University of Rochester

Ethnography Center Creates a Magnet for Projects

March 30, 1999

Local research opportunities hold promise for faculty, students, community

The University of Rochester's Department of Anthropology has embarked on a program of new courses, extracurricular activities and a resource center to support a special three-year theme of communityŚlocal, national, and global.

The Rochester Center for Ethnographic Studies, which is a key component of this initiative, now links the intellectual resources of the University to the needs and current realities of nearby communities. "We want to promote locally relevant research on issues of concern to those in Rochester and surrounding counties," says Mark Rogers, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the center.

As one of its first ventures, the center will host an undergraduate conference April 16 where students will present original field research on the nature of community in urban settings. Student presentations will begin at 2 p.m., leading up to a lecture by Rhoda Halperin, professor of anthropology, women's studies, and psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati, at 6 p.m. All sessions will be held in Room 209 of the Computer Studies Building, and are open to the public.

Last fall, the center established partnerships with the city's Department of Community Development and Bureau of Planning, and the South East Area Coalition, an umbrella organization in Rochester's southeastern quadrant. Arrangements like these are expected to open opportunities for the study of urban planning initiatives, the nature of neighborhood organizing, reasons for migration to the suburbs and ex-urbs, and the prospects for retention of commercial enterprises in the city, among other topics.

With its focus on the research perspective known as "ethnography," the center can make a unique contribution, Rogers believes. "Ethnography is a way of learning what's important to people, how they see things, by talking, working, and sometimes even living with them," he says. This method, used by cultural anthropologists as well as those in other disciplines, requires researchers to immerse themselves in the lives of those they study, in order to understand them holistically and personally.

Based in Lattimore Hall on the River Campus, the center is tied to the anthropology department's themes for teaching and research: Communities in America, 1998-1999, with a focus on the future of cities and their suburbs; Communities, Populations and the State, 1999-2000, with an emphasis on the 2000 Census; and Religious Communities and Global Culture, 2000-2001, with a concentration on millenarian movements originating in western New York.

The reference room for the center is equipped with computers and related software as well as audio and video recording, editing, and transcription equipment. There is a growing archive of primary source materials (maps, brochures, reports) for use by students and others for local ethnographic research. Ultimately, such work will be archived and publicly disseminated.

In mid-March, the center hosted a conference for anthropologists to discuss service learning initiatives, how they can enhance the teaching of anthropology, and can bring the contributions of anthropologists to the broader community. There are also plans to offer courses, workshops, and a proposed summer field school to undergraduate and graduate students. A group of interested professors and graduate students have begun interdisciplinary dialogues on the use of ethnography as a research and teaching tool.

Additional funding for the center has come from a grant through the College Teaching, Learning, and Technology Roundtable's Educational Technology Initiative to post the results of student research on the Web for instructional purposes. Besides Rogers, a part-time student employee with extensive research experience consults with students on their research projects, and provides administrative support.

More information about the center is available on the Web at or by calling 275-8614.