Discover Internships: Anthropological Research Assistant

“I appreciated the difficulty in finding information and accepting that there may never have been an event to begin with.” Check out Kristin Vogel’s narrative on her time as a research assistant investigating a possible concert that took place in Iowa City in 1978 with John Cage, the 20th century avant-garde American composer!

After returning from my semester abroad in Ecuador, I decided to work with Dr. Nick Yablon as I had done the previous summer. Last summer we worked together on his research regarding an amateur Progressive-Era photographer named Charles Hine who took photographs of everyday life on Broadway Ave. This semester, Dr. Yablon wanted to give me even more of a challenge: to investigate a possible concert that took place in Iowa City in 1978 with John Cage, the 20th century avant-garde American composer. We began with one obscure online reference to this event.

Last summer, all my research was done remotely, taking advantage of digital archives and databases. While I still worked with these digital resources much of the time, this semester I also visited the Rita Benton Music Library on multiple occasions. I asked the library assistants about their archives and what I might be looking for.

From the digital archives of the RBML, this event program from the 1975-76 season was a strong lead but did not prove the happening of the 1978 concert or Cage’s presence in Iowa City that Dr. Yablon and I were searching for.

In my research, I had to first begin by learning about who John Cage was and his connection to the University of Iowa. The first week or two of research was background knowledge. I learned about his innovative music and that he was a friend of Lowell Cross, professor emeritus of the University of Iowa’s School of Music. Through learning who he was connected to at the University and in the avant-garde, electronic music scene, in general, I began branching out. I investigated associates like David Tudor, Steve Julstrom, and Tom Mitner. There was information about all these people as individuals, but nothing about an Iowa City concert around the late-1970s. I worked with Dr. Yablon from mid-February to early-April on trying to find anything concrete about this event. With little success, I do not know where Dr. Yablon will take this project, but perhaps we did enough to foster a short article about the general influence Cage’s work had on the School of Music here. Although many may see this as a negative of the experience (and I agree that at times it was frustrating), I appreciated the difficulty in finding information and accepting that there may never have been an event to begin with. This series of “dead-ends” and lack of answers was a good lesson in research. There is often a misconception that research always simply gives you answers, but sometimes people remember events and people wrong or from their own perspective. Sometimes information is lost to time, power structures, or memory. Despite our wealth of digital archives in modern academia, research is not easy.

From Lowell Cross’ “‘Reunion’: John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Electronic Music and Chess,” this photograph shows John Cage, David Tudor, and Lowell Cross working together in 1968 Toronto. This document and investigation of these men also did not support the happening of the 1978 concert in Iowa City, but it did reaffirm that these men all worked and influenced each other in the avant-garde, electronic music scene.

Finally, this semester’s research emphasized my own interests in historical and/or anthropological research. It was fascinating having a new lens into different eras and topics of history. I had never researched something so local or specific before. However, I realized that my true interests are varied and deal with many different eras and subjects. For example, after studying in Ecuador and doing a project that dealt with local, indigenous alternative education, I have even more of a passion to study education in a cultural lens, women’s issues with a feminist approach to history, and indigenous issues stemming from colonization in Latin America. So, while this semester’s research proved difficult in many ways, it reminded me how important it is to have challenges and experience with research during the undergraduate experience. It can show you if research is right for you, what you want to do with your career or future education, and which subjects and themes you are passionate about.

Author Bio: Kristin Vogel graduated May 2022 with a B.A. in Anthropology and Spanish with a Minor in History. She was also part of the Honors program, thus her participation in experiential learning. Kristin tends to focus on women’s issues, especially their access to education, and indigenous studies throughout the Americas, but especially the Latin American sphere. So much so, she studied abroad in Ecuador during the Fall 2021 term with SIT World Learning’s “Development, Politics, and Languages” program where she completed a monograph based on ethnographic fieldwork, she conducted in the Southern Ecuadorian town Saraguro.

Edited by: Abbey Jordahl, Honors Admin

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