(This text was written for The Asthma Files quarterly newsletter)
We ran the first 6Cities field school in Philadelphia this summer. Based out of Drexel University, I had the opportunity to run the field school as a 4-credit course in the College of Arts and Sciences during the summer quarter. Rather than taking the full 10-week term, the course was held as a five-week intensive, but in the hybrid model – equal parts in-class meetings and “fieldwork” using The Asthma Files platform. Cross-listed with Political Science, Anthropology, History, and Sociology, as well as the STS graduate program, the course drew eight students from across the University. We were also joined by STS Master’s student, Dalton George and undergraduate Linda Croskey, who worked as the Philadelphia research assistants for the 6Cities project this summer. The official course title was “Civic Field School: Environmental Health Governance”; as a group we read Jason Corburn’s Street Science (2005), essays on methods by Kim Fortun, Chris Kelty, and Phil Brown, as well as articles on the Flint water crisis and climate adaptation policies. We also watched five documentaries that ranged from historical accounts in Philadelphia to the environmental movement, climate change politics, and public health disparities. The focus of the course, however, was not passive consumption of readings and other media, but learning research through the structures of the larger study and PECE.
Students created nearly 40 artifacts with annotations, as well as over 30 memos that reflected on the research process and what we were learning about Philadelphia, environmental health and governance. After an orientation to the 6Cities project and The Asthma Files platform – which took the first two weeks – students were encouraged to build projects based on their own research interests. One student focused on housing and gentrification in the Sharswood neighborhood, while another explored the differences between food access and food security in nongovernmental sectors, as well as what these differences mean for research and policy. Two students worked on asthma and its intersections. One focused on the relationship between industry, emissions, and health; this lead to interesting findings about construction, occupational safety, and enforcement in Philadelphia, an unexpected but energizing turn in the student’s project.
Another student, who had taken a community-based learning course with me the term before, (titled “Housing Politics in Philadelphia”) built her field school research from prior interests in place, political boundaries, and governance. Paul Callomon, a STS graduate student and archivist at the Academy of Natural Sciences, documented changes to the Academy’s infrastructure and its impact on indoor air quality since 1812, when the building first opened.
Two other students experimented heavily with different media and forms of data. One, a filmmaker from Drexel’s Wesphal College of Media Arts and Design, conducted interviews and produced a short ethnographic film for his final presentation. Another student worked to extend his skill set by performing “data dives” using open data sets provided by government and nongovernmental organizations.
Our group also provided feedback on the platform itself. Lindsay Poirier video conferenced into class during the second week to provide an orientation to PECE, and field questions about best practices on the platform. During the third week, Mike Fortun video conferenced the class to discuss the overarching 6Cities project and the need for collaborative ethnography.
Dalton and I are now organizing our notes into a report from the first field school, which we hope to share in the next two months. Overall, the field school experience left me buzzing with ideas about how to use PECE to teach research. I intend to use a shell for the STS Lab course that I’ll facilitate at Drexel University in Spring 2017.