Anthropology Classroom Activity

Anthropology Classroom Activity: Five articles from majors to non-majors


Parenthropologist began teaching an upper-level capstone course for undergraduate anthropology majors, and wanted to do something different than go through the syllabus. I suggested an anthropology classroom activity based on Ryan Anderson’s Savage Minds post, The search for anthropology in public, part II. The idea is to have undergraduate anthropology majors figure out a list of five articles, five favorites or bests, to show non-anthropology majors what anthropology is all about.

The results have been disappointing, as it is difficult to get course-to-course continuity. One student argued for Coming of Age in Samoa, saying that while it may not be the best ethnography, it provides a classic example in the context of its time, from one of the most famous anthropologists. Another gave a passionate plea to include Ongka’s Big Moka. Eventually someone suggested Body Ritual among the Nacirema.

Ryan’s comment seems on the mark, even for undergraduate majors: “One of the issues that comes up whenever I think about this is the fact that many people associate anthropology with something that’s about 80-100 years outdated.”

Parenthropologist reports although the exercise was something of a flop in class, the students were intrigued and wanted to try it again at the end of the semester. It works like a learning outcomes assessment for the anthropology major, and encourages thinking about what kinds of materials to teach across different courses.

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  • Jason,

    I just posted a comment on SM about this. You know, when I was an undergrad I probably would have given some pretty similar answers. Interesting pattern, and it makes me think about how/why anthropology is taught the way it is. My wife (who is also a grad student in anthro) had a very different experience: she said that she learned all contemporary anthropology, and did not read much about the early crew until later on (she was at a small state school in California). I wonder how these kinds of “what is anthropology” questions would be answered by undergrads in different programs? It’d be interesting to see what kind of image is being shaped about the discipline just through teaching. Hmmm.

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