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Perspectives: An Open Access Intro Anthro Textbook

(This guest post by Nina Brown, Thomas McIlwraith, and Laura Tubelle de González announces the launch of what I believe is the first open access textbook for an introduction to cultural anthropology course. I’ve blogged about this textbook before so I’m very excited that it is now available!)

The Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges (SACC) is pleased to announce the publication of Perspectives: An Open Invitation to Cultural Anthropology (ISBN 978–1-931303–55–2), an open access, peer-reviewed cultural anthropology textbook. The initiative to create this book took shape in 2012 when several SACC members identified a need in our community college classes for less expensive teaching materials. From our inception in the 1970s, SACC has supported lower income and first generation college learners and this book fits with that orientation and concern. We believe strongly, however, that this is a good introductory textbook and that it is suitable for first year classes in cultural anthropology at any post-secondary institution.

Book Production and Open Access

The production of this book is a big part of the Perspectives story. For five years, a number of SACC members participated in monthly video meetings to steer the project and many more expressed enthusiasm for the project at our annual business and board meetings. A small editorial board took charge of the work and twenty-five authors from colleges and universities in the United States and Canada wrote chapters for the book. They came from SACC and from the Teaching Anthropology Interest Group of the AAA’s General Anthropology Division. Some of the authors, like Robert Borofsky and Laura Nader, are well-known in our field. Other authors are newer writers who found this project a place to express their anthropological passions and to publish in a form that met their pedagogical goals. The list of peer reviewers includes twenty-two university and college instructors (see Preface) and each chapter was reviewed by at least two people to ensure the content was thorough and accurate as well as accessible to students.

In breaking away from the typical commercial textbook publishing model, SACC assumed responsibility for coordinating many publishing tasks including copyediting, typesetting, and design. Despite our initial naïve hopes and low cost assumptions, the book took several thousand dollars in SACC funding to produce. Thankfully, the board was always generous in response to our frequent requests for more money. We simply did not understand how much a free book would cost!

All told, we had the support of SACC and its board, a lot of unpaid labor, and a membership who saw this as an opportunity to call attention to the Society. Questions remain about website upkeep and who will do the work if and when new chapters are added or additional edits of existing chapters are required. There are limited ancillary materials. (We’d love to add more … and invite you to contact us if you are interested.) And our marketing is driven exclusively by social media and word of mouth.

Additional in-kind support came from Robert Borofsky who offered useful advice and resources from the Center for a Public Anthropology. We were encouraged by the American Anthropological Association too. We understand that the AAA is in a transitional period with its publishing program and we hope that this book, which we believe to be the first of its kind produced within the Association, will inspire other OA titles from the Association and its members.

Producing Perspectives gave us a new appreciation for the value in university presses and, particularly, to understand quite clearly the expertise they bring to producing books. It was Anne Brackenbury, from the University of Toronto Press and Teaching Culture, who reminded us at a SACC session at the AAA meeting in 2016 that a publishing environment where OA exists harmoniously with other kinds of publications may be the best of all worlds. Indeed, choosing Perspectives for our classes, and eliminating the substantial cost of commercial textbooks from our syllabi, may open opportunities for us to adopt other books written by our colleagues and produced by university presses.

Teaching with the Book

We wanted a book that students would enjoy using and reading and encouraged authors to highlight their stories as anthropologists. The chapters are written with general audiences in mind. The book is offered through a web portal in pdf and epub formats.  

The portal allows for the mixing and matching of nineteen chapters on a range of topics covered in many first year courses. There is no explicit order in which the chapters must be read or used. The opportunity for instructors to pair this book directly with their approach to teaching an introductory course is, perhaps, its real strength. Chapters can be used as primary or supplementary materials. And, the book is expandable and additional chapters will be added as people volunteer to write them.

The website also features some additional teaching resources. These include interviews with Philippe Bourgois, Fredrik Barth, and Carolyn Nordstrom and a copy of an address, “Can Anthropology Save the World?, by Nancy Scheper-Hughes. A series of short videos in which Robert Borofsky lectures on first year anthropological topics is also available.

The Cover

We put a lot of thought into the cover, in part because of the discussion on Savage Minds in 2016 about decolonizing anthropology textbook covers. We chose not to use a photograph of particular people or of an exotic ritual. Instead, we asked the designed to consider a colorful illustration of people in an urban setting. We believe the cover calls attention to unconventional anthropological topics but have been cautioned by some reviewers that it is overly generic (irony not intended!). We ask instructors to #TeachTheCover and to invite critiques of it from students as part of an effort to understand what anthropology is and what anthropologists do.

So far, responses to Perspectives from instructors have been positive. Most like the idea of open access teaching materials. We know of instructors who have adopted the text. Perspectives was used this spring by a SACC-affiliated instructor and the incarcerated students she teaches. A few friends and colleagues have suggested that we should do an open access for biological anthropology — and we are prepared to take that as a compliment while thinking seriously about the feasibility of such a project.

Perspectives reflects the shared conclusion of SACC, the authors, and editors that open access publishing is one way to engage a new generation of students and, particularly, the diverse students who attend community colleges. If nothing else, we are hopeful that Perspectives can bring anthropology to a broader audience of students and general readers outside of our classes.


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Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

3 thoughts on “Perspectives: An Open Access Intro Anthro Textbook


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    Kat says:

    This has been a very sad, frustrating U.S and World news day for me today. Then I get my Savage minds post with this amazing book and all is right in the world again, mostly. Positive strides such as this can help make up for the steps backward thrust upon us in this chapter of our modern world. Thank you for bringing my smile back.


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    iain davidson says:

    I just red the culture chapter. I love how it gets to the core of the issues in a way that starting student should be able to follow.


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    Laura Gonzalez says:

    Thanks Kat and iain for your feedback! We’re thrilled with the way the book turned out, primarily due to the excellent work of chapter authors.

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