Quarterly Update for Jay Ruby's Oak Park Project

I returned to Pennsylvania in mid-May and immediately began teaching summer school. I made a deal with my dean to have a year long research leave in exchange for teaching three courses this summer. I had forgotten how difficult teaching in the summer can be. In addition, I started organizing the materials I collected from Oak Park. I began cataloging the photographs I took and acquired. When I am finished I will have close to 1,000 potentially usable images. I'm certain the collection will continue to grow. I started dubbing audio from the various interviews I videotaped. I have begun the long task of transcribing the interviews starting with the Taylor family. I could have someone else do the transcriptions but I find listening intently as I transcribe makes the editing easier. I estimate it will take me about one year to complete the transcription of all of the interviews. I am also reading as much as I can about middleclass African Americans and African American history and culture in Chicago as I plan to place my work about the Taylor family in these two greater contexts.

I am still learning to use Final Cut Pro, the video editing program I will employ. As I started learning it in May, Apple released a new version FCP2.0. I decided to wait and not gain competence in the earlier version. I obtained a new computer, Macintosh G4 with a 21 inch monitor and the capacity to add another 17 inch monitor to make the editing easier. I plan to start editing one segment next month. In addition, I obtained Storyspace, an application that will allow me to produce the kind of multimedia, interactive work that I believe would work best. I have much to learn before I can release DVDs I plan to use to distribute my Oak Park Stories.

Let me explain how I am considering structuring of one "chapter." I will use my work with an African American family who moved to Oak Park two years ago, as it is the most firmly conceived section. I plan to construct a picture of their family life using interviews I filmed with the husband and wife together with family snapshots they selected and discussed on camera. I will also use scenes I shot at breakfast, dinner, at the YMCA where the wife exercises (there is a nice tie-in as someone who will figure prominently in another section exercises with her), at a school board election rally attended by the entire family, and a birthday party for their three-year-old daughter. Edited together in a conventional manner, it could tell "the story" of this family. However such a film would not be able to present their importance for an anthropological understanding of Oak Park. Their lives need to be contextualized. The history of African Americans in Oak Park needs to be explicated if viewers are to understand how this particular family fits into the unique social experiment of integration in Oak Park. In addition, there is a further need to understand the family in the greater historical and cultural context of middle-class African American life in general and specifically in Chicago. The more common solution would be for me to write a study guide to accompany the film and hope that viewers will read it before viewing the film. It should be obvious that such a hope is unrealistic. I want viewers to understand the ethnographic relevance of this family as a window into comprehending Oak Park as a place where the drama of integration is being played out in a relatively unique fashion. I cannot accomplish that in conventional ways.

I am trying to be mindful of the potential audience for this work. I will strive to construct it assuming that some people will only need brief introduction to the issues and ideas I raise while others will wish to explore them in more depth. An interactive DVD format affords me the luxury of authoring something that can be used for a variety of purposes. For example, the history of African Americans in Oak Park can be summarized in a few paragraphs and a few photographs. When viewers access this section, they will first see a brief comment with a note informing them that additional information is available. If successful, the viewer will be able to navigate through the work at a level useful for their purposes and not one I completely determine.

While I have had little time to write anything new, I did revise the paper, "Some Oak Park Stories," I gave at the Visible Evidence Conference last December for publication and am working with Evan McKenzie, a political scientist from the University of Illinois, Chicago, on an article about Oak Park's attempt at integration. I already posted a draft of my contribution to the article. Evan is currently adding his.

I will return to Oak Park for a long weekend in early November when Oak Park River Forest High School will present me with their "Tradition of Excellence" award. I will have a little time to do some more fieldwork after the award activities are over. I am both honored and bemused about this award as I was such an inconsistent student and strived to be as rebellious as one could in the 1950s ­ seems mild in comparison to what teenagers can do to annoy adults these days.

I am in the process of applying for funds from various agencies to return to Oak Park during my spring break in March and for three months in the summer and possibly to reduce my teaching load so that I can devote more time to this work. I hope to have partially finished versions of several parts of this study completed by May so that I can show it to various people in Oak Park to obtain their critical feedback. I have completed another Guggenheim fellowship application. As I have been rejected three times before, this may be a futile gesture but worth the effort.

The next report will be sent at the end of the year. Please email me any questions, comments or suggestions. Thanks.