[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger, Jane Eva Baxter]
Yesterday, the media widely reported the discovery of 850,000 (or so) year old footprints at the British seaside village of Happisburgh. This media coverage coincided with the publication of an article in the open access, peer reviewed journal PLoS ONE, and the announcement that the footprints will be featured as part of an upcoming exhibition called, “Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story” at the Natural History Museum in London. While the AP story can be found through your media outlet of choice, you also can read a bit about the find through the British Museum blog by curator Nicholas Ashton, who was involved with the project.
The Allure of Footprints
This discovery has generated a good deal of enthusiasm among the general public. As some small measure of this excitement, I can report six students in my World Prehistory course (of 40 students) emailed me with links to news coverage about the find in a single day. This is not typical, and such news sharing is not required or even necessarily encouraged as part of the course. Archaeologist Clive Gamble, quoted in the AP article, explains why this discovery has such a popular appeal. “This is the closest we’ve got to seeing the people,” he told the AP. “When I heard about it, it was like hearing the first line of [William Blake’s hymn] ‘Jerusalem’ — ‘And did those feet, in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green?’ Well, they walked upon its muddy estuary.” Continue reading
[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Jane Eva Baxter]
This past year, I had two conference experiences that offered me a chance to reflect on what it means to be an anthropologist/archaeologist in the 21st century. These experiences allowed me to consider the dynamic shifts in anthropological inquiry that move us beyond historical visions of and for the discipline. Simultaneously, these encounters got me thinking about identities within anthropology, and how we connect, disconnect, and reconnect to the particular cultures of our own subfields. Perhaps most interesting, was the realization that boundaries of practice are shifting with a different pace and rhythm than our own identities as anthropologists, or archeologists, or linguists, or… In other words, these experiences gave me an opportunity to reflect upon a very active set of incongruities around traditional characterizations and boundaries of practice, the realities of what we actually do now as members of a particular anthropological subfield, and the ways we choose to identify ourselves within the incredible diversity of anthropology/anthropologists today. Continue reading
[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Jane Eva Baxter]
Structuring a course experience or assignment to enable a particular type of learning is a challenging task, and never guarantees a specific set of results. In Part 1 of this post, I described the course context, learning goals, and assignment structure for sending 30 DePaul senior anthropology majors to the AAA Annual Meeting to participate, observe, and write about their experiences as brief ethnographies.
I did not ask students in advance what their expectations were for the AAA meeting (opportunity lost) but my sense, based on their reactions, is they imagined the meeting to be a rather serious, sober, and scholarly affair. They were overwhelmed by how social, dynamic, and fun the meetings were not just as first time attendees figuring out how it all worked, but also for all of you who were busily conferencing away as they were attentively observing you!
Several of the resulting essays were so good I wish I could share them with you in their entirety. Nearly all were thoughtful, competent, and reflective pieces of writing. The best were innovative, humorous, and insightful. It is impossible to convey effectively the results of 30 different research projects at the AAA. Instead, I’ve tried to summarize some of the students’ perceptions using the four broad categories assigned for their structured observations, and to offer some thoughts on what they learned by participating in the annual meeting as undergraduate ethnographers.
[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger, JANE EVA BAXTER]
November’s AAA meetings are a distant memory after a season of holidays, finals, grading, and course preparation for round two of the academic year. Before they slip away completely, I wanted to share some thoughts about assigning 30 anthropology seniors the task of writing a brief ethnography based on time spent at the AAA annual meetings. That’s right- a small contingent of undergraduate ethnographers was among you. They may have handed you your conference program at registration, sat next to you in a session, or been at the next table at Kitty O’Shea’s or Starbucks. So think back, while you were busy conferencing you were being observed, perhaps were engaged in casual conversation, and certainly were studied thoughtfully by students in a senior capstone seminar trying to learn what it really means to be an anthropologist in 2013.
Teaching “The Anthropological Life” Using the AAA Meetings
The anthropology senior seminar at DePaul is titled, “The Anthropological Life” and is a course designed to help students simultaneously reflect on four years of education, and contemplate the transition from life in school to life without school. Each faculty member who teaches the course takes a different approach, but I’ve always embraced the seminar as an opportunity for students to connect with anthropologists working in a variety of vocational capacities. Usually, this means in a ten week quarter I invite four guest anthropologists from outside academe to come to campus, give a public lecture, have dinner with our seniors, and then have the seniors interview them for about 90 minutes where they can talk about their “anthropological life.”
My two main goals for the course are really quite simple. First, I want students to recognize that anthropology is not a particular vocation, but rather a way of engaging the world. I ask them: How do people with anthropological training see the world differently from those without such training? What are the core values of the discipline and how do those values become actualized in the daily practice of lived lives? Second, I want students to reflect actively on their own “anthropological lives” and consider how anthropology will shape their future regardless of their career or life path. In many forms we engage question such as: What does anthropology mean in the context of your life? How has anthropology shaped who you are as a person and how do you see anthropology shaping your future?
The AAA coming to town was a pretty remarkable opportunity in the context of this course. Where else could students gain so much exposure to contemporary anthropology so efficiently? And so, for the 2013 permutation of the course, it was decided to substitute a guest speaker with a somewhat structured encounter with the AAA meeting that would result in a very brief piece of ethnographic writing.