May 12, 2009

Introducing anthropology

So I am entering a PhD program this fall and I will be teaching an introductory class in anthropology. It is a four field class that is meant to introduce students to the whole field in one semester, and I am looking at some different syllabi to see what I want to do with the class. Do I want to use a textbook? Or should I do case studies instead? Which texts are good, and which ones are dry and boring? Which ones cost WAY TOO MUCH? There is one book by Luke Eric Lassiter, Invitation to Anthropology, that looks pretty interesting--but it really focuses more on just cultural anthropology. However, I like a lot of the contemporary examples, and the style that it's written in. Some of the past teachers of the class have recommended the Ember and Ember textbook, and others have recommended Lavenda and Schultz's Anthropology: What Does it Mean to Be Human?. And what about case study books? And then there is this question: can open access anthropology be incorporated? Hmmm.

More about this later. But in the meantime: any other suggestions?


Anonymous said...

I don't envy your situation, since teaching introductory anthropology can be one of the toughest and most delicate courses to teach.

They key thing for me, when organizing course content, is to recognize that there at least two separate platforms or tracks for delivering content: the assigned readings, and the lectures. So you can use both a comprehensive text, and make your lectures dwell on case studies. On the other hand, you can assign case studies as readings, and then your lectures become the substitute for the comprehensive texts (which in my view tend to crowd out the interpretations that you would want to offer the class). Consider also showing 30 min. ethnographic films -- the Seeing Anthropology text (I don't have it next to me) is very good at slotting well known ethnographic films into the common teaching modules of an intro. course, so you could use it on your own as a guide to what to show to class on whichever day.

What also matters a great deal is how many students you have. If you have 100 or more, this tends to push for a comprehensive text, which can then form the basis for multiple-choice exams (I used to assign essay exams to large classes when I did intro. will be marking them forever, especially as PhD students tend to be more dedicated and careful about grading, more cautious and apprehensive at least).

I know all of the texts you mentioned, except the Lassiter one, and frankly they are pretty well interchangeable. I can't recommend one more than another.

Do you have access to any publisher services online, such as Thomson/Nelson or whatever it is? The reason I ask is that one or more of these mass producers of texts offers you the chance to assemble your own unique book, using chapters from a wide variety of texts, as well as well known case studies. Let me know if you need a link -- I produced my own text, and it was great to be honest.

R.A. said...

thanks for the suggestions. there is a lot to think about. i have a bit of a deadline, however, since I will be in mexico all summer and i need to order the books pretty soon so i can read them while i am gone (and order them at the university for the students).

if you have a link for that site, that would be great--that sounds like a pretty interesting way to go about things, making a custom book.

thanks for your help, max. right now i am leaning toward using all case studies and then using lectures to provide the overviews...but i see your point about the potential downfall of that format. one thing that i really want to do is focus more on where anthropology is now and where it is headed--i want to find a way to introduce it but also focus on how it is relevant today. and what people are doing with it. we'll see...

Maximilian C. Forte said...

Sorry for the time it took me to reply. Both the company name, and the link, changed since I last used the service 5 years ago.

To create a custom text, go to:

I found it very useful, but also very time consuming to produce a comprehensive text. It also ended up being cheaper than regular texts, and mine was the size of a phone book (honestly).

Also, you might be interested in the introductory text by Scupin and DeCorse -- I have not used it myself, but from what I remember it falls more in line with what you might be seeking.

R.A. said...

thanks max. i am going to check both of these out.