Maintaining Diversity: An Ethnographic Study of Oak Park, Illinois -
Progress Reports
Jay Ruby
Temple University

As Of December, 2006 This Project is complete. See Final Report Below.

I am a cultural anthropologist from Temple University in Philadelphia. I am also an Oak Park native who graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School in 1953. I am engaged an ethnographic study of Oak Park and am using this web page to introduce myself and to distribute periodic progress reports. If you wish to learn more about me, you can link to a one page biography or to a lengthy academic description of my career and work.

This web page is primarily designed for Oak Parkers in the hope that I can get a continuing dialogue from people in the community about this work. In addition it is designed for my graduate students at Temple and for my academic colleagues. I would love to talk to anyone interested in my research. I spent 11 months living in Oak Park and am now in the process of analyzing the data I collected. This process will take several years. I will return periodically to Oak Park to show work in progress to those involved and ask for their comments and criticisms. You can link to my email or call me at 717-436-9502 or write me at 8 Fourth Street, Mifflintown, PA. 17059.

A Preliminary Statement - April, 1999

I wrote a preproposal in April, 1999 and sent it to a number of funding agencies for their response. You can read that preproposal by following this link. I wrote this preproposal prior to spending two months in Oak Park. I am in the process of writing a progress report that incorporates the results of two month's of research. While the basic premise remains the same, the focus of the study is more clear to me now. I want to understand the socio-economic "costs" of maintaining a diverse community. To do so I must obtain an understanding of the historical roots of change over the past 40 years and the contemporary means whereby Oak Parkers continue their experiment in "racial," economic, religious, and sexual diversity.

Progress Reports - April 2, 1999 to May 10, 2001

The pages that follow represent a very preliminary statement about the state of my thinking and knowledge about this project. I will periodically add more items and update those now included as I can.

Purpose of the Study

Background about Oak Park

Funding - An Overview

A Question of Race

Do Races Differ? Not Really, DNA Shows - New York Times Article

Gays and Lesbians in Oak Park

Schools as a mechanism for maintaining Oak Park

Some Less Interesting Ideas - Booze, Hemingway and Wright

A Survey of Attitudes of the 1953 Class of Oak Park & River Forest High School

The Confessions of a White Flighter - 9/11/00


Oak Park: a Study of Gay Suburban Integration - A Talk given at the American Anthropological Association meetings, San Francisco, November 18, 2000

Some Oak Park Stories: Experimental Ethnographic Videos - A Lecture delivered at the Visible Evidence Conference, Oxford University, December 11, 2000. REVISED September 1, 2001.

Doing his homework: A Saturday morning conversation with Jay Ruby. An Interview that appeared in the Wednesday Journal, January 31

Return of the Native. Wednesday Journal, February 7, 2001

The Conundrums of Integration. A rough draft of a paper, March, 2001.

A Fair Exchange: Clients Get Housing, OP Get Integrated. An Article from theWednesday Journal, May 1, 2002, page 65

Chronicling a Changed Hometown. An Article from the Wednesday Journal, November 22, 2005.

"A Future for Ethnographic Film? An article published in Journal of Film and Video vol. 60, no. 2 2008

Oak Park Stories: Jay Ruby's Work Help Locals Understand Themselves. by Bob Trezevant. An Article in the Wednesday Journal, October 10, 2007

Digital Oak Park: An Experiment. Critical Arts, vol. 27, No. 2. (2007)

Reviews of Oak Park Stories

"The Evolving Black Middle Class" (Review of the Taylor Family Oak Park Story) by George Bailey. Wednesday Journal, April 2, 2008.

"Housing is at the center of OP's integration story." (Review of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center Oak Park Story) by Paul Hamer. Wednesday Journal, April 16, 2008

"A Century of Progress on Diversity in OP" (review of the DOOPER Oak Park Story) by Frank Lipo. Wednesday Journal, April 23 2008.

"Miles to go before we rest on our laurels" (Overview of the Oak Park Stories) by Rick Kuner. Wednesday Journal April 30, 2008.

"What Comes After Coming Out?" A review of Rebekah and Sophie:An Oak Park Story by Betzy Ritzman, Wednesday Journal., January 16, 2008

Harper, Doug

2005     Chapter 29 - What's New Visually?   In The Handbook of Qualitative Research, Danzin, Norman and Lincoln, Yvonna, editors, Sage. pgs   750-751.

Pink, Sarah

2006 The Future of Visual Anthropology, Oxford: Routledge, pgs. 69-71, 110-115.

2007 Doing Visual Ethnography. Second edition. London: Sage.pgs. 142-3.

2009 Oak Park Stories: A Multimedia Review. American Anthropologist, vol.111. no. 1:105-108.

Lyon, Stephen M.

2009 Review of Oak Park Stories. Visual Anthropology Review, 25(1): 85-86.

Five Oak Park Stories Now Available.

Documentary Educational Resources (DER)

101 Morse Street, Watertown, MA 02472

by email -    web site -

by phone - 800-569-6621 or 617-926-0491

DER announces the release of five digital ethnographies on CD-ROM. The ethnographies, designed to be seen on a computer, combine text, photographs and video in an interactive way. These innovative works bring together the traditional publishing outlets of a book, a photo essay and film in a way that enhances the usefulness of all three.

Oak Park Stories is a series of reflexive ethnographic explorations of a Chicago suburb - one of the most successfully integrated places in the U.S. Employing interactive and digital technologies four portraits present an anthropological perspective of this "social experiment" through written and video portraits of African American, lesbian and WASP families and an institutional portrait of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, the core of the community's integration maintenance polices.  

Walking the Line: The Taylor Family is an Oak Park Story portrays a middle-class African American family who appear to exemplify values and aspirations that make possible the success of the village's long term hope that Oak Park will continue to be a welcoming place for everyone.

Rebekah and Sophie - A Lesbian Family is an Oak Park Story that portrays people living in one of the most "gay-friendly" suburbs in the U.S.   The family lived through the gay civil rights battles of the 1980s and 1990s and have settled into raising a family and being part of the middle-class life of the village. Like the Taylors they present another aspect of Oak Park's desire to accommodate and accept difference.

DEAR OLD OAK PARKERS (DOOPERS) is an ethnographic family portrait of Helena Gervais McCullough, her daughter Katherine and son-in-law, Bob that explores the role of white Oak Parkers in the transformation of their community into an integrated and gay friendly place.

Oak Park Regional Housing Center is an ethnographic portrait of a unique organization that has, for over thirty years, aided in the Village's quest to achieve and maintain a geographically integrated place. It is the cornerstone of these efforts.

VAL (a 30 minute film on DVD) is an Oak Park Story about Val's Halla, an independent record store that is a cultural institution in Oak Park.   For thirty plus years Val has offered her customers an incredible array of recorded music from classical to rap, both new and used.   In addition, the collective knowledge of Val and her staff makes it possible to carry on an informed conversation about music and recordings.   Concert information is always readily available.   As these cultural founts of musical knowledge are being rapidly replaced with Wal-Marts where employees know nothing about music, Val's Halla has become part of the disappearing commercial landscape of small businesses run by knowledgeable people interested in what they sell. In this film, Val talks about the changing role of the record store and muses about what Oak Park looks like   from the vantage point of its counterculture.

Oak Park Stories is authored by Jay Ruby, a recently retired visual anthropologist, who has spent the last forty years exploring the relation between culture and the visual/pictorial world.  

"Jay Ruby has long espoused the use of visual data as a powerful tool for academic research. In his Oak Park Stories he has provided a clear example of how his theories can work and bridged the gap between visual and mainstream written anthropologies. "Prof. Sarah Pink, Anthropology, Loughborough University, Leicestershire, UK.

Each CD-ROM is available from DER for $29.95 each with a 20% discount of two or more are purchased together..

Additional Information can be found at

Monthly Updates on the progress of my research.
As of April, 2001 updates will become quarterly.

June, 2000

July, 2000

August, 2000

September, 2000

October, 2000

November, 2000

December, 2000

January, 2001

February, 2001

March, 2001

April, 2001

September, 2001 - A Quarterly Report

Last Quarterly Report for 2001

1st Quarterly Report for 2002

2nd Quarterly Report for 2002

3rd Quarterly Report for 2002

4th Quarterly Report for 2002

1st Quarterly Report for 2003

2nd Quarterly Report for 2003

3rd Quarterly Report, 2003

4th Quarterly Report, 2003

1st Quarterly Report, 2004

2nd Quarterly Report, 2004

3rd Quarterly Report, 2004

4th Quarterly Report, 2004

1st Quarterly Report, 2005

2nd Quarterly Report, 2005

3/4th Quarterly Report, 2005

1st Quarterly Report, 2006

2nd Quarterly Report, 2006

3rd Quarterly Report, 2006

Final Report, 2006