As another fieldwork season comes to a close and classes, sabbaticals, and more ventures into the field begin, anthropologists are unpacking and repacking their bags. Anthropology News wants to know what’s in them. From the North Pole to the tropics, anthropologists from across the discipline’s subfields answer the question, What’s in your bag?
Over the 28 years I’ve been conducting fieldwork the contents of my field bags have not changed much, nor have the bags. I’ve always used durable army-surplus style single over-the shoulder strap pouch bags (although my current one has the added bonus of pictures of robots on it). Not fancy, but able to withstand almost everything (at least boat sinking, truck crashes, landslides, flash floods, and vigorous handling by orangutans, monkeys, monitor lizards, roosters, and an extremely large fish). The contents are practical. I always carry the pair of excellent binoculars I purchased in 1991 (Swarovski), a metal water bottle, sunglasses and (as of a few years ago) reading glasses. I usually have bug spray and sunblock, plus sundry items like hand sanitizer, eye drops, cough drops, tissues, and, of course, a hat (usually with the image of a monkey). A lighter is always handy as well. Since 2001 I stopped carrying a swiss army knife, and I frequently miss it. I always carry a few plastic bags for opportunistic collection of potential important items (plants, feces, etc…). Finally, I am never without my field notebook (and pens) and my SONY digital recorder–everything else can go, but these two items are indispensable.
Agustin Fuentes is professor of anthropology at the University Notre Dame.
Jason De León
Since 2015 I have been working on an analog photoethnographic project focused on the daily lives of Honduran smugglers who make money transporting migrants across Mexico. The contents of my fieldwork bag are dominated by camera equipment and film. I carry two Nikon F3 35mm cameras (one with a 50mm lens and the other with a 28mm lens) and a medium format Pentax 67ii equipped with equivalent 50mm and 28mm lenses. I also always have some type of Fuji Instax instant camera so that I can give people copies of their photos. Depending on the circumstances, I may have a 35mm Olympus point and shoot with a flash or a Crown Graphic large format camera with sheet film and instant peel-apart film. Besides this plethora of cameras and various film types, I always carry at least two voice recorders (in case I lose one–which I recently did), a moleskin notebook, numerous Pilot Precise V7 Extra Fine black ink pens and black Sharpies, extra camera and recorder batteries, business cards, camera cleaning equipment, a light meter, Emergency C or some other vitamin supplement, and my lucky beer koozie from the La Gitana Cantina in Arivaca, Arizona.
Jason De León is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan and Director of the Undocumented Migration Project.
Destination: Svalbard in wintertime. Most important for my state of mind is a dawn-simulator alarm clock, which compensates for the lack of light during polar night. Extreme cold weather requires multiple layers of bulky wool clothing, lined windproof hats, neck warmers, ski gloves, thick boots and a very serious parka. I need a huge, lightweight, uniquely identifiable snowproof tarpaulin suitcase to haul it around, and store it in summer. But what is in your bag can always be misplaced by an airline, so I quickly learned to wear the parka instead of packing it away. My DSLR camera, laptop computer and old-fashioned notebook/calendar are my primary research tools, but my iPhone (not in the picture because I used it to take the picture) has become more and more important for quick snaps, audio recording, tracking contacts and setting up meetings. There is always a mess of chargers, plug converters and batteries to bring along, so I usually forget something and have to get another one at the airport. I use truly gaudy laptop and passport/ID cases so that I won’t leave something behind by accident when I pass through international security, which is increasingly complicated.
Tracey Heatherington is associate professor of anthropology and Associate Dean of the Graduate School at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
As a “native anthropologist” I enjoy the benefits of “native anthropology.” I return to my ancestral home for field visits. I visit family, friends, language, culture, and landscape. The contents of my backpack include digital preparedness for unfolding ethnographic moments. The laptop is a great mobile desktop and research tool. My portable backup drive provides access to “work in progress” files. My iPad Pro and Apple Pencil are my digital sketch pad, watercolor tablet, and drawing tool. The image on the iPad screen is a sketch for an upcoming AN Going Native cartoon. The iPhone provides crucial connectivity between the academic world and my life on Tobique First Nation.
For some tasks, the old technologies are still the best. I pack a journal for field notes, ideas, inspirations, and drawings; a notepad for writing, diagramming, and drawing Maliseet language translations; and physical books to read for “works in progress” and “emerging ethnographic explorations” (note: the texts pictured do not necessarily constitute my endorsement of those texts).
Finally, I packed a jacket (also serves as back support on the plane), sunglasses (I need to see where I am going), reading glasses (yes, I’ve gotten to that age), and my passport.
Bernard Perley is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Alex W. Rodriguez
I recently returned from dissertation research on jazz clubs in Los Angeles, California; Santiago, Chile; and Novosibirsk, Siberia. During my time in Los Angeles, I purchased what would become a crucial tool for my fieldwork: a blue plastic alto trombone. Inspired by the legend of Ornette Coleman’s plastic Grafton alto saxophone, which he purchased in Los Angeles 60 years earlier, I thought that it would help to challenge my musical horizons and also provide a more portable alternative to the larger brass instruments I usually played. Its toy-like appearance provoked a good deal of curiosity among both musicians and listeners alike.
Music-making became an important aspect of my ethnographic work: It afforded a quick path to rapport and solidarity through shared performance, as well as access to certain parts of the jazz club space—both stage and backstage—that were not as accessible as a listener or participant-observer. The trombone also offered me a way of identifying—as a musician—that fit into my interlocutors’ social reality in a way that “anthropologist” often did not. And perhaps most important, this instrument brought about the profound experience of sharing musical moments with musicians and listeners across vast geographical and cultural differences.
Alex W. Rodriguez is a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
My Camelback Transalp has a built-in rain cover, which was handy this wet field season. It also doubles as my main computer bag on campus. I carry a First Aid Kit, fortunately, only needed to bandage trowel blisters. I have a 4.5-inch Marshalltown Trowel that I’ve used three times in six weeks, such is the life of a supervising mom archaeologist. As my infant son accompanied me on the dig, my bag was half field and half diaper bag, featuring diapers, wipes, and a garbage bag. My best investment of the season was a Rite-in-the-Rain notebook—it rained or misted almost every day. Hub of analogue record-keeping, I keep a metal clip board decked out with digital archaeology stickers, a Munsell Color Chart, and a pencil and double-sided Sharpie. I also carry a folding ruler that doubles as a pointer when I couldn’t bend down due to a baby in my arms. For a sturdy, economical field camera, I use a Canon EOS Rebel 5Ti. A Brunton Universal Compass is a great selection for a compass—it points north in both hemispheres! For keeping hydrated and protecting myself from the sun and mosquito-borne tropical illnesses I carry a Platypus Hydration Bag, Pistil Mina Hat (four-inch brim and reasonably stylish. Only worn on one sunny day), and DEET Repellant. Lastly, Midland Radios saved our voices and helped avoided errors while mapping the site. They also doubled as a baby monitor, to call me back to my son when it was time to nurse.
Sarah Rowe is assistant professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and a Fulbright Scholar to Ecuador.
Cite as: Fuentes, Agustín, Jason De León, Tracey Heatherington, Bernard Perley, Alex W. Rodriguez, and Sarah Rowe. 2017. “What’s in Your Bag?” Anthropology News website, September 8, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.600