Teachers Institute


What is the Teacher's Institute?

About the Institute | Techniques | Interview with Mary Nelson | Interview with Stacey Schmidt

Wisconsin Teachers of Local Culture

Three high school teachers (Art, English, History), two elementary (third, fourth/fifth), a folk education specialist from the Wisconsin Arts Board, and a number of educators from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (staff from the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures and a teaching assistant) gathered to develop skills in documenting local culture--and learn how to use cultural documentation in our classrooms.

About the Institute

Four elements structured our work:

  • practicing tools and techniques of cultural fieldwork,

  • documenting the Midwest Folklife Festival,

  • putting our documents on a web site,

  • reflecting on the use of folklore in educational settings.

Teachers already have many of the basic skills and attitudes needed for fieldwork: writing notes, using cameras and tape recorders, finding people and events to observe, establishing rapport, asking questions, finding patterns, and organizing projects. Building on this basis, we discussed how to compose photos to show specific cultural aspects; learned how to use the digital cameras at the Institute; learned more detailed information about tape recording interviews and performances; and practiced interviewing.


Getting ready to document the many folk artists coming to Folklore Village on the weekend, on Friday we honed our skills in four settings:

  • interviewing each other about the heirlooms we brought to the Institute;

  • a group interview of pasty makers Dorothy Hodgson and Evelyn Clark of Schullsburg, while we ate their pasties at lunchtime;

  • a three hour session with Stephanie Lemke of Mazomanie, who talked to us about her childhood in a Croatian village, including foodways, music, and celebration, and then showed us in detail how she decorates eggs in a traditional way, including letting us use needles, thread, and eggs;

  • and a fieldtrip to a fishfry in nearby Dodgeville.

Saturday morning we wrote and talked about our understanding of folklore. Key concepts we developed the previous day included the importance of face-to-face culture (oral language, physical activities), multi-generational experiences, the connections between social history (ordinary life in the past) and present folklife (traditions passed to ordinary people in the present), and that folklore is much larger than ethnicity.

Kate wrote, "Folklife is living art. Folklife is the accumulation of activities that been practiced/participated in throughout life. It is the personalizing, coming together, and spilling out of peoples' lives and cultures."

We became a team as we spent the rest of the morning working on our web site. Our tech support team set up networked computers, got us started with photo files and templates, and answered questions. As we talked about which photos would best represent what we heard and saw, searched our notes and tapes to recall exactly what Stephanie said, we began to laugh and joke. We were ready to grab our tools (notebook, camera, and tape recorder) and immerse ourselves in the expressive cultures of the Upper Midwest.

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