What is Home?
Picturing Milwaukee: Conserving Local Heritage
The goal of my research was to compare common themes across 7 exemplary interviews in order to better understand how local homeowners and residents describe, define and perceive their home. The project acknowledges that people inhabiting a place are the experts hence documenting their knowledge of their environment is essential to our understanding of this neighborhood. The results of this research would identify inhabitant needs and experiences that may not be previously known to those who do not reside in this neighborhood.
Semantic analysis of oral histories helped situate the descriptions of home within specific cultural contexts. An overall taxonomy of the word “home,” helped me map the use and interpretation of this place into a hierarchical chart. My analysis suggests that home may be a specific site, a concrete place or more of an abstract idea depending on the interviewee’s particular experience and perspective.
Ethnography is the description of culture or describing (graph) people (ethno). Semantic ethnography focuses on the meaning, the what and why, of what people say and do in their cultural contexts. A more specific type of ethnography, spatial ethnography, is an interpretive method that combines analysis of artifacts (buildings, streets, furniture, and other forms of material culture) with ethnographic and observational accounts of how people use and give meaning to these artifacts. In relationship to design, semantic and spatial ethnography help us understand the meaning of what people do in a place. This "situated understanding" of culture –– that is, understanding culture as it plays out within specific social and spatial contexts –– can potentially improve the integrity of the design of the material world around us.
Based on the analysis of 7 oral histories obtained through the field school, I was able to create taxonomies that categorize the way interviewees spoke, construed and interpreted home as a physical place, a symbolic concept or a socio-cultural domain.
I found that terms such as house, neighborhood, and people were used in every speech to refer to home. Different people experienced the same place in different ways due to varying contexts. While the experiences and interpretations of the people were different, these common terms were always present. Common terms in reference to the physical structure of a house included architectural features, both indoor and outdoor. For example, kitchen, dining room, floors, paint, open concept, and yard were frequently mentioned. In reference to neighborhood, terms such as safety, crime, park, and change were common. When speaking of people, family, friends, and neighbors were also recurrent terms.
My analysis suggests that home may mean a physical building and its surrounding land. The term may also refer to the larger landscape of the neighborhood and city. The term may be represent people and associated memories. A home becomes a place when people come together through collaboration, communication, and enjoyment.
 Karen E. Till. “”Art, Memory, and the City” in Bogota: Mapa Teatro’s Artistic Encounters with Inhabited Places.” Making Place: Space and Embodiment in the City. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014), 150-151.
 Galen Cranz 2015, 303.
 Galen Cranz and Eleftherios Pavlides. “Ethnographic Methods in Support of Architectural Practice,” Enhancing Building and Environmental Performance, Shauna Mallory-Hill, Wolfgang Preiser, Chris Watson (eds.), (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2011), 299.
 Sen, Arijit. “Eating Ethnicity: Spatial Ethnography of Hyderabad Restaurant on Devon Avenue, Chicago,” Making Place: Space and Embodiment in the City. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014), 97-98.
 Galen Cranz and Eleftherios Pavlides. “Ethnographic Methods in Support of Architectural Practice,” Enhancing Building and Environmental Performance, Shauna Mallory-Hill, Wolfgang Preiser, Chris Watson (eds.), (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2011).
The taxonomies help me analyze and categorize words used in everyday speech as a way to break down the speaker's thought process. This technique can be very useful in the analysis of oral histories, since much speech-based knowledge depends categorization and classification of objects and ideas (Spradley et al 2009).