Collaborating since 2006, Garrett Cook and Thomas Offit have developed and taught five summer field schools in the Kiche Maya community of Santiago Momostenango, Guatemala, that investigate the impact of globalization and a transnational economy on Maya people and the local institutions of Maya culture. We focus on Mayan religion and expressive culture, on Mayan versions of modernization, on efforts at cultural revitalization, and on the creative responses of local actors engaged in constructing meaningful lives that balance tradition and change.
Students learn to document and record an unfamiliar culture and their encounter with it through participant observation, mapping projects, in-depth interviews and ethnographic photography, videography and daily journaling. Among many projects students have studied changing women's roles, changes in local diet, rituals at mountain altars and in the cult of the patron saint, traditional music played during the festival, The Monkeys Dance and the Dance of the Conquest, community public health issues, local environmental issues, the oral tradition about human encounters with supernatural beings, and community mortality patterns reconstructed from cemetery data.
The field school is often coordinated with the festival of the patron saint to provide students with access to the public expression of Maya religion and the costumed dances and street theater which it embodies.