We Are Knox...
Oak Park, Illinois
Anthropology and Sociology and Creative Writing Double Major
This summer, John Bergholz began research for his senior capstone project
in anthropology and sociology. Living in a small, northern Midwest tourist town,
John was able to study the tourist experience and tourism industry. He received a grant from the Richter Memorial Fund to help with some of the costs of living in a tourist town. "Without this grant, I would have never had the chance to follow this project through," he said.
What was the process of your research? Is it ongoing?
Over the course of the summer, I used several methods to collect data. The most common method was participant observation. I attended several public events such as a few 4th of July celebrations, a dog parade, an art fair, and several sidewalk sales. I also stationed myself in public spaces and local landmarks to take notes on everyday happenings in hopes of gaining a picture of what everyday life is like in a tourist town in the summer.
I was working as a member of the waitstaff at a local restaurant and tavern that has been in the area for almost a century. This job allowed me to briefly chat with people from all over the world who had come to the area, as well as a number of locals. Later in the summer, I interviewed around 10 people of varying backgrounds regarding their experiences in the area. The project will continue through this year and will hopefully result in another trip to the area over winter break to see what it's like during the off season.
Can you cite an example of how your in-classroom and/or out-of-the-classroom experiences at Knox benefited you in the project?
The experiences I gained taking anthropology/sociology classes at Knox gave me both the experience and confidence to take on this project. The fact that many of these classes highlighted social research methods and culminated in a research project gave me the foundation I needed for this more substantial and lengthy project. In particular, last spring I completed an independent study with Professor Gabe Raley that solidified what I had learned in other classes into a clearer vision of how to carry out a successful and ethically-sound research project.
What inspired you to pursue the research?
After visiting the area during a previous summer, I was struck by the feel of the town. It seemed to me that people who visited the area were walking a fine line between an authentic experience of the area and a constructed reality made for tourists. I couldn't shake this thought from my head. When I came back to Knox for the fall 2012 term, I saw Larry Breitborde speak at convocation. The topic of his speech was avoiding "educational tourism." One of the most memorable quotes was, "you can approach your education here as a tourist, or you can dig in experientially and really learn." I had seen what this town was like only as a tourist, so I decided to "dig in" and find out more about the phenomenon of tourism and the identities people manage when in a tourist town.
What did you learn from completing this summer research?
I learned a lot about what goes on in a tourist town, especially the wide variety of experiences that happen in the summer season. There were people who came from all over the Midwest and all over the world, there just to enjoy the beauty of the natural world or simply to see for themselves what they had heard by word of mouth, found on a travel website, seen on Good Morning America, or simply found by a chance wrong turn. If there was one thing most people had in common it was that they were in love with the spirit of the place -- the unique atmosphere and landscape of an area so reliant on, yet seemingly untouched by the places people travel to escape from. Everyone brings their own perspective, but many people seem to be smitten and come back year after year.
Read about John's summer 2012 internship at The Office of the State Archaeologist on The University of Iowa campus.