TRACE Tuesday – Artists, Scholars, and Innovators Lecture II

“Doing Community-University Research and Writing the I’m Afraid of that Water Collaborative Ethnography”

Tuesday, August 18, 2020 | 11:00 am – 12:00 pm | Virtual (live, remote)


Presented by the recipients of the 2018-2019 MU Distinguished Artists and Scholars Award (Team Recipient in All Fields)

Brian Hoey

  • Associate Dean of the Honors College
  • Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Eric Lassiter

  • Professor and Program Director in the Graduate Humanities Program

They will be joined by Jim Hatfield (Chemical Engineer), Trish Hatfield (Graduate Humanities Program), Cathy Pleska (Graduate Humanities Program), and Angie Rosser (West Virginia Rivers Coalition)

Lecture Abstract:

On January 9, 2014, residents across Charleston, West Virginia, awoke to an unusual licorice smell in the air and taste in the public drinking water. That evening residents were informed the tap water in tens of thousands of homes, hundreds of businesses, and dozens of schools and hospitals—the water made available to as many as 300,000 citizens in a nine-county region—had been contaminated with a chemical used for cleaning crushed coal. This presentation brings together several voices from among those engaged in a collaborative ethnographic project that led to the book I’m Afraid of that Water (WV University Press, 2020). Presenters will share their stories about experiencing and documenting that chemical spill and its aftermath, an unfolding water crisis that lead to months, even years, of fear and distrust. Drawing from the work of oral history and collaborative ethnography, jointly conceptualized, researched, and written by people across local communities and various academic positions in West Virginia, we illustrate the practical challenges and abundant rewards of doing a multi-authored and collaborative ethnography as well as how this approach could serve as a catalyst for other university-community research partnerships.