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. Last week, we posted a Q&A with cultural anthropologist Jason Antrosio. This week, we pitched the same questions to biological anthropologist Kristina Killgrove.
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: We usually offer one large-ish class (up to 70 students), two small sections (c. 20 students), and one online section each semester. I’ve taught it once at this institution and a few times at a former institution. Our intro courses are sometimes taught by tenure-track faculty and sometimes by adjuncts. At this university, we are required to have the same Student Learning Outcomes across all sections in a given semester, so there is some coordination of syllabi and course goals involved.
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: Most of the students who take our four-field intro class are not majors but rather students fulfilling a university area requirement. So we teach a broad overview and include all four fields, with tangible examples of each (e.g., bringing in artifacts for archaeology, hominin casts for bio anthropology, etc.). Our goal is for students to gain a broader perspective on what it means to be human and how we got to the complex cultures we have today.
Q: How do you structure your course to realize that goal?
A: As above, several weeks are spent on each of the four fields, and we include experiential aspects as much as we can (easier in small classes than in the large ones).
Q: What do your students usually find to be the most interesting part of the course?
A: Mine always seem to like conversations about linguistics—differences in speech patterns, accents, etc., across the US. I pull examples from English to illustrate linguistic anthropology because students can easily relate to them. We can, for example, poll the class about pop vs. soda or other regionalisms, and talk about ethnocentrism in language (e.g., a server at a Chinese restaurant brings chopsticks and you ask for “real utensils” instead).
Q: What do you see as the greatest challenge in teaching a four-field introductory anthropology course?
A: Covering all four fields effectively. While it’s relatively easy for me to cover bio and archaeo, since that’s what I do best, tackling the heady issues in cultural anthropology (especially in an age of trigger warnings and other sensitivities) is more difficult for me. Obviously, these issues are salient to the field and to college students’ lives, so having a text with clear-cut examples of the importance of cultural anthropology (and an instructor’s manual with helpful hints about ways to lead discussion and introduce topics in an appropriate way) would be helpful.
Kristina Killgrove is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of West Florida. She regularly teaches introductory courses in biological and general anthropology, as well as specialty courses in biological anthropology at the undergraduate and master’s levels. Her research focuses on the bioarchaeology of ancient Rome, and she is a contributing writer at Forbes focusing on anthropology in the news.
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.