Rapid Cultural Learning (RCL) Activities Developed by T.L. Whitehead

Dr. Whitehead maintains that culture is all around us, just like the air we breathe, as humans are continually producing and reproducing culture, creating predictable patterns of communication, interaction, familiarity, and routinization. As such, to read cultural patterns that occur in most, if not in all forms of human social interaction, he suggests that we must regain those skills (ethnographic) of intense levels of observations, participation, and informal conversational interviews that we developed as toddlers while learning our own cultures (Whitehead, 2005, Basic Classical Ethnographic Research Methods, pps. 11-13). Now in retirement, Dr. Whitehead no longer carries out the following activities, but decided to share them here so that others may draw on them either to replicate similar activities, or generate their own.  He is available to consult with others who do draw on these materials

The Study Abroad Rapid Cultural Learning Field School in Jamaica, West Indies.   Dr. Whitehead led this Rapid Cultural Learning Field School during the summer from 2005 to 2009. The brochure shown here is from the last 4-week field school of 2009. Students worked in Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) during the day, and participated in 2-hour lecture and discussions each evening after dinner, Monday through Friday. Exceptions to this weekday schedule occurred when there were expressive cultural events, (music, dance, song, concerts, night clubs, theater, etc.) schedule either weekdays, evenings, or weekends. The pictures in the brochure reflect Whitehead’s view that any social settings in which humans are interacting can be studied using the basic ethnographic methods of observations (using all five senses), activities participation, and informal conversational interviews. As such these pictures reflect some of the assigned ethnographic fieldwork, focusing foodways (food acquisition, processing, preparation, consumption, and post consumption activities, on the beach (class & interactions with tourists), nightlife (social & gender interactions), and Jamaican Festival performance (expressive culture celebrating national identity.

Tours in Rapid Cultural Learning: A Taste of DC’s Cultural Diversity.  This tour of DC ethnic restaurants were carried out in conjunctions with the 2014 American Anthropology Association meetings, as a Fund raising activity in support of the newly established UMD-HBCU Graduate Mentoring Scholarship Fund.

10-Day Rapid Cultural Learning (RCL) Tour of Jamaica, West Indies. When Whitehead would share stories about the Jamaican Field School with non-anthropology colleagues and friends, he was often asked how they could participate in one of these RCL experiences, but of shorter duration. Attached is a flyer advertising 10-day RCL tour planned for the summer of 2015, as another fundraiser for the UMD-HBCU Scholarship Fund. This tour was aborted however, as were plans for tours to other cultural sites (such as Ghana, West Africa), because of the amount of time that would be required for one senior citizen. Dr. Whitehead reiterates, however, that he is available to consultant with others with similar RCL ideas.