The Expense of Field Research

This has been a great week. Two exceptional interviews with two exceptional individuals. On the way back from one of those interviews today, I got on I-10 in Crowley and realized I would probably be a little short for gas for the entire trip back to Lafayette.

So I popped off at Rayne to fill up. The signs announcing $4 a gallon didn’t really make an impression, but the $50 readout on the pump did. Whoa. Suddenly the fact that I am a field researcher became a clear expense. The difference between me and my fellow humanists is not only do they never need to leave their campus offices or their home studies but they don’t have to pump $50 worth of additional gas into their cars or trucks once, or sometimes twice, a week.

And, while I’m thinking about it, that doesn’t include money spent on batteries, hard drives, tapes, and other supplies let alone the money spent on equipment itself: camera, recorder, microphone. Why, why do this? Wouldn’t it be easier to work with existing data, with existing texts? Yes, yes it would. But I think it’s part of my job as a folklorist to add to the archeological record, to bring more people into history, to make data. If that means my job moves more slowly, so be it. But it really would be nice if somehow one got credit for such work. If Project Bamboo’s efforts could somehow lead to my colleagues occasionally recognizing that, it would have done at least this particular field researcher an immense favor.