At this year’s meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Denver, Colorado, November 18-22, we will launch our first ever four-field anthropology textbook. In the process of producing Through the Lens of Anthropology: An Introduction to Human Evolution and Culture by Robert J. Muckle and Laura Tubelle de González, we have had many interesting conversations with instructors across North America about how they approach their four-field courses. Not surprisingly, their approaches vary, as do the particular challenges they face in their courses. To keep this discussion going, we offer a few short Q&As with instructors from different subfields of anthropology. To begin, we pitched some questions to cultural anthropologist Jason Antrosio.
Q: How long have you been teaching an introductory general anthropology course? Is the course team-taught at your institution? Do you have a few large classes or many small sections of the class offered by many different instructors?
A: I have been teaching intro-to-anthropology since 2001, and a four-field intro since 2004. All of my courses have been in small liberal arts colleges, and I have always had a limit of about 30-35 students in my introductory courses. These are not team-taught, but are offered independently by members of the department. Although there has sometimes been interaction and conversation about textbooks, for the most part there has not been agreement on that. I use Lavenda and Schultz, Third Edition, What Does It Mean to Be Human? and my colleagues have used the four-fields Kottak, the Haviland condensed Essence of Anthropology, and one uses article PDFs. We usually offer 2-3 sections of Intro each semester and currently we would not be encouraged to scale up. There are only two classes at Hartwick of ~100 students, the Intro-to-Psychology sequence, and they’ve come in for criticism for being out of sync with the promise of small classes.
Q: What is your goal for the course? That is, do you have a particular vision of anthropology that you want to pass on to students or are you content to introduce some of the more interesting elements of the discipline with the hope that you can recruit more students to take more anthropology courses?
A: I very consciously structure the course as quite possibly the first and last course they will ever take in anthropology. While I do encourage people to take more courses and advertise our other offerings, I get seniors and many others who are there because they want to take one anthro course. So I try to structure it so that it is my one last chance to deliver an anthropological perspective on issues like race, gender, human evolution, domestication and the rise of the state, globalization, and immigration.
Q: How do you structure your course to realize that goal?
A: My structure is fairly traditional, about four units pairing textbook readings to reader chapters or other short materials, and also using an ethnography. I give four multiple choice exams, each with a two-page essay.
Q: What do your students usually find to be the most interesting part of the course?
A: It depends—a lot of people are more entranced by the evolution and archaeology, but others like the more contemporary material. In my most recent version of the course, some of my better students wanted the contemporary material nearer to the beginning of the course. I need to think about that.
Q: What do you see as the greatest challenge in teaching a four-field introductory anthropology course?
A: Probably trying to keep up with all the latest, especially material outside of the subfield, but also trying to teach one’s own subfield is challenging because it seems like so much material. I don’t think there are yet textbooks that take a truly four-field balanced approach. I also think that in order to really understand the emergence of anthropology and why it matters, you need a basic primer in the last 800 years of global history, which is severely lacking for students.
Jason Antrosio is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Hartwick College. He writes the blogs Living Anthropologically and Anthropology Report, and is co-editor with Sallie Han for Open Anthropology, a digital public journal of the American Anthropological Association. He is co-author with Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld of the October 2015 book Fast, Easy, and In Cash: Artisan Hardship and Hope in the Global Economy.
If you would like to request a copy of Through the Lens of Anthropology to consider for course use, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to include your course name, the semester in which the course is being offered, and the estimated enrollment.