Ethnographic Field School on Marcellus Shale Planned for Summer 2012

Posted on 2/7/2012 12:29:41 PM

The 2012 ethnographic field school will be offered for the first time in Indiana County, providing a unique opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to take part in a new community-based research collaboration on the topic of Marcellus Shale. During this six-week field school, students will use ethnographic techniques to ascertain and document the social impacts of the increased presence of natural gas extraction industry and processes in this region.

This field school involves ethnographic and oral history research, incorporating IUP students and community members in data collection, to document and analyze the social impacts of this emerging industry on rural Pennsylvania communities in Indiana County, focusing on the debates about drilling in the county’s conservation zones. Ethnographic fieldwork opens a space for local experiences to inform the kinds of categories used to track social changes in rural communities. Consequently, this participatory approach involves working with research collaborators to explore people’s perceptions of social and cultural change related to the possible topic areas of health, autonomy, sense of place, stewardship, civic engagement, access to public resources, shifting perspectives on and use of energy resources, and changes to traditional livelihoods. The field school will train undergraduate and graduate students and some community leaders in oral history and ethnographic methods.

The first two weeks will be in the classroom, learning the techniques and basics of ethnography and oral history, and covering the local and regional issues related to Marcellus Shale development. Weeks three through five will be spent with students conducting fieldwork in Indiana County, and the last week will be spent synthesizing information and compiling a final product for presentation to the community.

The field school (ANTH 460/560) will be offered for undergraduate or graduate credit and is available to students from IUP and beyond. Prerequisite is ANTH 456 or instructor permission. The field school will be held July 9–August 17, 2012, based out of IUP and surrounding communities. Please contact Anastasia Hudgins (, Amanda Poole (, or Jim Dougherty ( for more information.

In April 2011, the Indiana County courthouse was packed with over 100 people, gathered at the commissioner’s meeting to voice their perspectives on the application of MDS energy to continue drilling in a conservation buffer zone surrounding Yellow Creek State Park, where county zoning regulations had been violated by drilling a deep vertical well for natural gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing. The testimonies were polite and impassioned, touching on private property rights and the right of people to safely use the public park and its drinking water supply, the potential for long-time landowners to finally make ends meet, and the concern of more recently settled neighbors for preserving the serene quality and value of their homes in the country. Many people’s concerns were also informed by memories of the coal industry, some pointing to the need to care for lands and streams barely restored, and others cautioning that the industry, finally on the brink of return, must not be chased away.

If de-industrialization was not only an economic but a cultural process in Pennsylvania, this history now informs a new wave of energy extraction as communities grapple with the many socio-economic impacts that are just now taking shape—often in ways that seem beyond the control of individuals, community organizations, and county zoning boards. As this trillion-dollar industry unfurls in and under our counties, there is a pressing need for quality data on social changes accompanying this industrial expansion.

Department of Anthropology