and a digital editing suite.

The centre was established about four years ago after a Faculty of Arts group proposal was accepted and granted CFI funding. Additional funding comes from ACOA, Aliant, the Office of the Vice-President (Research) and the Faculty of Arts. The CFI grant proposal, led by Dr. Sharon Roseman, Department of Anthropology, and an interdisciplinary team of faculty members in the Faculty of Arts was initiated because of a lack of basic research infrastructure for fieldwork within the arts disciplines.

“Establishing the centre fulfilled an important need to have updated equipment for fieldwork not only to improve our capabilities in the field, but to preserve older data under the proper conditions,” pointed out Dr. Roseman. “It also allowed us, for the first time ever, to produce Web sites and videos so that we could return our research results to the communities where we work, as well as disseminate it to a wider audience.”

Derek Norman is the co-ordinator of the centre and the person responsible for tracking the equipment and applying it where it’s needed the most. Because of his in-depth knowledge of the film industry - he’s been involved with the Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Co-operative for over 30 years as a producer, director and film editor - he also trains faculty and student researchers in digital photography, digital video production and editing.

“Another big part of what we do is helping faculty researchers manage information collected a long time ago,” added Mr. Norman. “Some projects were started years ago on reel-to-reel tape or 35mm slides and now we are digitizing them to secure their usability for years to come.”

The centre is open to faculty and graduate students in the Faculty of Arts, with priority for access of equipment going to faculty members. Many departments take advantage of the resources provided to enhance their fieldwork experiences and improve data collection, analysis and dissemination.

Some of the major projects to occur in the centre since it opened its doors have included an ongoing video project with Honorary Research Professor Louis Chiaramonte and Dr. Vince Walsh, Department of Anthropology, examining non-Christian religions in Newfoundland; a DVD video developed by Dr. Julie Brittain, Department of Linguistics, detailing her research project on child language acquisition in the Cree community of Chisasibi in Northern Quebec; and a Cree-Innu dictionary and accompanying teaching and vocabulary CD, a project that is in development with Dr. Marguerite Mackenzie, Department of Linguistics, and Laurel Anne Hasler.

Dr. Roseman has also made extensive use of the centre for her research in Galicia, Spain and particularly in the context of her long-term research in the rural parish of Santiago de Carreira. For the past 16 years, she has been following local grassroots activism as people from this rural area react to the impacts of major economic, political and social changes.

Working in the area of visual anthropology, she uses the digital recording equipment to gather data in the form of photography and video. Her latest digital production titled O Santiaguiño de Carreira: The Threads of the Past and Weaving the Future is a short video detailing the lives of the people of Santiago de Carreira as they turn to viable economic projects in response to labour out-migration.

“Being involved in advocacy research and having such an intimate connection to this place and the people, it is important for me to return my research results to the community,” she said. “Having immediate access to a place like the Digital Research Centre for Qualitative Fieldwork helps me to achieve my long-term research goals.”

Aside from the obvious benefit for researchers involved in fieldwork, there is an important teaching aspect to the centre as well. Mr. Norman mentioned that construction is currently underway to renovate the basement of the building to accompany students from Dr. Denyse Lynde’s diploma program in performance and communications media.

The long-term objectives of the centre are guided by an advisory committee consisting of eight faculty members, a community representative, and a graduate student that meets once a semester. Further plans for this year also include ordering new equipment including digital cameras and camera supports and also increasing the hard drive space on the editing suite.

‘We always have to be looking ahead and keeping on the edge of the technology wave,” said Mr. Norman, pointing to the shift to high definition video. “We try to keep abreast of the upgrades and innovations so we can continue to meet the needs of our clients.

“We need to always remember that we are producing for posterity and therefore have to keep up with the latest advances in technology.”