Making Field Notes


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Making notes is the first step in any complex writing project.

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  • Making Field Notes

    1. 1. Making Field Notes The past was devoted to answers. The modern period is dominated by questions.
    2. 2. Keep your eye on the ball
    3. 3. The Sistine Chapel <ul><li>How did Michaelangelo imagine such a large and complex work? </li></ul><ul><li>How did he manage to bring “the big picture” into focus? </li></ul>
    4. 5. The painting itself was an aspect of Michelangelo’s mind, as necessary to his thought as the brain cells themselves.
    5. 6. Exograms <ul><li>To imagine into existence the entire mural, Michelangelo had to rely on memory fields outside his brain. The painting itself was such a memory field. Michelangelo did what every artist or writer or engineer or architect does to complete large works: </li></ul><ul><li>He made notes and drawings. </li></ul>
    6. 7. Figuring things out <ul><li>Writers don’t “figure it out” and then write it down. </li></ul><ul><li>Writing it down is figuring it out. </li></ul><ul><li>Or rather, writing it down and then reading, re-reading, adding, changing, removing, rearranging, re-reading, and re-writing is figuring it out. Without the writing, many of the connections, insights, ideas, and conclusions could not have occurred. </li></ul>
    7. 8. The problem is limited attention
    8. 9. How many details can you hold in your mind?
    9. 10. Memorize the objects below:
    10. 11. Test: list the items
    11. 12. Test: list the items <ul><li>Stapler </li></ul><ul><li>Rock </li></ul><ul><li>Keys </li></ul><ul><li>Scissors </li></ul><ul><li>Stamps </li></ul><ul><li>Letter opener </li></ul><ul><li>lighter </li></ul>
    12. 13. The invention of writing The shift in consciousness that occurred with the development of external memory fields may be the most stunning occurrence in the history of the biosphere.
    13. 14. External memory fields <ul><li>“ . . .external memory fields . . .allow the conscious mind to reflect on thought itself and to evolve longer, more abstract, procedures.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Merlin Donald. A Mind so Rare (Norton: 2002) </li></ul></ul>
    14. 15. Notes: the building blocks of most large projects <ul><li>When we make field notes about people we interview, the history or ecology of sites we visit, actions we undertake, meetings we attend, adventures we have, and how things seem at various moments, we are in a sense on the front lines of culture, converting ignorance to knowledge. </li></ul>
    15. 16. Note-making empowers thinking <ul><li>Enhancing Memory </li></ul><ul><li>Focusing Attention </li></ul><ul><li>Recording Experience </li></ul>
    16. 17. 1. Enhancing Memory
    17. 18. Creating a durable impression
    18. 19. Enhancing Memory <ul><li>The usual process of making field notes is to do jottings as things are happening, and then to write up more complete notes as soon as possible, preferably later the same day. </li></ul>
    19. 20. Sensory impressions: 10-15 seconds
    20. 21. We remember things that are linked to emotions <ul><li>Emotion is the mind’s way of registering importance. </li></ul>
    21. 22. Watch for “telling details” Facts that trigger associations with larger meanings. . .
    22. 23. 2. Focusing Attention <ul><li>What we forget is negligible compared to what we never notice to begin with. </li></ul>
    23. 24. Attention is limited <ul><li>“ only one millionth of what our eyes see, our ears hear, and our other senses inform us about appears in our consciousness .” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Nørretranders, Tor. The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size . New York: Viking, 1998, p. 126. </li></ul></ul>
    24. 25. Desire governs what we see The first rule of research: Go with a purpose.
    25. 26. 3. Recording experience <ul><li>Your notebook becomes part of your mind, increasing your capacity to notice, remember, organize, reflect, and create. The notebook may be an essential tool for the full life. </li></ul>
    26. 27. Writing intensifies experience <ul><li>People with the journaling habit sometimes feel they haven’t really experienced something until they’ve written about it. </li></ul>
    27. 28. Getting started: Jottings <ul><li>100 years by the Bay – 350 people </li></ul><ul><li>students dressed formally–black bow ties, vests, white shirts </li></ul><ul><li>oral histories–tugboats Bigfork Bay ÷ Somers </li></ul><ul><li>fire destroyed town “if I had to do it over again, I don’t know what I’d decide” </li></ul><ul><li>Model T to church [student mixes humor with facts and respect for subject, the academic report also works as first-class entertainment] </li></ul><ul><li>Bud Moore: “Depending on the goodness and loyalty of other human beings” </li></ul><ul><li>cutting ice for icebox </li></ul><ul><li>Fashion show–1901-1951-2001– everyday, sports, formal, business [professional staging and music] </li></ul>
    28. 29. What to write <ul><li>Observation : Late season snowstorm, hundreds of trees damaged, trees already leafed out, </li></ul><ul><li>Feeling : Mildly depressing to see yet more snow </li></ul><ul><li>Idea : [People saved from drought by the the worst storm damage in decades.] </li></ul><ul><li>Question : [What is record latest date for snow in this location?] </li></ul>
    29. 30. 1. Observations <ul><li>Avoid: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Reporting psychological states </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Making judgments about motivation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Writing summaries </li></ul></ul>
    30. 31. What do you <ul><li>See </li></ul><ul><li>Hear </li></ul><ul><li>Feel </li></ul><ul><li>Smell </li></ul><ul><li>Taste </li></ul>
    31. 32. Try to record speech “verbatim” <ul><li>“ Put quotation marks around verbatim statements.” </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Put apostrophes around paraphrases.’ </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t put any punctuation around summaries in your own words. </li></ul>
    32. 33. Along with the words. . . <ul><li>Note the speaker’s tones, gestures, facial expressions, emotions, reactions, as well as what provokes these reactions </li></ul>
    33. 34. 2. Your feelings Record observations about the observer.
    34. 35. 3. Ideas <ul><li>[Put your thoughts , analyses , theories , and interpretations in brackets] </li></ul>
    35. 36. 3. Questions <ul><li>What other resources exist? </li></ul><ul><li>What different sources can you check? </li></ul><ul><li>What additional background information do you need? </li></ul><ul><li>What new topics might be worth investigating? </li></ul>
    36. 37. Completed field notes <ul><li>As soon as possible—usually the same day—turn your jottings into complete field notes. </li></ul><ul><li>These are complete historical documents that would be intelligible to somebody else </li></ul>
    37. 38. Find the pattern <ul><li>“ Ed Smythe turned eighty-three last May. On the morning we met him, just after seven–a time he chose–he was already out of his house, changing the oil in his riding lawnmower. He had driven the mower just inside his garage where he had rigged a sling from the rafters so he could jack it up using a hand winch. This way, he could reach the drain plug on the side of the engine while sitting in a lawn chair. The lawnmower was as clean as a city sports car, and the open toolbox beside it held enough wrenches and sockets to rebuild a diesel. </li></ul><ul><li>“ He still gets up at five every morning even though he no longer goes out into the green pastures in the dark, the eight thousand foot wall of the nearby mountains black against the first traces of dawn. He no longer drives a hundred Holsteins into the holding corral, their breathing sending brief clouds into the crisp air. He no longer turns on the pumps in his milking parlor, warm water flushing through the clear pipes as he did every morning and every afternoon for fifty-one years. He no longer pulls a handle at the front of each stall twice before opening it to each new cow, the unlubricated levers grating as a measured mix of barley and corn drops into the feed bin. </li></ul><ul><li>“ But he still rises before light, puts on a faded pair of bib overalls over a flannel shirt, even the top button buttoned, and watches from his kitchen table as the cottonwoods beside the irrigation canal slowly become visible. </li></ul><ul><li>“ He glanced at us as we drove up, then continued pouring new oil into the engine. ‘Beautiful morning, huh?’ he called as we got out of the car.” </li></ul>
    38. 39. Toward Final Products Above , Townsend Veteran’s Appreciation Program Right , Ronan Open House
    39. 40. Making Field Notes Michael L. Umphrey.