Research in High DefPosted on: February 29, 2012 in People & Places
At the University of Arizona, research is at the forefront of who we are at what we do, every day. Such work – from physics to biomedicine to literary criticism – published by faculty, students and graduate students in academic journals across the nation and around the world adds to the store of knowledge in each of these fields and spurs future investigation and innovation.
But at the Southwest Center, a regional studies center in the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, one specific research project is designed to bring learning to a much, much larger audience.
This year, David Yetman, a research social scientist and nationally-known author, and producer and director Dan Duncan have created a new television series, In the Americas with David Yetman. The 13-episode series – fully produced at the University of Arizona – takes a fresh look at the landscapes, histories and peoples that make up the entirety of the Western Hemisphere.
In the Americas will be distributed throughout the entire PBS market and be seen across the nation on public television stations from Los Angeles to New York. The producers also have their eye on bringing the program to audiences abroad throughout Latin America, Japan, Germany, France and Australia.
Arriving on the airwaves in mid-2012, In the Americas follows in the footsteps of Yetman’s previous series, The Desert Speaks, which ran for nineteen seasons.
“My hope is that In the Americas will will do to a great extent what The Desert Speaks has done,” says Yetman, “which is to spark an interest in very specific geographical areas and concepts.”
Investigating and Recording American Folkways
“The kind of research that I do is visually available to millions of people,” he says of his investigations at the Southwest Center. “I want to show that the Americas, on their own without European influence, are a place of major creativity and have stories to be told that are equally to any other place in the world.”
Joe Wilder, Ph.D., director of the UA Southwest Center, describes Yetman and Duncan’s work on In the Americas as nothing less than an essential contribution to the discovery and preservation of the multifaceted, unique and beautiful American cultures.
“The two of them are ranging throughout the Americas,” he says, “really in a way pursuing an old-fashioned public outcome, which is the travelogue that’s informed by a key theoretical sensibility and understanding of the folkways the linguistic heritages, the history of the places that they are visiting.”
The Americas hold endless fascination for curious minds. The stories of the hemisphere touch on themes including conquest and reconquest, colonization and resistance, frontiers and borders, and ethnicities and languages.
Duncan, who holds master’s degrees in Latin American studies, media arts and entrepreneurship from the University of Arizona, has always held a keen interest in the power of images as narrative communication.
“David and I are taking our cameras into places that viewers perhaps would not have an opportunity to go to themselves, asking some bold questions, and telling stories that otherwise would not be told.”
The Holy Grail
In their work, Yetman and Duncan face two challenges: one is to capture the engaging, meaningful, informative stories, but because their work is for a wide audience, they must make that research entertaining and accessible to all.
“Dan likes to talk about the Holy Grail,” says Yetman. “What at the end of the program can we bring to the viewer to see that is something that will stick with them? Our goal is always primarily education,” he says, “but it also has to be fun.”
Duncan describes one example from a piece they did about a train ride from Lima, Peru up to the Andean highlands to investigate the Quechua people, who are descendants of the Inca. In this episode, that Grail came in the form of the train’s arrival at 16,000 feet, where the highlands’ inhabitants still raise crops at high altitudes the same way their ancestors did.
“I actually got a little altitude sickness,” laughs Duncan. “Dave doesn’t know about that.”
Bringing Current Issues to All
Through In the Americas, Yetman and Duncan are not only bridging worlds between peoples and cultures, but they are also providing high-quality educational experiences to as wide an audience as possible – a perfect strategic fit for the University of Arizona’s land grant mission. “My hope,” says Yetman, “is that our programs will become increasingly sophisticated, and that we’ll be able to zero in on issues discussed by current academicians and bring them to the public in a way that the public can take part in those issues affecting our hemisphere and the entire world.”