Field Notes

The primary purpose of this archive is to house all possible data regarding the Sirat Bani Hilal oral epic in perpituity so that the recordings and texts are made easily available to scholars and the general public.  Critical to any analysis of these recordings and texts, however, is an understanding of the contexts in which they were collected.  To that end, I am taking the rather unusual step of providing access to passages from my original fieldnotes.  At first I had hoped to include the entire text of my field diaries, but upon re-reading them, I realized that many passages impinge upon the privacy of others.  I wrote about nearly everything that happened to me, including rumors and private information which it would be highly inappropriate to make public.  I do remain, however, committed to "opening up" the process of ethnographic fieldwork to critical scrutiny and to allowing readers and scholars full access to the process by which these recordings and texts came into being.  I am therefore making available here those passages which describe my living situation, my research, the epic performances stored in the archive, and related topics.  Only selected passages are being uploaded onto this site, but those passages are presented without any alteration except for the occasional deletion of a name or other identifying characteristic.  These notes are presented in their original handwritten form so that readers will never lose track of the fact that these are rough notes, raw data, and that they are impressions of the moment.  In many cases, later entries substantially revise and even completely contradict earlier ones. 

I now cringe, and at times laugh, at passages that reveal my naivete or complete lack of understanding of things happening around me (particularly in the earlier months of my stay in the village), but my own embarrassment over certain passages and remarks are, I think, outweighed by the importance of promoting the critique and demystificiation of the process of ethnographic fieldwork, a task I began in the first chapter of Heroic Poets, Poetic Heroes: The Ethnography of Performance in an Arabic Oral Epic Tradition (Cornell University Press, 1995) by openly discussing my financial arrangements with the poets, giving as frank an evaluation as I was able of my own linguistic skills and cultural knowledge, and describing other aspects of my research that are often avoided by ethnographic researchers in their publications.  I therefore hope that readers will approach these texts as data that will allow them to better understand the conditions in which these wonderful recordings were made.

12/18/86 to 1/24/87: Arrival in Cairo and Preparations

2/5/87 to 2/10/87: Moving to the Village and First Recordings with Shaykh Taha (Tapes 001-002)

2/11/87 to 2/13/87 First Recordings with Shaykh Biyeli (Tapes 003-009)