photo: Sydney Hutchinson

The Blog as Field Note

Fieldwork in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic (Ongoing since 2004). From the Norient book Out of the Absurdity of Life (see and order here).

I started blogging just as soon as I arrived. I described my apartment and its strange shower system, my landlady and her bizarre theories of mosquito behavior, and what was on TV (a Dominican version of Survivor, it turned out). I added pictures to illustrate. Soon everything was up there: what I learned from my accordion teacher, the politics of carnival in Santiago, my trials and tribulations with insect bites, all the high and low points of my experience. And I just kept writing.

Blogging was far more motivating to me than field notes ever were. Knowing that I needed to post every week, I dutifully sat down to type up my stories as they happened, and knowing I needed illustrations, I was also far more diligent in taking photographs. Before long, I had a regular community of readers, about 200 a week, who motivated me further. Some of them contacted me and I made blog-friends with people doing related research, with Dominican Americans looking for ways to connect with their culture, and with Dominicans who couldn’t get over the novelty of seeing me play merengue típico accordion. Some I later met in real life and we keep in touch.

There was another, unforeseen consequence of my forays into the cyber-field. While relatively few Dominicans have access to the internet, more are getting connected all the time. As we know, field and home are becoming ever closer, so I was not too surprised when word of my blog spread among the community I was writing about. This year, when I arrived, the man who had gotten me into a carnival group in the first place came up and gave me a big hug. He told me, «I saw your web page, and where you called me your mentor! Thanks for giving credit where credit is due.» Later, while attending a carnival-related event, two friends approached me. «Take a picture of us in costume and put it on your page!» they demanded. And at the end of the carnival season, I ran into my carnival mentor again. «I’m mad at you» – I was surprised to hear him say – «You didn’t put a picture of my new costume up». I quickly remedied the situation.

This text has been published first in the Norient book «Out of the Absurdity of Life».

Published on December 11, 2013

Last updated on April 05, 2020


Sydney Hutchinson is assistant professor of ethnomusicology at Syracuse University. While a Humboldt Fellow at the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv, she conducted field research on competitive air guitar. Hutchinson is also the author of a book on Mexican American dance and articles on public folklore, salsa and merengue. Although she is working on a book on the performance of gender in Dominican merengue típico, she still plays accordion and yodels in her spare time.
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