Monday, August 8, 2011

No Pictures, Please

Lately, I've been visiting a lot of abbeys, cathedrals, and churches. In most of these places, it is respectful to refrain from taking pictures. Even though most of these places are also popular tourist attractions, they are still used as places of worship, and thus barging in and taking pictures is quite rude. For many tourists, being asked to not take pictures is a very difficult request. They assume that if they have to pay and/or wait to get in, they should be privileged to take pictures, as if these churches exist solely for the purpose of photographing. Dozens of times, I've seen tourists sneak out their unnecessarily expensive Canons and Nikons, trying to snap a few shots before an usher catches them and asks them to put away their camera and please respect the holiness of the chapel. To me, it seems a little childish. Is it really that important for you to take a picture of a certain tomb at Holy Trinity Brompton? Are you really going to die if you don't get to snap a shot of the stained glass at Westminster Abbey?

In fact, since my camera's screen has died, I've really enjoyed not having to worry about taking pictures. In the first few weeks of my trip, I worried a lot about taking pictures. What if I never went to England again? Wouldn't I want pictures so I could remember my experiences here and share them with others? When I thought about this, it really stressed me out. It seemed like no matter how many pictures I took, it wasn't enough. Furthermore, I've never taken any photography classes and my camera is just a regular, run-of-the-mill digital camera, so most of my pictures looked rather amateurish. My friends would brag about their different hi-def lenses, or how they took two thousand pictures when they visited the V&A, and I felt horribly inadequate.

It wasn't until I visited a few English churches that I realized how relaxing it was for me to not worry about taking pictures. I was able to better enjoy my surroundings, and I could focus on the architecture, the art, and the ambiance of the place, rather than my inadequate photographing. And since my camera's screen broke a week or so ago, I've really come to enjoy leaving my camera in my bag. Sure, I may take a picture of something that catches my eye, or that I think is particularly interesting, but I generally take 10 or fewer pictures when I travel to a historic site, rather than 200-300 pictures. Besides, with a broken screen, I have no idea what I'm really taking a picture of anyway, so it doesn't matter.

I understand that this approach to photography isn't the best for everyone. Some people really enjoy photography, and for them it's a relaxing, fun activity which helps them feel more connected to the place they're visiting. If you're that type of person, I congratulate you. But I also know there are a lot of people out there who take pictures just so they can put them on Facebook, or because they feel lazy if they don't take pictures, or because of some other silly reason. If you are one of these people who doesn't particularly enjoy taking pictures (but still does, for some reason), I challenge you to put away your camera. Enjoy looking at different cultures through your own eyes, not a camera lens. You may miss out on a lot of Kodak moments, but you may see things that are only visible to human eyes.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Avoiding "The Trunkies"

A while ago I wrote about an unforeseen setback that thoroughly derailed my project for a few weeks: losing my backpack. Today, I'm back to tell you about another one: the unfortunate and untimely death of both my camera and my laptop. On the same day.

Because apparently London isn't exciting enough by itself.

The good news is that none of my pictures on my camera or my data on my laptop were lost. And the better news is that one of my flatmates is visiting her family in Australia and won't need her laptop, so she's letting me use it. But even with all these fortuitous events occurring, my research and writing will still suffer some major setbacks.

The most difficult problem I face with my laptop dying is my flatmate asked that I only use her laptop at the flat, and not to take it with me to do research. I completely respect this, especially considering that my luck in the UK with valuables has been rather bad. However, this also means that when I go to the British Library and do research, I have no computer access, and therefore I cannot write and research at the same time. And being forced to have separate processes of writing and researching significantly slows down my progress. I'm used to going to the library, getting a huge pile of books, writing until I need to research a quote or a date, and researching until I can write again. Separating the processes adds quite a handicap.

Anyway, the sum total of all these problems are adding to another problem. Even though I have two more weeks here in England (busy days, full of research at the Library and museums and art galleries, day-trips to historical sites, and a last-minute trip to Ireland), I am more than ready to come home. I can't stop thinking about my flight home, or who I'm going to see when I get back. I'm getting "trunky," as they say.

This "trunkiness" is made worse by a number of factors:
-the aforementioned breaking of my camera and laptop, which will be replaced once I get home.
-all of my friends on their study-abroads/summer vacations/internships have returned home in the past week or so, and feel the need to tell me about how much they have missed the States.
-my sister announcing that she and her youngest child are coming out to visit when I get home.
-professors at BYU who I really need to talk to in person (emails just aren't cutting it anymore).
-wedding invites from about a bazillion friends getting married in the few weeks between my return to the States and the beginning of school.

Does anyone have ideas or remedies for getting rid of my "trunkiness"? It's not like I'm so obsessed with thoughts of home that it's impeding my research, but it's hard to enjoy my time here when my mind is a few thousand miles away. If you have any suggestions, they would be very much appreciated, and if I come up with a solution, I'll be sure to write about it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Researching without a Library

On my mid-field study vacation to Scotland, my backpack was taken. And thus began part two of my UK adventures.

The most important items (regarding my field study) that were in my backpack when it was taken were my debit card and my British Library Card. I spent the first week back from Scotland at home everyday, because I didn't have enough money to use the Tube. Since then I've received a new debit card, but I haven't been able to get a British Library Card yet (still waiting on the post).

Although the first week (without the debit card) was torture, and I couldn't wait to get my debit card back, I've kind of enjoyed not having a British Library Card. I didn't realize it until now, but I was probably spending too much time in the Library. Without a card, my schedule is very free, and I've finally gone to see places like Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, and the British Museum. I don't think I could ever possibly explain how it feels to actually be standing in the same place where Elizabeth I spent her childhood, or where Mary I was crowned, or where Lady Jane Grey was buried. And since much has changed in the city of London since these women ruled England, stepping into these historical sites--which have been amazingly preserved and well-kept for hundreds of years--is probably as close as I'll ever get to experiencing the lives of England's Tudor queens.

I'm still a little new to the idea of doing research without a library, because for English majors, research always requires books or articles of some sort. But as much as I enjoyed reading about Tudor England, I also enjoy discovering these historical Tudor buildings for myself, without the commentary/opinion of an author. As helpful as other scholars' opinions can be, it's also vital to go and see an artifact/text/site for yourself, so you can be informed and original in your ideas, rather than just commenting on a conglomeration of others' opinions. And for my research in particular, in which I am trying to find the difference between factual history and mythical history, it helps to see the "real thing" and judge for myself whether a certain writer was trying to be honest or just being sensational. For instance, when I first read Thomas Heywood's If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody Part I, I was pretty sure he was being melodramatic with his portrayal of Elizabeth in the Tower of London. At one point she mourns having to enter the Tower through the gate where traitors usually enter, and at another point she dramatically asks a servant whether or not he can see gallows waiting for her. I thought this was all a bunch of foolish theatricality until I actually went to the Tower. It turns out that if a execution were to happen at the Tower, you would be able to see the gallows from where Elizabeth would have been stationed at the Tower of London. Furthermore, there's a gate at the Tower of London called Traitor's Gate, which is where the criminals usually entered. It provides much less privacy than the gate where royalty usually entered, which means Elizabeth probably received a lot of unwanted attention, gawking, and possibly even jeering or booing when she arrived. So Heywood wasn't being overly dramatic after all.

I still miss not having a Library card, and I'm way overdue for going back to the Library to study. But the good news is that I'll have more than enough places and things to see without it. Even if I wasn't able to get another card in my time here (knock on wood), I have a long list of Tudor historical sites to visit and research. In the next few days, I'll be going back to the Museum to visit the Coin Dept. and research Tudor coins and medallions, then returning to Westminster Abbey for a more in-depth tour, visiting inside the Houses of Parliament, and possibly even going to West Tilbury to see the fort and the field where Elizabeth made her Speech to the Troops at Tilbury. It's still a little weird not being at the Library three or four days a week, but I'm enjoying it as much as possible.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

London, Culture, and Major Project Revising

Last night I had a dream that I was home, already back from my field study. In my dream, I was panicking because I felt like I had gotten nothing done and I hadn't seen as much of London as I wanted to see and I hadn't done half the research I wanted to do. I guess this is a good measure of how far along I am on my project. But this isn't because I've been slacking off and not working as hard as I should be. I've spent most of my days here researching at the British Library or in historical sites researching (except for the long week I spent at the beginning trying to look for housing). The main problem which is keeping me from moving ahead on my project is that I'm not focusing on the right subject.

I realized this today as I was emailing my thesis mentor. The two problems which I have noticed in my project are 1) finding a simple, narrow focus, without the mass of unorganized tangents which I seem to have accumulated, and 2) keeping my project focused on literature, not history. Although I had always noticed how complicated my project seemed to be, I didn't realize I was having problems with keeping it focused on literature until my thesis mentor asked me if this was turning into more of a history project than an English project. My first reaction was that all of the history was necessary to my project because I had to know a lot of history in order to discuss my literature knowledgeably. But after a while, I realized that the history part of my project, instead of being a foundation through which I could confidently analyze the literature, was taking over my project. Instead of analyzing literature about the Tudor queens, I was trying to analyze the history of the Tudor queens and use some literature as proof for my arguments.

Now that my project is back on track, I feel a lot more confident in my research and in keeping my project focused. To be honest, I've lost a lot of time doing some writing and research that will probably not be included in my project, but now my project is focused on the literature rather than history, which is where it needs to be. And another perk of refocusing my project which I've noticed is that now my project is simplified and easy to explain. After removing all of the unnecessary historical junk, it's a very streamlined, manageable project.

As far as getting used to London and its culture, I've learned one all-important principle: nearly everything all of your friends and family tell about London is a lie. This isn't because they're trying to trick you, or because they never experienced the "real" London. It's simply because it's impossible to sum up London's culture (or the culture of any city or country, for that matter), into just a few words or sentences. I've had people tell me all Londoners try to make you angry just for fun, that Mormons in London aren't as friendly as Mormons elsewhere, and that keeping the hot water running while you take a shower is a luxury in England. And this is only a small sample of the advice I've received about London and its people. While I don't know where many of these bits of advice came from, I'm reminded of a quote which I believe is from Mark Twain:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."

I'm not implying that the people who gave me their opinion about London were bigots or prejudiced, rather I'm expressing how grateful I am that I'm here in London to experience the real culture and real atmosphere of the city, rather than just listen to other people's opinions. As easy as I would have been to rely on other people's opinions of London and England instead of coming here myself, I would have missed out on the opportunity to discover the culture for myself. I've also learned from this experience that when someone asks me, "What is London like?" I'll share my opinion, but also remind them how large and diverse London is, and that it's impossible to describe without making sweeping (and probably untrue) generalizations.

I'm definitely looking forward to discovering more about London in the next two months, and in starting anew on my streamlined, refocused project.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Learning Journal 30: Last (of the Semester) Reflections on Cultural Learning

When I first enrolled in IAS 360R, I thought it would be a class about how to survive in the wilds of Ghana and Mexico and Tonga, and thus would apply to my field study very little. I figured that since there was so much similarity between American and English culture, I would have little problem assimilating into the culture, other than understanding British accents and learning words like "nappy" and "bobby." I also thought that because I was studying history and literature rather than living people, I could just hole myself up in libraries and museums all day long and spent my field study in an ivory tower.

In short, I was very wrong.

Although the field study class has taught me countless of important concepts and practices, like gaining entry, appropriate reciprocity, and safety in a foreign country, the most important idea that I have learning this semester is respect for other cultures. I think that as members of a technologized, industrialized, "forward-thinking" culture, it is so easy for Americans to look down on other cultures. Sometimes this can come out in vulgar phrases like, "Why do they do that? Its inefficient and stupid," or "That's really weird/gross." But many times, we don't even notice that we're looking down on other cultures. This happens all the time, when people comment on how simple and happy other cultures are, or how they are so quaint and picturesque, or how we are so amazed that they can survive without modern technology. We don't mean to insult other cultures, but because we've been raised in our culture, we naturally find it superior.

As I discussed in the previous post about my book review, I've been able to apply this concept to different geographic cultures (modern London) and also different historical cultures (Tudor London). Just like we believe we are superior to other cultures, we also tend to believe we are superior to other eras. I've heard all of the vulgar phrases in the paragraph above asked of historical peoples as well. Earlier this semester, while discussing Medieval love poetry, the students in one of my classes kept mocking the author of the poem for his silly, girlish tendencies. I made the point that gender was viewed differently back then, and it was common for men to be just as sappy, if not more so, than women. While I thought this was an important piece of information to share, I guess my class thought I was joking, because they laughed at me. Even though I protested that it was true, they said things like, "that's ridiculous!" or even worse, "how gay!" While people tend to be more aware of negative cultural criticism (even if they are guilt of it), I'd guess that most people don't even think that negative historical cultural criticism is possible. After all, they're all dead, so they can't take offense, and everybody knows that humankind is constantly improving because of technology.

This view of history is exactly what makes people close-minded and simple. Like misunderstanding geographical cultures, people assume that people cannot possibly be as diverse as historians or anthropologists report. They think that everyone, if they had the choice, would like in a nice house close to the mall and their office job. Maybe it's hard for the human mind to comprehend diversity, or maybe we're a little uncomfortable with so many differences. Either way, I'm infinitely grateful that I took IAS 360R because it helped me exercise my capacity for tolerance and understanding, and learn how to represent a culture fairly. I hope that through my project I will be able to educate others about treating cultures fairly, whether across time or across space.

Book Review

Selling the Tudor Monarchy:

Authority and Image in Sixteenth-Century England

By Kevin Sharpe

Sharpe’s Selling the Tudor Monarchy is the first of two volumes exploring the ways in which English monarchs during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries represented themselves to their people. Most people unfamiliar with early modern English monarchy assume that since the monarch had complete power of the army and the navy, they could rule as they wish, and didn’t care much for the opinions of their people. But according to Sharpe, the Tudor monarchs were among the first monarchs to create “advertising campaigns” for their own reigns. By hiring artists, printers, writings, and other craftsmen to make flattering portrayals of them, these monarchs were able to inundate their realms with positive images of themselves. This practice was usually very successful in influencing the minds and opinions of their people.

Selling the Tudor Monarchy is vital for my field study project and research experience because it explains the basics behind monarchical self-representation. My field study project focuses on the theatrical representations of the Tudor queens in comparison to the actual historical queens, and Sharpe’s book helps to show the questions which must be considered when trying to distinguish history from myth. Furthermore, Sharpe is very careful at explaining the culture of Tudor England in relationship to the monarchs and their ad campaigns. Although historical accuracy is generally viewed as a must in historical literature, in my research, I’ve noticed that some authors, especially literary critics, tend to read history backwards. While they have their historical facts straight, they tend to interpret history using modern theories, for example, interpreting the decisions of fourteenth –century merchants using the modern theory of capitalism rather than the historically contemporary theory of mercantilism. Thus, the history is correct, but the mistaken interpretation of the history renders everything useless.

In my subject area, many scholars tend to interpret the actions of monarchs using theories and ideas which obscure and skew the monarch’s intentions rather than revealing them. Modern political theories of constitutional monarchy, democracy, dictatorship, and republics have all but replaced ancient political theories of autocracy, divine right of kings, and Renaissance monarchy. Instead of interpreting Tudor monarchs’ actions through the policies of Renaissance English political theories, many scholars impose modern political theories on Tudor history without recognizing their erroneous reasoning.

Sharpe is extremely meticulous in using Tudor theories to interpret Tudor history. Reading Selling the Tudor Monarchy helped me better understand Tudor culture, which will definitely reflect in my research. Understanding Tudor culture is just as important to my field study as understanding London and British culture. And like we have studied in class, Sharpe points out that there is more to Tudor culture than simply pointing out the differences between its culture and our culture. On the other end of the spectrum, Sharpe shows that assuming their culture is essentially the same as ours is also false (for instance, Elizabeth I was not the feminist that she is portrayed as in modern television and movies). Reading Selling the Tudor Monarchy provided an excellent overview and foundation for the research which I will perform in the field, and it will definitely be a starting point for a deeper exploration into the lives and self-representations of Jane, Mary, and Elizabeth.

Sharpe, Kevin. Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth-Century England. New Haven: Yale UP, 2009. Print.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Learning Journal 29: Project Presentations II

Today we finished the field study project presentations in our section. Something which one of the students said got me thinking about my particular field study. The student said that the reason why he picked a field study rather than a study abroad or another option was because he felt field studies were more student-motivated. He liked the idea that he was originating his own research and completing his own project, rather than working on the exact same assignments in a study abroad, which seemed to have a one-size-fits-all mentality in comparison. Although I had always had the same feeling about field study, I had never quite been able to fit in into words like he did. I knew I wanted to do a field study because I didn't want to pay so much for a study abroad, and because I didn't want to be required to take the classes on a study abroad. I also knew that none of the study abroad options really fit my project. But it wasn't until he talked about the ability to form and control your own project, and to do self-motivated research as an undergrad--rather than waiting until grad school or later--that I realized how vital it was to my project and to my general growth as a scholar that I did a field study instead of any other foreign study program.
Something else that was mentioned by another student was that on a field study, she felt less like a tourist and more like an observer. Instead of staying in a packed group and listening to tour guides or your professors tell you about some historical place, you were able to go out yourself and discover. When you are in such a large, homogeneous group like a study abroad group, you are naturally treated as tourists, because you appear just like tourists. But when you're able to separate yourself, you can sometimes "fly under the radar" and see what might have been impossible to see as a tourist.
I like both of these ideas very much, and I want to apply them to my field study. First of all, I want to make sure that I take full advantage of directing my own research. I feel like I've already done a good job of this by picking classes in which I can build my own curriculum and use my research to work for me in finishing a project and getting credit for it. Second, I want to be an observer than a tourist (or maybe just be a tourist for the first week, and get it all over with at once). In my opinion, the difference between an observer and a tourist is that a tourist treats a country as a destination with a checklist of places to go. A tourist will not stop for a while to contemplate architecture or watch the indigenous people move about, for they have places to go and things to see. Their goal is to get as much done in as little time as possible so that they can have time to see even more things. They carry their cameras around so they can look back at pictures in case they did not have enough time to look around when they were there. It seems as if few tourists are relaxed enough to see anything that the tour guide doesn't point out to them.
On the other hand, I want to be an observer. If I planned to go to a library, but I stopped in a museum for a little bit and a particular portrait fascinates me, I want to feel free enough to go late (or not at all) to the library, in order to view and study the portrait for as long as I wish. I want to stay in a historical site for hours, just to fully enjoy the history and to talk to the guides as long as I wish. In short, I want to have all of the experiences that so many people pass by when they come as tourists and only give themselves two or three weeks in seeing England. For that matter, I don't want to see England, I want to experience it and have a life memory than just a lot of pictures on Facebook.
I want to be able to keep these goals on the top of my list. I think that if I remember that my field study project is student-oriented and student-created, and if I also remember to be an observer and a participant, not a tourist, I will be able to have a much better and more successful experience.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Learning Journal 28: Class Presentations I

After listening to another student's presentation and comparing our project and field study programs, I've come up with a few more challenges I will face in the field, as well as some things I'd like to change about my project.
One of the challenges I noticed was how complicated my project seemed in comparison with other projects. From what I've gathered in talking to their other students, most of the projects follow basically the same equation: go to the field, target a certain demographic, ask their opinion on something, and then code and write up the data. But being a literary essay, my project will follow a much different format, and involves a lot of competing factors and specifications to narrow down my subject to the point that it can fit in a 70-100 page honors thesis. And although my research question may seem complicated, as I've looked back on how I formed it, it's actually not very complicated at all. My main question is what factors determined whether or not a Tudor queen regnant was successful in gaining and maintaining the love and loyalty of her people. Of course, this leads to a question exploring how Tudor queens presented themselves in public. This, again, leads to a question of how Tudor queens presented themselves in public during their accessions, for this time period was key in creating an image; in some ways it was the country's "first impression" of the monarch. The second part of my question, how the myths of these queens affected the English imagination, is best answered by studying the literature and art which occurred during/after these queens' reigns, and which used the queens as subjects. And since plays show not only the physical queen (like a portrait or engraving), but also the queen's personality and words (like in a book or chronicle), theatre is one of the best mediums to study when exploring representations of the queens. And by comparing the theatrical version of the accession to the historical version of the accession, we can see exactly what was myth and was actually happened. But even though I can explain the logic behind my project to myself, I can foresee that one of my challenges in the field might be explaining my project to the people I interview. I think a good idea might be to come up with a simple but accurate way to explain my project in a way that anybody could understand, because I'd had to waste time in interviews on explaining the complications of my project.
One of the challenges I also realized that I would face in the field would be the numerous different accents I will experience while in London. While I won't have to worry about finding an interpreter, I will have to deal with a lot of different versions of English, not just while interviewing but in everyday life. And I won't just have to worry about Cockney or Scottish or Irish accents, but considering the diversity of London, I will probably hear a lot of African, Indian, Pakistani, and other accents as well. While this will be exciting and fun, I also know it might be very stressful because I consider myself very bad at understanding accents. Not only will it be difficult to communicate, but I also am worried that I might offend people. Will people be understanding of my difficulty in understanding other accents? And if so, is there some kind of exercises I can do to learn how to understand different accents more accurately?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Learning Journal 27: Culture Shock

In the readings and class discussion about culture shock, I noticed so many ideas and opinions that I had had about travel and biculturalism that I wasn't quite able to put into words. The discussion and readings helped me not only put some of these ideas into words, but also helped me think about them on a deeper level. One of my ideas about why culture shock can be so intense and powerful is because sometimes we passively let our cultures define ourselves. Granted, there are a lot of aspects about our culture that have a huge effect on us, whether we want them to or not. But there are also a lot of ways in which we can differ from our culture. For instance, do I go to church, abstain from alcohol and drugs, and dress modestly because it is part of who I am, or because everyone else in my culture does the same thing? Do I value hard work and self-reliance because I myself am hard working and self-reliant, or just because these are (WASP) American values? I think a big reason why culture shock is so powerful is because when we are removed from our native culture, it is no longer there to define us or to help us make decisions. We must decide if certain values and personality traits are part of what defines us as a human being, or if they were just something we took on as part of living in our culture. Realizing that your self-knowledge and humanity depends on a culture that you left thousands of miles away can be rather frightening.
Another concept about culture shock that I've been thinking about for a while is the difference between cultural immersion and just simply sightseeing and vacationing. I have a lot of friends who have become world travelers while in college, and while they've spent many months of their college careers in different countries, they seem totally unaffected by culture shock. As I first learned about culture shock from the IAS prep course, I kept asking myself why my friends hadn't gotten culture shock, why they seemingly waltzed into a country, saw everything of importance, ate good food, enjoyed the nature, took enough photos for a facebook picture album, and were done. If I was preparing for symptoms like over/undereating, random bouts of crying, and irritability, how was it that their only negative experience during travel was a light sunburn?
As I've been thinking about this lately, especially after class discussion, I realized that there were two probable answers. First, they actually did experience culture shock, but not knowing what it was, they just assumed they were being weak or grouchy and obviously don't want to share their faults with me. And second, they may not have experience culture shock because they stayed within the Americanized areas of the countries they visited. Most of these friends stayed in nice hotels with very western ideas of service and living. And those who weren't able to stay in nice hotels still did not put much emphasis on cultural immersion--they were either there to study geology, wildlife, native plants, etc., or to look at art and see sights. They were as concerned with crossing cultures as they were with collecting data, and therefore they felt little need to mesh with the existing culture.
Another common practice that I noticed about these friends who had gone to foreign countries was how they described their travel experiences. They reminded me of the students described in the article we read at the beginning of the semester, "What Students Don't Learn Abroad." They viewed different countries and places as items to be checked off on a to-do list, and even had a "conquering" attitude when it came to visiting other places. Instead of enjoying the country and learning about the native traditions and culture, these students acted like the main characters of some rogue travel show, or as young missionaries spreading the gospel of American pop values to the savage people. They saw interesting cultural experiences as challenges to their intellect, rather than just interesting cultural experiences. They seemed to believe that one size could really fit all, as if the people living in these foreign places were hired to act as crazy/poor/happy/friendly/whatever as they did, and American culture was the only "real culture." As a whole, their experiences seemed crafted to end up on facebook or a resume, and the humility of approaching and learning from a different culture was far from their minds.
From this perspective, I think culture shock is the price we must pay if we want to avoid being the obnoxious American tourist and instead be the understanding, teachable American. Even though I am going to London, which has so much in common with America, I expect to feel culture shock because I want to experience the culture of London, not just the postcard version of London. I want to feel uncomfortable, because that may be the only way that I know I'm having a London experience in London, not just an American experience that happens to be in London.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Learning Journal 26: Proposal Review

Today in class we did an activity in which we basically wrote an outline of our project proposals on post-it notes. Although it seemed somewhat redundant to write summaries of our projects, this actually really helped.
After thinking more about the process of writing a field study proposal, I realized that the length and breadth of the proposal is probably the most difficult part of the proposal. When you are asked to write a document describing in detail every single aspect of your field study, and especially when you have to write about so many different subjects, it's very difficult to keep your proposal focused, organized, and answer all the questions. Because of this, my proposal tended to wander around, and since I worked on it in sections at different times, the earlier sections are somewhat less developed than the later sections.
By mapping out my proposal, I was able to see the spots that didn't fit in, that were underdeveloped, and/or were no longer relevant to my main proposal argument. For instance, in my "Background and Significance" section, my introductory paragraph is all about ethos and how Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth, and Mary used ethos in shaping their self-representations. But when I looked back and summarized it today in class, I realized that my long explanation of ethos is rather tangential and superfluous. Sure, it fits into my thesis introduction, but it doesn't add anything necessary for the reader to know about my project and field study. The same problems tend to continue throughout the rest of my paper. I can tell now that I definitely need to rework my Background and Significance section. And by summarizing my proposal, I can take a step back and look at my proposal from enough of a distance to have better judgment, rather than getting bogged down in the length and variety of information.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Learning Journal 25: Social Situations Scavenger Hunt

1. A common greeting (observe and describe)
Two men standing with their backs to the walkway, looking at figurines in a glass cabinet. A woman walks by and passes the men by about two feet when one of the men call and say, "Hey, [name]!" She turns around responds with "Hi." She is dressed in a skirt and leather booths and a white coat, and is carrying a backpack and a pink umbrella. The two men are both wearing jeans and hoodies and have backpacks. One of them is wearing a baseball cap, and they are both eating ice cream. Only one of the men speak to her. He asks her why she is dressed up, and she says she is going to the temple. He smiles and says, "that's good," and acts rather pleased with her response. She says goodbye, he says goodbye, and the conversation ends. She did not get any closer to him during the conversation, and while the man stepped to face her during their conversation, he did not get any closer than five or six feet. She had been walking very quickly before he stopped her, and continued to walk quickly after the conversation, so maybe one of the reasons why the conversation was so short was because he sensed she was rushed. She did smile at the man, but not as much as he smiled at her.

2. A conversation between a man and a woman
A man and a woman were sitting at a table in a room full of other people walking around and sitting at similar tables. The man sat sideways in a chair, the woman sat on his lap. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and she was wearing a hat and glasses and coat and jeans. He had his arms around her waist, and she had her arms around his shoulders. They were talking rather quietly, and even though I was only probably about ten feet away, I couldn't really make out distinct sentences, only a few words here and there. At one point they looked together at an advertisement for a marathon, each held their own advertisement and the woman read parts of it out loud. Although they occasionally looked at each other, they never looked at each other at the same time the other one was looking at them. The man drank a Jamba Juice. They seemed to do a lot of agreeing with each other, and did a lot of smiling, laughing, and nodding. There are some silences in their conversation, but judging by their body language, the silences did not seem awkward. Every once in a while she squeezed his shoulders tightly.

3. A conversation between two women
Two women were sitting at a table in a room full of other people walking around and sitting at similar tables. The girls sat about two and a half feet away from each other. Each had their laptops out in front of them and they were talking about texting people and who was responding to their texts and why the people who didn't respond had not responded. They did a lot of giggling. They both had long, somewhat straight and somewhat wavy hair, and were wearing a considerable amount of makeup. One of the was wearing a hat. At one point one of their phones rang and they answered it. The other girl who did not answer the phone smiled and laughed at what she heard from the phone conversation. Both girls kept eye contact for at least part of the time while the one was on the phone. The girl who was not on the phone did not seem to find it rude at all that the other had answered her phone in the middle of their conversation. Their conversation in general (outside of the phone conversation) consisted of a lot of agreeing with each other and assuring each other. They talked a lot without looking at each other. One of them was chewing gum, and one of them put on some lip gloss. While the one was on the phone, the other did things like rummage through her bag, write in a notebook, and type on her laptop. Much of their stuff was strewn out on the table. They both had water bottles, and one of the women was crossing her legs.

4. A conversation between two men
Two men were standing and looking at a glass cabinet of figurines. They both were wearing hoodies, jeans, and backpacks. One of them was wearing a baseball cap. They spoke seldom and very quietly to each other, even though I was only about 5 feet away from them, I could hear conversations 10-15 feet away better than I could hear their conversation. They were facing away from the main walkway, and they seemed pretty intent on looking at the figurines. Every once in a while one of them would point at a figurine and make a comment to the other, and the other might respond with a few words or say nothing at all and just acknowledge them through eye contact or body language. They were eating ice cream and would sometimes point at something with their spoons. At one point one of the men had a short conversation with another woman (as described above). After the conversation, the other man asked him who the women was, and they talked about her for a few seconds.

5. Participate in a conversation of five minutes or more with someone of the opposite sex
I went and asked a man at a counter selling watches if he had any women's watches with a digital face that weren't sports watches. He did not answer my question, but said I could come behind the counter and look at the women's watches. The space behind the counter was very small, but since there were many people crowded around the counter, it did not feel awkward to be in such close proximity with him because everyone else was in close proximity as well. He was wearing a white striped shirt, a tie, khaki pants, dress shoes, and a lanyard with BYU Bookstore employee ID on it. His hair was nicely styled, and as I looked at the watches behind the counter, he was busy looking at the watches in a display case. I asked if these were all the women's watches, and he said yes. I asked again if there were any women's watches with a digital face that weren't sports watches, and he pointed out a few that did not have digital faces, but that showed the seconds in the background of the face. I asked him about prices even though they were pretty clearly displayed on the watches, and he pointed them out to me. At this point I think he started to think that I was going to buy something, because while before he answered my question and then went back to work, now he was answering my questions in detail, elaborating on the different types of watches, and talking about the watches even though I hadn't asked anything more. We rarely made eye contact. During most of the conversation, we stayed about 1 1/2 feet away from each other, but the distance may have been more if the space behind the counter wasn't so small. He talked about different places in the store to find other watches, the brand of watches, why they were expensive and better than other watches, and the free carrying case that you got if you bought one. After a pause in the conversation I thanked him for his time and left, and he said, "no problem," and did not make any attempt to keep me there longer or try to get me to buy something, as some salesmen do.

6. Participate in a conversation of five minutes or more with someone of the same sex
At the Stop-n-Serve I asked an employee at her desk how to fix one of the hat knitting looms which appeared to be loomed incorrectly. I told her that I was somewhat experienced with looming, but that I hadn't seen a loom done in this pattern before, and it looked too tight. I said it looked like they finished the brim and then stopped. I gave the loom to her. She said that she would need a hook, so we walked back to the main service area and she grabbed one and proceeded to use it on the yarn. After a second or two she stopped and looked at the loom more closely, and turned it around in her hands to get a better view of all of the loops. She talked a little bit as she looked at it, making small sounds like, "hmm," "huh," and "oh," and saying short phrases like "that's weird," or "interesting." After a few seconds of looking at it, she tried another way to fix it, but after a short while she stopped. She told me that it looked like it had been loomed incorrectly, and I responded that I thought it was too tight, and that it was odd to make flexible looms (like the one we were holding) because it encourage people to loom too tight. She agreed, but also pointed out that the number and direction of loops were also rather messed up. During our conversation, we stood next to each other in front of the service counter and leaned on the same chair, which meant we were about one foot away from each other. During most of the conversation, she looked at the loom, and when she didn't, she was making eye contact with me. She was a few inches shorter than me, with brown eyes, and wearing a sweater and nice dress pants. She seemed relaxed and smiled a lot, but didn't laugh at all, even when I did. After a while she said that the unfinished hat would just have to be unraveled. She helped me find another loom to work on, and went back and sat at her desk.

7. Participate in a conversation of five minutes or more with two or more people
I was walking around the bookstore and looking at an employee who had just come out from his office to the help desk. I looked at the books for a few seconds, and he asked if needed help finding something. He was wearing a light plaid short sleeve shirt and khakis, with a BYU Bookstore lanyard around his neck. He had short blonde hair, and looked a few years older than the rest of the employees. I said I needed some advice in buying books for family and friends. I told him about a certain type of book that I was looking for for my mother, and he kept eye contact with me the entire time I was explaining it, which was at least 10-15 seconds. He didn't quite understand the type of book I was looking for, so I explained it again. He mentioned a few genres, and then a female employee walked up to the desk. She listened to our conversation for a while as she did something with some of the books behind the desk, and then the male employee asked her for her advice. She was also confused about the type of book I was looking for (probably because she had only heard the last thirty seconds of the discussion), and mentioned a specific book which was not the type of book I was looking for. I explained the type of book again, and she came out from behind the counter and began to talk with me. She had short black hair and was also wearing an employee lanyard. The male employee was still listening to our discussion, and pointed out a bookshelf which looked like it might have the type of book I was looking for. The female employee kept eye contact with me at first, but then focused on looking at books from this bookshelf. She made small comments to herself, and would sometimes point out a book to me but then would say something like, "no, that's not what you're looking for," or "I'm not really familiar with this book." After looking at ten or fifteen books, she apologized that she couldn't find anything and asked me if there was any other type of book I was looking for. During the conversation, she stayed about 2 1/2 feet away from me, and while she was looking at the books, she was very close to the bookshelf, and sometimes crouched down to view a book better. I stayed behind her, farther away from the bookshelf. After she asked if there was any other type of book I was looking for, I gave some ideas of other books I could look at. She pointed out another shelf which had this type of book, and also pointed out a specific book. She said her friend was reading it and liked it, and explained the plot to me. I asked a few more questions about the plot and the type of book it was, and after a lull in the conversation, thanked her and left. She went back to the desk and began talking to the male employee again.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Learning Journal 24: What to Do when Things Go Wrong

Today in class we discussed how to deal with our field study plans if they didn't work out as planned. Of course, considering the countless different problems which can occur when someone visits a new country for the first time, odds are that the problems and failures will by far outnumber the successes. And even though I've worked on my project for more than a year doesn't mean that traveling to London and living there for three months will be any easier. I expect to get lost, to have appointments canceled on me, to not be able to find sources I need, and the list goes on. But as we discussed in class, the key to staying sane on a field study when all your plans fail is to be flexible. Currently, I feel very confident in my abilities to be flexible. I feel like I am a rather easygoing person, comfortable with change and experienced in making informed decisions even when I am in unfamiliar or uncomfortable circumstances. And since most of my project will take place in museums and libraries which are open to public access, I won't have to spend the first month or so of my studies gaining access. Furthermore, since I'm not planning on doing too many interviews, I will not have to wait on the timetables of others (too much) to determine what I can or can't accomplish in my project.
However, in thinking about my project and my level of flexibility within it, I realized that from another aspect, it is much more rigid than most other projects in the class. During one of our discussions, Ashley made the point that even if our projects turn out to be complete failures, at least we can learn something from it, and our final projects can be analyses of why we may have failed. Instead trying to reassemble a hopeless project, we can present our projects as an example of what not to do and why not to do it; in this way, we show that we are still learning something.
But I don't have this option, because this project is my thesis as well as my IAS project. While it'd be totally appropriate to present a paper on the difficulties and failures of researching Tudor Queens in England, such a paper just wouldn't cut it for an honors thesis. Even if my conclusion is that there are no clear conclusions to be found, this thesis still has to work well enough that it can be considered an academically acceptable English paper.
Fortunately, I've worked and reworked my project enough over the past year or so to make it rather watertight. I've also had a few professors give their input on it, and their advice has helped me revise it multiple times. I hope that with all of this planning on my part (as well as advice from more experienced writers), any problems that I do foresee in my project will be no bigger than the ones I've already dealt with. And if everything goes as planned (which I know is a joke, but it's at least nice to hope), my project will go smoothly, and all other problems will be in the other aspects of the field study. Honestly, as long as I get a polished thesis and a good experience out of this field study, I don't care if I get lost or lose my wallet or am tricked into paying too much for a taxi. Those are just the little things, and I hope I will be flexible and easygoing enough to not worry about the small things and keep my eye on the larger goals of having a good academic, social, and personal experience in London.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Learning Journal 23: How labeling and categorizing affects our thoughts

Today for a portion of class we discussed how placing certain labels on things/people/ideas or otherwise categorizing them can change the way we think about them. One of the examples used to show this idea was the difference in rhetoric between people who are very anti-illegal immigration versus people who want to help illegal immigrants gain citizenship and join American society. When those who wanted to help illegal immigrants referred to these people, they called them "immigrants," "humans," and "people." These are words which emphasize the humanity of illegal immigrants, as well as the common aspects which they share with legal citizens. On the other hand, when the anti-illegal immigration supporters referred to illegal immigrants, they called them such things as "aliens" or "illegals." These words not only have a negative connotation, but they also are dehumanizing, and serve to distance the immigrants from legal citizens, making immigrants seem strange and/or bad. An example which I shared was from a few years ago, when the "Bailout Bill," as it was nicknamed, was voted down. After it failed to pass, an expert in politics was asked his opinion on why he thought it failed, and he said he believed it was because of the negative connotations associated with the word "bailout." He suggested it should be called something more positive, like the "Rescue Bill" (I think those were his words, but I'm not sure. I know it was something positive like "rescue."). A few seconds later, all references to the "Bailout Bill" on this news channel were changed to "Rescue Bill." The name "Rescue Bill" was popularized, and after working out the original "Bailout Bill" under the new "Rescue Bill" name, the bill was passed.
These examples show what linguists have proved time and time again: the way we speak affects the way we think, and the way we think creates reality. This class discussion particularly sparked my interest because my field studies project is all about language creating reality. Most of the literature I look at for my project focuses on Mary I and Elizabeth I and how they used words (both spoken and print) to make a strong relationship with their people. For example, these monarchs addressed their citizens as loving subjects and not just as subjects or citizens. By using this intimate adjective to describe their subjects, these monarchs enforced the idea of a monarchy run like a family, with the monarch as the father and the subjects as the children. Use of the "royal we" helped underscore the monarch's representation of the country. When a monarch said something like, "We do not find it pleasing for your actions to continue," the listener was sure that the monarch thought the actions (whatever they may be) was a danger to the country as well as to the monarch himself.
I could go on and on with examples, but it suffices to say that monarchs were very particular in the words they chose to print and speak, because these words would represent them. Since the average Englishman or woman would not see the monarch often (or at all), the people most likely imagined the monarch through printed books and pamphlets which included royal writings or speeches. By labeling the monarch in certain ways, the monarch and his/her advisors could control much of the popular opinion about the monarch. If the monarch failed to control popular opinion, his subjects may complain and turn against him, and revolution would be very possible.

Article I read and annotated:
Betten, Francis S. "The Tudor Queens: A Comparison." The Catholic Historical Review 17.2 (July 1931), 187-193.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Learning Journal 22: Inquiry Conference Art Show Response

On Friday I went to my second hour of the Inquiry Conference. I went from 12:00pm to 1:00pm, which was during the art show. By coincidence, my art-major friend was also there to look at some paintings by a friend of hers. We looked at most of the pieces together, and my friend explained some of the finer points of color, composition, tone, and many other aspects of good painting. We also looked at the photographs, and we again talked about the compositional aspects of good photography. We talked about the viewpoint from which a photographer takes their pictures. I realized that I did not like a few of the photographs because I felt they were too biased. I think a lot of times we assume that photography is truth, because it records exactly what we see. However, in talking to my friend, I realized that there are so many ways to "stage" a photo to get it to represent what you want it to represent. Smiles, stances, and emotions can all easily be faked in photography (remember the vacation you hated, but you still smiled for all the pictures anyway?). The lighting, color, and even the title can also get the viewer to think a certain way.
I think what irked me about the few photographs which I thought were biased was that they seemed generally posed and relied a lot on the title to give the message (like titling a picture of a man playing with his child "Hope for the Future," rather than "Man with Child" or "Family" or something neutral like that). Rather than providing windows into the life of a BYU student in a foreign land, they seemed to be intent on guilt-tripping me until I gave all my money to the nearest African/South-Asian charity at once. And I'm not saying that it's bad when photography appeals to one's pathos, but I also believe that photographing a culture with the intent to make it seem poor and needy can be an insult to the culture. I'm not saying that charities are bad or that people living in poverty do not need our help. But I do believe that representing a culture as helpless and treating them as poor children who cannot provide for themselves can harm their confidence in themselves. This is what has happen to the vast majority of African cultures: when most Americans see an African living in African, they probably point out the person's poverty and tragic life and even "empty eyes," rather than their rich culture heritage and celebrated traditions. Imagine if anthropologists came to study you and your lifestyle, and kept treating you as if you were poor, your life was not worth living, and you needed the help of foreign aid to stay healthy and alive. It would be dehumanizing, wouldn't it? You'd begin to see yourself as worthless because you couldn't provide for yourself.
Is this what we're doing to other countries when we constantly intervene in their affairs? Yes, we, the "richer countries" of the world, are doing so much good with the billions of dollars of food, clothing, medical supplies, and other aid which we pour into the "poorer countries." But are we serving, or just trying to fix them? Are we rejuvenating the common bonds of humanity and discovering the beautiful cultures we encounter, or are we just trying to solve world hunger so we can put that on our list of accomplishments?
After going to the art show and viewing the photography, paintings, and other forms of art, I really did get the feeling that most students went to different cultures and served rather than fixed. I believe that most students discovered new cultures and treated the native peoples as humans rather than as undeveloped curiosities. But I'm afraid we are so used to seeing images of African children and Asian babies portrayed as advertisements for poverty, that we can't help but portray them in the same way. In cross-cultural studies, thoughtless art can create a false image which may haunt the culture for a very long time. We cannot be too careful in representing other cultures.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Learning Journal 21: Inquiry Conference

I attended the 1:00pm session of the Inquiry Conference today, which focused mainly on culture shock, valuable lessons from the field, how to best prepare for the field, and how to best experience the culture. I liked a lot of the advice that was given, and I'm glad that I went to this session because it's very relevant to my current circumstances in planning for London.
Abigail Fisher's presentation on culture shock was very eye-opening. I had learned about it before, but Fisher went into great detail and depth on the day-by-day effects of culture shock. Even though I hope that I won't experience many of the specific ways of coping which she presented in her powerpoint (buying lots of carrots, going to more Americanized areas), it's good to know a few examples of culture shock so I can learn how to deal with it myself. Obviously I don't have to worry too much about electricity, internet, cleanliness, or disease problems. But I will have to deal with higher prices, more crowding, and perhaps a generally less friendly atmosphere. While I understand that I will experience some elements of culture shock, I'm glad that now I know what to look for so I don't let culture shock totally ruin my chance to experience London and England.
The discussion part of the hour was also very helpful. I was reassured by the fact that although the girls in the panel all felt uncomfortable and awkward in the culture they visited, they still want to go back and experience the culture again. Since I've learned about culture shock, I've always had this horrible thought in the back of my head that I may go to London and totally hate it, and never want to go back. It was comforting to know that most people came to love their host culture and enjoyed their time in the field. Another bit of advice about field studies which I appreciated was to plan for your plan to basically fall apart, but to relax and enjoy your time in the field. I've been working on my thesis/field project for at least a year now, and I never seem to have the time I want to work on it. I'm so excited for the summer, because I'll have no other distractions to worry about, and I can focus on my thesis and enjoy writing and researching (rather than getting stressed out because I have no time to work on it). And while I hope my plan doesn't fall apart--I've gone over it again and again with different professors, and it seems rather simple and easy to carry out--I know that there will be aspects which will change and affect my thesis outcome. I'm okay with this, in fact, one of the reasons I wanted to go to London in the first place was to experience the serendipity of going in the flesh to do research rather than just typing in key-word searches on databases for hours on end. I hope that other things distract me and that I have challenges in doing research, because it will give me opportunities for critical thinking and will make my thesis stronger.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New Article

Grant, Teresa. "Drama Queen: Staging Elizabeth in If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody." The Myth of Elizabeth. Ed. Susan Doran and Thomas S. Freeman. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003. 120-142. Print. PR 438 .E56 M98 2003

Monday, March 7, 2011

Learning Journal 20: Signs/Symbols and Serving/Fixing

Today our class discussion focused around two main points: the dynamics of signs/symbols across cultures, and a continuation of Remen's article "Helping, Fixing, or Serving?" We discussed Remen's article at the beginning of class, and I was somewhat surprised to see that a few students didn't like the article and disagreed with Remen (not because it's weird to see BYU students disagree, but because the article didn't seem to me to present any controversial viewpoints). But they did have valid points. The main argument against Remen was that it's completely impossible to serve all the time, and sometimes its okay to help and fix. After all, if everyone on the earth was so concerned with how others felt and spent all their time trying to fulfill others' needs, people would leave their jobs and society would fall apart. I do think there is a case for occasional helping and fixing instead of serving. However, convincing people to continue helping and fixing so our society doesn't fall into service-oriented chaos is about as backwards as convincing people to get diseases in case we all become healthy and hospitals go bankrupt. There's a rather slim chance of people over-serving each other, and I think all cultures of the world could use a little more sincerity, humanity, and love-motivated service.
That said, there is definitely a time for helping and fixing. For instance, if I'm getting a ticket checked as I rush into a packed stadium, I don't need a pat on the back and a long, heartfelt conversation from the ticket-taker. In that instance, it's totally okay to help. And sometimes all we are able to do is help and fix. When I pay my tithing, I can't send a personalized note to everyone who receives my donation or go and visit them. All they receive is my money, or whatever equivalent my money buys in aid.
But again, on the other hand, would it be so hard to try to serve all the time instead of helping and fixing? I think when we think of too much service, we think of solving ALL the problems we come across. But solving problems is more of a fixing/helping action than a serving action. Service doesn't go in and fix the problem itself, rather, it heals the person and ensures them of their humanity so that they can fix their own problems. In essence, the difference between serving and helping/fixing is humanity. If a robot can check out and bag my groceries, all the better. But if the cashier and the bagger smile sincerely, ask me how my day has been, and genuinely look happy to be serving me, then I'll take the humans over the robot any day. We can serve all day, every day, if we are not afraid to be in touch with our own weaknesses, strengths, vulnerabilites; if we are not afraid to be human.

We spent most of class talking about serving, but we also had a really good conversation about signs/symbols across culture. I remember learning about the difference between signs and symbols somewhere in my past, but I'm glad we reviewed it today. From what I understood in class, signs are groups of symbols, usually with language, that explicitly convey the meaning of the sign. Symbols, however, have little relation to their meaning, and are something that is taught by a culture. For instance, a stop sign is both a symbol and sign: the "stop" part is a sign, the red octagon (which has no meaning in and of itself) is a symbol. Signs and symbols are definitely something I'm worried about in London. In many aspects, England and America are quite alike because they are so steeped in Western culture. However, symbols vary greatly even around the same country or even city. And with physical symbols, as was discussed in Hall and Hall's "Sounds of Silence," I know I'm going to make a lot of mistakes before I get things right. I'm glad we're doing the worksheets on nonverbal communication, because I need to learn at least a few rules of London body language etiquette before I offend the city.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Learning Journal 19: Reciprocity and Appropriate Roles and Relationships

For the last two classes, we've been discussing how to properly enter the community in which we will be studying, how to properly engage in relationships with the people living there, and how to understand and give reciprocity in a way that is acceptable in the culture. Although I feel like most of the things that we've learned in class are easily applicable to my study (as different as it is from most projects), I think that this area is much easier, but in some ways much more difficult, to apply to my project as it is to apply to most other projects in the class.
The good news about reciprocity, entering a community, and engaging in relationships in regard to my project and my site (London) is that my site is basically built to be easily entered. Sure, London is definitely a culture in and of itself, and it will take a great deal of practice and experience to become well-versed in the finer points of the city, but unlike other field study sites, London has a huge amount of diversity and is used to hosting millions of people from other countries, especially Americans. And while reciprocity in other countries tends to be difficult for Americans to understand, from what I found out from Brits and American visitors, England tends to use to same reciprocity as Americans. I also discussed finding housing with Dave Shuler yesterday, and he said my best bet would be to look for housing with other young women in the YSA ward in London. While I would rather live with a host family, living in a flat with flatmates may be my only logical option. And this would probably make establishing relationships much easier. Instead of living with a family who has their own traditions in a culture vastly different than my own, I will most likely be living with other students who are also going to college and in relatively the same stage of life as I am. While some people may same that this will diminish my cultural experience of London, I believe that shared experience with the other young men and women may help me make the transition to London culture much less painfully.
But although reciprocity and appropriate relationships and roles will be easy for me in many ways, I can also see it being much harder in some ways. For instance, in the hustle and bustle of London, with hundreds of thousands of tourists looking to see as much of the city in as short of a time as possible, is it really feasible for me to expect professors, museum employees, librarians, etc. to put aside time for a one-on-one discussion with me about the Tudor queens? How can I convince them that I'm truly interested in the topic, and not just trying to cram my brain with as much knowledge as possible so I can feel like I've gotten the London "experience"? And with regards to reciprocation, how do I reciprocate to these scholars I will meet if reciprocation usually isn't necessary? It's not like you're supposed to offer a gift or buy dinner for a museum employee after they've spent an hour explaining a historical event to you. After all, it's their job. But can you reciprocate in a way that's not over-the-top, but that they're still glad to talk to you next time if you need more help? I feel as if I could easily drive them crazy with all my questions, and they'd avoid me. In a culture in which tourism and temporariness are so prevalent, can I effectively communicate my respect for their society and willingness to slow down and enjoy the subtler aspects of London?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Learning Journal 18: Response to Lee's "Eating Christmas," Remen's "Helping," and Sinclair's "Picturing Polygamy"

On today's front page of The Daily Universe, the student-run newspaper here at BYU, the word "Conquistadors" is printed in huge letters over a story about our #7 men's basketball team's win over #6/4 San Diego State on Saturday. While I'm really excited about the victory and how well our team is doing, I'm a little critical of the DU's choice of words. Titling the story with the word "Conquistadors" is meant to reference how the Spanish Conquistadors came to South America and all but obliterated the Aztecs and their culture. And while sports lingo tends to use harsh words like "destroy," "pound," "wasted," and "swept," I think that referencing the genocide of the Aztecs may be taking it a little far. However, because the genocide was so long ago and most American citizens are ignorant of Aztec culture, it doesn't sound so bad. But if it was more recent or if we had Aztec ancestors, this headline might be as hurtful to us as printing "Lynched," or "Enslaved," when our basketball team beats a team from a university with a high percentage of African-Americans. Although we think our modern society is politically-correct and well aware of cultural diversity and minorities, sometimes we're anything but.
This was a common theme in the readings for today's class, as well as the radio show we were asked to listen to. Of the three, I think Remen's "Helping, Fixing, or Serving?" stood out to me the most. In Young Women, we had many opportunities to do service, but I think that many times we just helped or fixed rather than served. We would go to a neighbor's house and take care of their lawn or help clean their house, but few of us actually talked to the neighbor and made them feel loved. It was more like free labor than service. So many times when I see people going to different countries and doing service, I wonder if they did it because they genuinely wanted to help human beings better their own lives, or if they did it because they want to be someone's savior or superhero. Just because we help another culture doesn't mean we understand them. Helping without understanding is just an ego boost.
This is what Lee discovered in his article "Eating Christmas in the Kalahari." What he thought of as a "totally generous act" which could make him well-loved and respected in the community was viewed by the bushmen as an attempt to gain power and influence. And if Lee were to be honest with himself as a person (not an anthropologist or ethnographer), I think he would realize that his main motivation for slaughtering the bull was to serve his own reputation among the bushmen. Sure, he knew that feeding them such a massive animal would be good for their health and survival, but he also made sure that everyone knew he bought it for them. In my opinion, their taunts were a good comeuppance that he desperately needed. Even in his article, he still doesn't quite make the connection that there's a difference between serving and fixing. Instead of saying that he needed to learn to respect and serve the bushmen, he just categorizes their "independence of spirit"--as shown through their mocking his bull--as an excellent means of anthropological survival. Obviously, the bushmen have been helped too much and not served enough.
Even though we are all going out on field studies to research a topic and present it academically, this doesn't mean that we can't act like humans as well. And while we aren't on service missions to these countries, we also aren't supposed to view them like exhibits at a museum. We may be going out to study humans, but studying them in this way actually removes their humanity in our minds, and they become lab rats rather than people. Hopefully, I won't experience much of this in England because 1) I'm not studying the living people, 2) I'm not ridiculously wealthier than the people, and 3) I'm not really that much of a cultural oddity in a diverse city like London. But I still need to stay mindful of how I treat the people with whom I associate. Like the terribly inappropriate DU headline today, or Lee with his ego-inflating bull, I don't want to insult a culture just because I don't take the time to understand its people. And I'm not talking about the culture's customs or traditions or history, but its people. I personally think I know a lot about London's cultural heritage and traditions. But I know that I know nothing about its people--I'm not even sure if I've ever met a native Londoner in my life. Like Remen and Sinclair, I want to recognize the people in the culture, not overlook the people in my attempt to study the culture.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Learning Journal 17: Response to Class Discussion 2/24

In our last class, we discussed Plummer's "Diagnosing and Treating the Ophelia Syndrome." For the most part, we just reviewed the article and reemphasized key points, but we also had a very interesting discussion on Plummer's theories. There are two points of the discussion that I'd especially like to expand upon.
The first was what a student said about Plummer's idea of keeping multiple opinions in view while discussing a topic. This student commented on his tendency to only see one side of an opinion, and to rarely look at the other side (or even consider its existence). He liked Plummer's example of another student who wrote journal entries in dialogues, with different people arguing different sides--much like Plato's dialogues. While I consider myself somewhat practiced in looking at a topic from different angles, I can see how I might have to consciously remind myself to do this when I am working on my field study project. My project will involve a lot of analysis of literature, art, artifacts, and historical accounts. In my preliminary studies of such analysis, I've noticed how easy it is for an expert to say that a certain portrait or poem means such-and-such, point out a few reason to prove themselves correct, and then assume everyone will believe them. And many times, people do believe them, because no one takes time to look at the subject from a different viewpoint. Like Ophelia, in Plummer's example, they assume that Polonius knows everything and they just take his word for it. It takes a very creative, dedicated, and clever mind to come up with newer, better ideas about something after everyone else has collectively decided to believe the old, established opinion. Newer, better, and more innovative ideas are exactly what my subject area desperately needs.
The second point of discussion was about how to live as an independent, self-motivating student when so much of college success depends on jumping through hoops and repeating professors' ideas back to them to get good grades. Lately, I feel as if my classes are getting in the way of my education. I've already found something I love and am passionate about, that I want to study for the rest of my career (coincidentally, it's a major part of my field studies project). However, because I have to graduate with good grades in order to go to grad school, I am forced to be distracted by other classes which have little to do with my focus. Furthermore, most of these classes are run by Polonius-esque professors, and thus foster no real synthesis of knowledge. I feel as if I'm possibly being a little harsh, but there's a real possibility that I may lose my chance to go to grad school and become a professor simply because I got a few C's or B's in classes which have little to do with my major and were run by Poloniuses. Seriously, this is a nightmare for me.
However, Maggie brought up a point which was amazingly comforting. She said that she had read an article by a BYU professor about the dilemma of choosing between self-motivating, actual learning and just grabbing GPA points to get into grad school. He said that in all cases, the right decision was to put the Lord first. As frightening as it is to let someone else take the reigns, I have to remember that the Lord's decisions will always make me happier, better, and stronger than anything I could pick with only my own guidance. If He wants me to go to grad school, then somehow everything will work out and I'll get accepted. If He doesn't, then it's because I have a bigger, better mission to fulfill, and I can always pursue my passion for 16th and 17th century British literature in another way. Besides, I'd rather be just a minimum-wage worker and put the Lord first than be a professor but never have time for prayer or scriptures or pondering. In the long, long run, there is much more to life than grad school or a career.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Learning Journal 16: Response to Class 2/21 and "Ophelia Syndrome" Reading

The reading on the "Ophelia Syndrome" got me thinking more deeply about the conversation we had in class today, especially in regards to the information that is gathered from certain locations, informants, and gatekeepers. As students doing research projects, I think we're all under a lot of pressure to come up with successful, interesting results. If everything goes well, we'll go into the field and our hypotheses will be proved true. If a few things go wrong, our hypotheses will be proved false, but they'll still show that we're on the right track. And even after hundreds of hours of research, if our results show nothing conclusive, we'll probably consider that a failure.
This is because we've been taught most of our lives that there is a wrong answer and a right answer. While some of our professors and teachers have let us discover concepts for ourselves, most teach with the lecture/regurgitate style, either because they haven't been introduced to student-motivated learning, or they think it isn't feasible (for whatever reasons). At least this is what I assume are their reasons, from my experience with both types of teachers.
Growing up in a world where the teacher tells you the right answer, waits a little bit, and then gives you a test in which they ask the right answer creates a mindset in which you honestly believe there is always a "right answer" waiting to be discovered. In a field study, setting out with the idea that there is a "right answer" to your hypothesis, or even that there's any sort of unified answer at all, can seriously bias your findings. As we discussed today in class, the type of location and type of access which we work with in studying a certain population can have a huge effect on the research we generate. Furthermore, the gatekeeper through which we access the population can have a big influence as well. This is where the "Ophelia Syndrome" can get very ugly in field studies. For instance, imagine a student who wants to study prison inmates and their opinions on police and other authority figures. The student reads a few articles on the topic, all of which suggest that prison inmates view authority figures very negatively. Unless the student purposely looks for other viewpoints on the topic, they will most likely assume the role of Ophelia and believe the idea that inmates view authority negatively is the "right answer." Thus, their study becomes a mission to reaffirm the accepted viewpoint rather than to search for what is actually there. When the student visits the prison to conduct interviews, having a "right answer" in mind will bias what he actually sees. He may study the locations which highlight a negative reaction to authority, and ignore other locations which show a positive or neutral reaction. He may only want to gain access to the locations and the people insofar as the access continues to prove the "right answer" correct, or he may stop gaining deeper levels of access if they show the "right answer" to be false. His choice in a gatekeeper to help him gain access may also be biased: he may gain access through a prison guard, and not someone who is more sympathetic to the inmates.
This example is rather extreme, but it proves the point: in our Ophelian efforts to please our mentors and regurgitate what is taught to us, we may travel all the way to Ghana, Mexico, Tonga, etc., only to see what we wanted to see, not what is really there. This is especially important in my own field of study, in which up-and-coming scholars may be all too eager to agree with more established scholars in order to build their own reputation, even at the price of misrepresenting their findings.

(p.s. In truly anti-Ophelian fashion, I am going to have to disagree with Plummer's characterization of Ophelia. I believe she is a much stronger character than popular culture makes her out to be, and I think the analyzation of a few lines is not strong enough to condemn her as weak and infantile. I also think there is a cultural gap between our time and Shakespeare's time, which makes Ophelia appear even more ignorant and helpless than Shakespeare may have meant to portray her. However, I do agree with Plummer's concept and opinions of a dominating teacher and a mentally lazy, spoon-fed learner. But a more accurate name for it may be Glenn-Beck-viewer Syndrome, or Stephanie-Meyers-fan Syndrome.)