Field research of Dmitri M. Bondarenko and Veronica V. Usacheva in the USA

Field research by members of the Institute for African Studies in August 2014

From August 9 to 27, 2014, the research into mutual perceptions of, and the relationship between recent migrants from Africa and African Americans, launched by the Institute for African Studies in the previous year, was continued in three cities of the state of Alabama: Albertville, Guntersville, and Huntsville. The research is supported by the Russian Foundation for Humanities (projects 13-01-18036 and 14-01-00070). This year, fieldwork was done by the Institute Vice-Director Prof. Dmitri M. Bondarenko and Senior Research Fellow Dr. Veronica V. Usacheva.


The main distinction of fieldwork in 2014 was a shift in focus from as wide as possible geographic, social, national coverage of respondents to a case study of two clearly defined and comparable with each other small religious (Christian) communities: an African American Methodist Episcopal and Ethiopian Orthodox. Besides, this time research was concentrated on the situation not in the cities of historically more progressive, cosmopolitan, and tolerant North of the USA but in towns in the depth of the nation’s South known for its conservatism and traditionalism. Combination of the evidence got in 2013 and 2014 should allow a more comprehensive and multifaceted picture of mutual perceptions of, and the relationship between African Americans and recent migrants from Africa.

With the change of the object of study, the research methods were adjusted accordingly. The necessity of adjustment was dictated by the desire to establish trust with the members of the two communities. Therefore, the researchers refused from extensive tape recorded interviews according to an unconcealed from the respondent plan and preferred conversations (sometimes long, too) that could correctly be called semi- and non-structured interviews. They were recorded from memory after the end of the interview. In total, 24 conversations-interviews were done. Much more attention than previous year was paid to the method of observation, including participant. The researchers did not miss even one event in the churches of the communities they studied, visited homes of some of their members, met them in informal atmosphere in cafés … General impressions of what had been seen, noticed interesting details and heard distinctive opinions were recorded later either. Besides, expositions of the city museums in Guntersville and Albertville were thoroughly analyzed in order to trace how nowadays, by visual means the historical memory of America’s black population’s past is being formed, and through it the idea of its place and role in present-day American society is being instilled. With the same purpose, the researchers visited Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, GA – the “informal capitol of the American South”, one of the main centers of the Civil rights movement of 1954-1968. The photo archive of the 2014 field season included 362 photos.
In total, in two field seasons, of 2013 and 2014, the project participants (Dmitri M. Bondarenko, Alexander E. Zhukov, and Veronica V. Usacheva) recorded 171 interviews and conversations of different duration and degree of structuring, made notes of 12 observations of events in life of African Americans and African migrants; the photo archive consists of 519 photos. Combined and compared with the evidence got in 2013, the data collected in 2014 году will be used by the project participants for preparation of articles and papers for international and national scholarly editions and conferences.

The participants of the research would like to express their sincere gratitude to Bella and Kirk Sorbo for their invaluable help in its organization and conducting.