I propose an interdisciplinary travel and research program to address students' lack of experience with and understanding of other areas of the United States. Most frequently students seem to understand the Deep South as a particularly different region from the rest of the United States. They do not seem to realize that there are many different regions outside of the South and that these regions are probably as different from each other as they are from the South. I think my students would be shocked at how similar Sacramento, CA and Boise, ID are to Jackson, MS and at how different those cities are from geologically closer places like San Francisco and Seattle.
Our experiences as travelers, however, tend to be anecdotal and haphazard; the opportunities to gain insight into new places often depend on serendipity and the open-mindedness of the traveler. I would like to take groups of students to quantify some of the similarities and differences between regions, to attempt to make explicit some of the comparisons and contrasts and to greatly enhance their understanding of this country. In an era when politicians are emphasizing regional differences by attempting to capitalize on them while at the same time the mass media culture is de-emphasizing regional differences simply by its homogenizing existence it is critical that we educate our students to the complexities of this entire country and to the realities and mythologies of their own culture.
I envision each travel program as encompassing one school-based class on Southern Culture and Cross-Cultural research utilizing methods from multiple disciplines and two travel classes from two different disciplines, depending on which faculty members were involved for that year. Students would run multiple studies, to be determined during the school based class. Examples of such studies could be surveys on political attitudes, naturalistic experiments like getting reactions from grocery store clerks to overt friendliness or from strangers to requests for help, historical archive studies, studying different beliefs about exercise by looking at facilities, head counts of runners, stores catering to exercise and surveys, and looking at racial attitudes both by examining local literature, by interview, by census data and by observation. Other possible topics for study include aggression, foods and food behaviors, parenting, workplace attitudes and philosophies, insider/outsider definitions and norms for interactions, breadth of social norms and types of social censures, religious beliefs and practices, definitions of and attitudes about tradition, and attitudes about old age.
The point of the program would be to train students in rigorous research methodologies while at the same time broadening and particularizing their understandings of the various regions of this country and the rest of the world. The travel classes would not have to be limited to in-country travels, but, I believe our students would benefit greatly from the opportunity to critically examine regional differences and identities.
Contact person: Melissa Kelly
For a PDF of the proposal, click here.
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