Blog Post

Digital ethnographies

Hi fellow scholars! I'm Sarah, a 3rd-year Ph.D student at Emory University's Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts. I'm incredibly excited to be a part of the HASTAC Scholars Class 2012--the conversations so far have been fabulous!

My research interests include museum studies, public history, African studies, and phenomenological anthropology. For my dissertation work, I examine how the history of apartheid is constructed, circulated, and interpreted across different historical contexts. At the moment, I plan to explore case studies of two South African sites with different historiographical, intellectual, and curatorial underpinnings, as well as a comparative study of how narratives of apartheid shift when they are displayed in a U.S. context. The intent of this research is to examine how seemingly academic debates over the making of history also have resonance in public life.

All this is to say that I take the public in public history seriously. Part of my research will involve an extensive ethnography of museum visitors. I intend to conduct most of this research in person, but I've been mulling over what digital ethnography might look like--particularly since the idea of circulation is so central to my work. Clearly, sites like TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet can provide some basic visitor feedback. What I'm wondering, though, is how I might go about a more sustained digital ethnography. I'd love any advice that my fellow scholars can provide!



I heart this book madly: Internet Inquiry: Conversations About Method.  It's broader than some other things (the online ethnographic work I do is very different from yours, so mostly my reading list won't be much help), and I think you might find some resonant stuff there.

 Charles Ess's Digital Media Ethics is also excellent.

Otherwise, meh...


Annnnd... Requested! THANK YOU!



Welcome. I'm also a new HASTAC Scholar.

Your research sounds interesting.  I was also happy to see you're in Atlanta.  I grew up in Georgia and lived in Atlanta for 10 years and then moved out to LA.  I plan on shooting my next short narrative and documetnary in Atlanta between December and Febuary. I've been brainstorming a transmedia strategy with these films and I think public history, coupled with a little critical geography and augmented reality is where I'm heading.

I'm exctied to connect and collaborate again with those in the Humanities. I can't wait to see how those collaborations will inform my own work.


Hi Sarah:

This is my first post, and it's a response to your query about digital ethnography. I'll post again with more formal introductions of my work, but I wanted to throw my two cents in about the subject. I'm in the proces of writing my dissertation on museums in the digital age (again, more specifics later), but the research consisted of what I consider an ethnographic study of museums in the digital age. I chose 5 case studies of U.S. art museums that are doing the most exceptional work with digital technology at this moment, and then studied them in regards to how they are considering the notion of community and place-based locality. The research included: field work at the five museums (about a week each that included also studying the communities), interviews with museum staff and key personnel in city arts, tourism, etc., compilation of demographics for cities, compilation of data for museums, a 10-month analysis of each blogs, a 2-week analysis of each social media, and an analysis of each website. Because ethnography involves deep engagement with a community, including observation, participation and discourse, I considered each of my museums as a community in itself. Furthermore, I observed and participated in both the physical and virtual museum communities. I did not base this research on any previous work or study; it was simply what was needed for the subject, so I'd be interested to hear about other examples of digital ethnography.




Just wanted to pop back in and thank you all so much. I'm headed to the library tomorrow to pick up Internet Inquiry, and I'm going to request Digital Media Ethics.

Dehanza- I love filmmaking around Atlanta! I've worked on a couple of docs, but nothing fancy. I'm intrigued by public history + augmented reality. I'd love to hear more about your work.

Susana-  That sounds like a really great project! In my case, I'm planning on doing about 3-5 months of fieldwork at each site (I'm doing 3 in depth case studies) that will involve a lot of observation, interviews, some archival work, and a ton of visitor research. 2 of my sites are in South Africa, which makes the digital part a little interesting--internet use is generally regarded as less widespread, though a lot of people have smartphones. Each site has an internet presence, but the extent to which audiences engage with them via the internet really varies (and depends on who we're conceptualizing as the audience).

HASTAC is pretty awesome. :-)


Sarah: If it'd be interesting/useful, ping me in a private message and I'll introduce you to an old friend in SA who's one of the principals of Uthango Social Investments, an NGO that was very active in virtual worlds/social media for quite some time.

Can't wait to hear more about your work!