Aug 5, 2013

Celebrating our second group of MACS graduates

 MACS grads 2013

On August 4, 2013, the second group of MACS graduates received their MA in Cultural Sustainability.  The diversity of our interests – and applicability and reach of the work we do – is evident in the various Capstone projects produced. Here are a few words about these projects, from some of the graduates themselves:

Deborah Spears Moorehead, Hope Valley, Rhode Island:  I wrote the history of my tribal nation, The Seaconke Pokanoket Wampanoag Tribal Nation.

Amara Watkin-Anson, Hartford, Connecticut:  My Capstone, entitled, “Seeding Change, Planting Local Food, & Growing Young Leaders,” focused on on youth development and urban agriculture.  The project was an exploration of community building, youth development, and urban agriculture,  as tools for economic, environmental, social, and cultural development. In order to create effective and successful models of positive community change, we must understand what a healthy community looks like and examine the community assets that support this. We are currently faced with a variety of problems, including declining social capital, a lack of opportunities for youth, and a broken food system. This paper explores what is being done in these areas and how a significant approach to addressing these issues is one that combines youth development and urban agriculture. This emerging practice, as it pertains to building positive community change, can be seen in three different organizations: The Food Project, Massachusetts Avenue Project, and Youth Farm.

Lena Shrestha, Vienna, Virginia: I traveled to Nepal for two and a half months to engage in field work on expressions of culture in the sustainable tourism industry. While I was there, I observed post-revolutionary, changing communities that straddle old traditions and the desire for social change. My research culminated in a written thesis, entitled “Culture a la Carte: Semiotic Construction of ‘Glocal’ Identities in Nepal.”

Sunny A. M. Fitzgerald, Honolulu, Hawaii:  How can we build a bridge – connect the concepts and people, exchange ideas, and share strategies – that could bring us all closer to not just understanding sustainability, but living it?  My Capstone project was designed to contribute to the construction of that bridge.  I visited four communities (two in Ecuador and two in Costa Rica) to meet with individuals and organizations actively engaged in efforts of sustainability.  The purpose of the project was to investigate and document some of their stories – their struggles, successes, and strategies – and produce three preliminary chapters, toward a longer-term goal of publishing an international collection of stories that will celebrate these everyday heroes, as they work tirelessly to protect and perpetuate the cultures and lands they love.  My hope is that this collection will also serve to (1) demonstrate how cultural and environmental sustainability are key to economic health and growth, (2) highlight the value of diversity (both cultural and environmental), (3) encourage conscientious travel and participation, (4) encourage collaboration vs. competition (i.e. across disciplines, generations, etc.), and (5) bridge the gap that often exists between those that research and study sustainability, those that are interested (but may or may not have access), and those that have long been living it.

Anna Ralph, Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania: My thesis research examined Christian missionaries’ two millennia of cross-cultural experiences for insights which could benefit the emerging field of cultural sustainability.  Missionaries were some of the earliest cross-cultural workers.  Many were committed to action, intervention, and advocacy.  Given that cultural sustainability is similarly dedicated, missionaries’ experiences provide valuable insights from which cultural sustainability can derive its own strategies to engage with people and help to facilitate community-driven change that honors and sustains cherished cultural values.   The field of cultural sustainability is in the midst of defining its scope and methods of professional practice. As it does so, it will face many of the same challenges that missionaries have already encountered. The wisdom gained from their successes and their failures yielded implications for the work of cultural sustainability. The culmination of my research was a set of “best practices” for the field of cultural sustainability, drawn from these implications.

Jessica Wall, Monterey, California: For my Capstone project, I collaborated with a community advisory committee to develop the content for an online cultural welcome guide to the Monterey Peninsula in California.  We worked together to identify the different culturally significant places, groups of people, and events that have helped to shape the identity of the region. It was my hope that we would be able to share the locals’ stories and perspectives, and use this project as a catalyst to help newcomers become acquainted with their new surroundings. Further, I wanted to create something that this community can not only get interested in, but also contribute to in a real and meaningful way.

Instead of focusing on tourist sites, we tried to dig a bit deeper and explore those places and events that really define this community. What is important to the people who live here? What do they value? Why have they chosen to live here? What are their cultural ties? What are their stories? What do locals want to share with others? These are the questions I attempted to answer through my research.

I created a website and used it as a repository for the content I collected throughout the research process. I added my meeting notes, field notes, archival research findings, ethnographic materials, and self-reflection pieces. The content covers everything from the history of the region, to culturally significant places to shop and eat. It features the different cultural festivals and events that take place locally every year, as well as the local people who have made it their life’s work to tell the stories of their ancestors. The key to choosing who and what to document was listening to and incorporating the advice of my community advisory committee – what they felt was important to research and include in my documentation. Together we tried to create a product that would serve as a springboard for further research and interest in this field. While there is still a significant amount of work to be done, it is my hope that this project will aid in further cultural programming efforts in the area, and that my specific research and format (one concise and inclusive website) can serve to advance other existing cultural projects.  Explore the Monterey Research website Jessica and her advisory committee created.

Kyle James, Chicago, Illinois: For my Capstone I wrote a traditional thesis.  By conducting a two year ethnography, I examined how alternative global travelers interact with social mechanisms. I concluded that resistance groups often serve as a cathartic juxtaposition – a liminal phase – into accepting and enacting the norm.

Cherie Cloudt, Apache Junction, Arizona: My Capstone, entitled “Home on the Range,” highlighted the lives of five Arizona ranch women in their 70′s-80′s, through photos, oral histories, some history of ranching, and the sustainability of this culture that helped develop the west.

Susan Meehan, Oakdale, ConnecticutMy Capstone focused on ”Mohegan Foodways: Past, Present and Future.”  While not an exhaustive study of Mohegan foodways, this project is an attempt to bring together bits and pieces of research about Mohegan traditions that involve food in a ceremonial or spiritual way, a nutritional way, or a utilitarian way. Some Mohegan traditions have been recreated in modern times, yet some originate as far back as our oral history can travel to Creation and our roots. All of these collaborate, contributing to our cultural survival, identity, and distinction from the outside community. Making this study “accessible” in modern terms for research, longevity, and sustenance is a secondary goal – some old stories and historical speeches are included in entirety for this purpose. Decimating what to leave in and what to leave out has been an ongoing challenge. While outside anthropologists and ethnographers have in some cases provided good resources, the cultural bias of well-intended anthropologists is difficult to overcome; hence, it was important that this project be completed by an insider, a Mohegan, with collaboration with a respected, educated Mohegan elder. Stephanie Mugford Fielding was chosen as an advisor for the project because of her service to Mohegan, as a member of the elected body of the Council of Elders, her experience with Mohegan law and the Mohegan Constitution, and her revitalization of the Mohegan language. Long-term project goals include a potential publication of sorts, after extensive consultation and collaboration with other Mohegan resources, including Medicine Woman Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, who also serves as our Tribal Historian. Further motivation driving this goal of publication is the lack of resources available to study the Eastern Woodland Indian, who is still here after over four hundred years of intense pressure to assimilate.  Contrary to many myths of extinction, the Mohegan Tribe – and many other area tribes – are still here in this northeastern corner of Turtle Island.

The foodways of Mohegan traverse every aspect of life at Mohegan. Mohegan traditions, ceremony, stories, oral tradition, history, spirituality, familial celebrations, the general health of the community, community transitions and migrations and alliances, and the Tribe’s physical location all intermingle with Mohegan foodways. The archeological record of Mohegan’s homeland at Shantok, Fort of Uncas speaks to successful community agriculture, further supported by the natural fauna and flora bounty of sixteenth century Turtle Island.

This exploration of Mohegan foodways examines the interrelations of past practice, present conditions, and the community commitment to the future, while encompassing the founding principles and oral tradition of Mohegan.  Through fractured lenses impacted by rapid loss of land base, and continual struggle for  autonomy, identity and survival, all aspects of Mohegan life touch upon Mohegan foodways, affecting how food is obtained, handled, served, utilized, discussed, discarded, and shared.  Sharing food and feast are at the center of seasonal celebrations, social gathering and ceremony.  For access to a video Susan created over the course of her project, please contact her directly at

Michelle Banks, Washington, DC & San Cristobal, Alta Verapaz, GuatemalaAwiix an online exhibit that explores the role of la milpa (corn/cornfield) and it’s role in sustaining the communal and cultural identity of Maya Poqomchi’ communities in San Cristóbal Verapaz Guatemala.  The project built on the Documentation Field Lab project I completed in the fall of 2011.  The intended outcomes were to demonstrate the cultural work I do with rural children in Guatemala, while creating a forum to share Poqomchi’ perspectives on tradition and change in their community.  To explore Michelle’s project, please visit the Awiix website.

Carmie Morris, Vincenza, Italy: For my Capstone, I explored the topic of language and its place in cultural sustainability. Looking into how language creates a part of our identity, I focused on the social aspects of language and its use. For my case study, I interviewed and interacted with people in the Veneto region of Italy who speak the local dialect, and discussed the changes in use and acquisition over the past few generations, landing it on UNESCO’s list of the world’s language in danger (as vulnerable).

From our first group of graduates:

Judy Cohen, Towson, Maryland: One of America’s best preserved estates, Hampton National Historic Site (HNHS) in Towson, Maryland, showcases life in the Mid-Atlantic from before the American Revolution to after World War II. The 18th century Hampton Mansion and its remaining outbuildings all contribute to the stories of American social, cultural, and economic history across three centuries through the lives of seven generations of the Ridgely family, and their large and diverse labor force. Operated by the National Park Service (NPS), HNHS now seeks to serve as a resource for the public, and especially for underserved students in the region.

Like many historic sites, HNHS relies on typical museum-going audiences. It has managed with governmental resources and supplemental funding from its friends group – Historic Hampton, Inc. (HHI) – to keep the site well-maintained and accessible. However, even with respectable rates of visitation, there continues to be a large segment of the population that has never visited, or has not visited in many years. In an attempt to gain insight, I identified a target audience of local students and teachers as potential patrons, and developed a representative advisory group. I met with these advisors to explore their opinions about Hampton and why they and their associates may or may not utilize the site. I have also sought this group’s advice on ways to engage the target audience in the development of current and future programming.

With an Impact Grant from the National Park Foundation (NPF), the board of HHI launched the Hampton Arts Initiative (HAI) as a means to attract students, teachers, artists, and arts enthusiasts, to engage them in program development, and to encourage their stewardship. Based on research I conducted at other historic sites, I believe that the HAI will contribute to Hampton’s ongoing sustainability by getting artists, students, and arts patrons on site and having them assist with arts-related programming. This, in turn, will initiate dialogue along with patronage between working artists and the public, which will help to strengthen community partnerships, promote stewardship for HNHS, and help to sustain the programs of the HAI.

Lara Wilkinson, Bel Air, Maryland: The project – “Beyond the Barstool: Culture and Community at The Woodland Inn” – sought to identify, record, and present that history and to examine the notion that a neighborhood bar can significantly contribute to the sustainability and cohesion of a community. To illustrate the strong ties that people have formed around The Woodland Inn, this capstone focused on the specific function of collective memory shared through personal photographic archives from patrons of The Woodland Inn. Conducted over the course of eight months, the study involved community interactions, observations, and historical research. This evidence, when presented collectively, demonstrates how The Woodland Inn has and continues to provide a powerful binding force between culture and community. These materials provide a substantial foundation for the transformation of this thesis from an individual endeavor into a community-wide initiative to preserve a dynamic cultural identity.  Lara worked in collaboration with Sarah (see below), but both conducted their own research and produced their own projects. 

Sarah Umstot-Wolfe, Keyser, West Virginia: In “Beyond the Barstool,” I simultaneously investigated and promoted sustainability through the utilization of skills in the areas of documentation, interviewing, participant observation fieldwork, primary source research, and partnership development to produce an ethnography based on Uncle Joe’s Woodpile, formerly the Woodland Inn, located in Short Gap, West Virginia. My primary goal was to document and archive the memories and rich oral history that support this communal cultural landmark to inspire action that contributed to the continued cultural vitality and sustainability of the area. The Woodpile has helped shape family traditions, reinforce beloved musical preferences specific to the area, promote bonds between families and friends, bridge the gap between the young and the old, and foster a broadened sense of community among local residents. Specifically, I documented and compiled a series of interviews from past and present patrons, owners, lessees, and employees of The Woodpile. Photographic documentation accompanied each interview. The resulting data and materials culminated into an ethnography – literally, a graphing or describing of the people – of the Woodpile community. These interviews accompany photographs and historical documentation of relevance to the conversation or stories represented. The research presented is complementary to the archival inventory of artifacts and historical documentation that Lara Wilkinson completed on a subject related to Uncle Joe’s Woodpile.  A note on “Beyond the Barstool”: This work is complementary to the work that Lara did, however it is a separate project entirely. She focused on archival research and documentation, whereas my focus was based much more in the style of an ethnography – focusing on the people, habits, rituals and traditions that create the culture of this particular establishment.  To learn more about Sarah’s project, check out The Wild Woodland Inn blog.

  • Lugyalbum

    It’s really great that the second group of MACS graduates have done their thesis very well and congratulations~

    All the best wishes for you in the future.