Ethnography is the art and science of learning and reporting about other people and cultures.

Many come to COA fascinated with cultural diversity and the range of human experience. We support students seeking creative ways to find, document, and tell the stories of others, near and far.

Others come to documentary and ethnography less directly. Many COA students are initially drawn toward big ideas and issues: climate change, social justice, public health, economic development. They study and travel, sometimes becoming entangled in webs of policy and politics. They then realize that what they thought was simple is in reality complex and culturally dependent. Drawing grand conclusions or taking direct action now seems impossible.

But what stands out the most is the stories of people and cultures. 

When you tell another’s story, how do you keep it from being about you?

There is a moment when you realize that poverty is not just a concept, domestic violence not just a statistic, or foreclosed farms not only an economic indicator. Who knows the way forward? But surely it must begin with an honest accounting of the stories and lives of those affected. Telling the truth opens up the possibility for more truth.

Many classes teach about the art and craft of ethnography and documentary. Documentary Video, Ethnographic Fieldwork, and Constructing Visual Narrative all look directly at how to conduct ethnographic research and craft effective stories. Many other classes teach skills and techniques that students interested in ethnography and documentary draw upon, such as Photography, Journalism and the New Media, and Strangers and Performance.


  • <div class="lw_blurbs_body"><p><strong>Reminder</strong>: ‘Areas of Study’ aren’t the only way to think about courses.  Browse and explore <a href="">here</a>.</p></div>
  • <div class="lw_blurbs_body"><p><strong>Reminder</strong>: Areas of Study at COA aren’t majors or formal concentrations. All COA students design their own <a href="/academics/human-ecology-degree/">major in human ecology</a> and are free to chart their own path. Your major is defined by you, not us.</p></div>