COLA Connections Newsletter: Fall 2015

Field School in Deaf Geographies summer program explores Rochester's Deaf history

While much of campus was enjoying summer break, the College of Liberal Arts hosted an innovative new program; our groundbreaking Field School in Deaf Geographies. The only school of its kind, this exciting opportunity was an intensive five-week, six-credit program, allowing students to engage with analytical and theoretical frameworks within Human Geography, Social Science Research Methods, and American Deaf History. Students toured and conducted research in multiple venues, including several famous Rochester landmarks such as St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the Western New York Institute, and the High Falls area. Visiting Professor for the Department of History, Dr. Mary Beth Kitzel is the founder and director of the Field School in Deaf Geographies.

What does the Field School do and what do you hope to accomplish through it?

Dr. Kitzel: “The students, whom I like to call ‘scholars,’ and I engage in researching the history and geographical history of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the Rochester area. Through the program, students are able to engage in active primary research as well as being active in data collecting. Rochester has an amazing deaf community that no one has really studied from a sociological or anthropological standpoint before, so I’m really happy that we’re able to do what we’re doing.”

What are some of your personal goals concerning the program?

Dr. Kitzel: “Because RIT has such a wonderfully unique student population and because this is such a new field of research, my goal is to bring as many people as I can into the research. Personally, I’m very interested in how deaf people understand space and their locations, so I’m always hoping to discover more about that.”

Have you seen any successes so far in the program that stand out to you?

Dr. Kitzel: “I conducted this school first in England, and everyone who went to the first school in England went on to grad school. Watching their fears about grad school completely dissipate was such a fabulous feeling.

As far as individual student successes go, I have to talk about Melissa Cobo, who’s a museum studies major here. She’s been investigating the origins of the oldest churches in Rochester, such as St. Luke’s, and how they were involved in the lives of deaf people in the 1880’s. No one’s really done that kind of research before, so her work is truly groundbreaking.”

Where do you hope to see the program go in the future?

Dr. Kitzel: “I can’t think of anything better than watching the students conduct research that no one has really done before. I would love to expand the program outside of Rochester. My own research background is in England, where I received my Ph.D. from the University of Sussex, so to conduct more research overseas would obviously be great.”

Final thoughts?

Dr. Kitzel: “Anyone interested in primary research experience should contact me, because I’d love to have them!”