Tag Archives: pedagogy

  • Adventures in Blogging: Bringing Anthropology to the World

    For World Anthropology Day, we asked Paul Stoller to share his thoughts on the urgent need for a more public anthropology, as well as his ideas about blogging as one particular way to reach that public. Paul’s forthcoming book, Adventures in Blogging: Public Anthropology and Popular Media, will be available in April. Read an advance excerpt here

    We live in troubled times. In North America there is a wholesale assault on science, which, following longstanding practices, produces “inconvenient truths.” These truths stand in stark contrast to “alternative facts,” a patchwork of “big lies” that create a tapestry of untruth on media and social media. Taken together, these untruths have created an alternative universe of meaning. In this alternative universe, up is down, fiction becomes fact, and the truth, the ultimate objective of science, no longer matters. We are fast entering a seemingly limitless Orwellian space in which conspiracy theories are used in the blunt exercise of power that trumps the quest for truth and wisdom—the foundation of scholarship in the world.

    You can’t fight big lies with small truths.

    In this distressed environment, it is time for scholars, guardians of inconvenient truths, to meet their fundamental obligation: to produce knowledge that makes life a little bit better for us all. Although the pursuit of wisdom has long been the central obligation of scholars, we now live in a different climate than in years past. Most anthropological insights, for example, have been conveyed by way of scholarly essays and/or monographs. These texts have usually adhered to a strict set of rules. In science you are expected to present your findings and analysis in the bloodless prose of plain style. In so doing, we have let the power of our findings and our analyses—the facts, if you will—speak for themselves in an abstract and inaccessible language. For some time now, the persistent presence of deadly academic prose has meant that the public has little, if any, knowledge of our rigorously derived insights—insights that are important in the contemporary battle for truth.

    How many people, for example, know about important anthropological insights regarding climate change, racism, the re-emergence of Social Darwinism, the nature of religion and belief systems, the linguistics and cognitive science of propaganda, or the courage and resilience of peoples from what the American President has referred to as “shithole” countries?

    Not many!

    It’s true that anthropologists are waking up to the political and epistemological realities of a socially mediated world. An ever-increasing number of anthropologists now convey their slowly developed insights in documentary film, in drama, in poetry, in museums, and in media installations—all accessible ways to spread anthropological insights about a wide range of issues of social, economic, and political importance.

    I am one of many anthropologists who have felt the need to go public. In 2010, I realized that very few people had read what I had laboriously written in a narrative style designed for a broad audience. Despite my best efforts I understood that fewer and fewer people had the inclination to read anthropological works, including, of course, my own books and articles. I didn’t think it wise to abandon my professional writing, but felt compelled to blog anthropology by transforming complex ideas into simply stated and crisply written posts of 750 to 850 words.

    Could I do it?

    At first it was difficult to simplify tried and true academic prose, but after some false starts I found my blog rhythm and moved forward.

    I pitched an idea to HuffPost.

    They signed me up.

    I’ve been blogging anthropology ever since. In eight years of HuffPost blogging, some of my posts have spread far and wide in the blogosphere where readers liked, favorited, shared, and re-tweeted them. In some cases, 50,000 to 75,000 people would read my posts, meaning that the blogs had informed them of anthropological insights about US politics, the practice of social science, trends toward corporatization in higher education, critiques of shallow media representations, and narratives about the texture of human wellbeing.

    These days there are increasing numbers of scholars who are blogging anthropology. Most of them write skillfully about more or less anthropological subjects—especially emerging topics in archaeology and biological anthropology. In my blogs, by contrast, I have tried to bring anthropological insights to newsworthy events—the Presidential campaigns of 2012 and 2016, the dysfunction of the US Congress, the anti-intellectual war on science and social science, climate change, superstorms, and social dislocation. In the blogs, I make sure to highlight examples of apt anthropological concepts and demonstrate the wisdom non-western knowledge.

    I wrote Adventures in Blogging to show—rather than tell—anthropologists how they can use the medium as a powerful tool for mass education, a platform that connects disparate audiences. In this way, the book underscores how blogging anthropology increases cross-cultural understanding in a globally inter-connected world.

    Blogging anthropology is a different way of sharing anthropological knowledge.

    In today’s world, it’s a difference that makes a difference.

    Paul Stoller is Professor of Anthropology at West Chester University. He has published 14 books, including ethnographies, biographies, memoirs, and novels, and is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Robert B. Textor Award for Excellence in Anthropology. In 2013, King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden presented him the Anders Retzius Gold Medal in Anthropology. In 2015, the American Anthropological Association awarded him the Anthropology in Media Award. He lectures and conducts writing workshops in the United States and Europe.

    This piece is cross-posted on our Teaching Culture blog.

  • One in a Thousand: One Hundred Years Later

    One hundred years ago, Eddie McKay, the WWI flying ace featured in One in a Thousand, was shot down and killed. To commemorate his life and death, and the publication this year of Eddie's story in an innovative new microhistory, author Graham Broad discusses how he was compelled to research, write, and publish Eddie's story. To learn more about Eddie McKay, you can of course get your hands on a copy of One in a Thousand, but we also urge you to check out Eddie's account on Twitter: @AEMcKayRFC

    I don’t believe in such things, but if I did, I’d say that Eddie McKay was pursuing me.

    About fifteen years ago, when I was a TA in the Canadian history survey at Western, I was asked to give a guest lecture about Canada in the First World War. It was my first lecture and I was quite unsure of myself, but I knew that the lecture would be more meaningful for the students if I told them about someone from their own university who had been killed in the war. The campus had no First World War cenotaph—it’s a long story—but I found Eddie's name in an old book about Western’s history. I looked into his story briefly. He was a rugby player who became a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. Perfect.

    I spent a few hours in the university archives looking for a picture of him to no avail. I left, stretching and yawning, rubbing my eyes, and paused to glance for a moment at a nearby display case. And there was an old and yellowed photo of Eddie McKay, wearing his rugby team uniform, looking straight back at me from the pages of a scrapbook about Western’s sports history. I alerted the archivist. “That’s weird,” she said. “I flipped to that page at random this morning.”

    Odd things like that happened again, over a decade later, when I decided to write a book about Eddie, like the time I took my laptop to the local market for a change of scenery. Sipping coffee and writing, I looked down for a moment at the top of the table. Somebody had etched “Eddie” in it. So that was weird, too.

    Again, I don’t believe in that stuff, but Eddie McKay does haunt me in a way. I can’t really claim to know him. Even if he had survived the war, it’s improbable that I ever could have: he would have turned seventy-eight the year I was born. Would I have liked him, or would he have liked me? He was athletic and a soldier. I am bookish, uninterested in sports, and unmilitary. And it would be incredible if he did not share many of the commonplace sentiments of his own age that rightly find no place in our own. Yet something about him compelled and still compels me inexorably. I’d mention him once a year when I guest lectured, and later in my classes when I started to teach. Then in 2007, I persuaded my senior seminar to do a little class project about him. Together, we gathered material about his life, at least the stuff we could get locally, and placed a commemorative marker for him on campus. I pass it often. My wife, who works at the university, can see it from her office window.

    In 2013, I hashed out an idea with Natalie Fingerhut, the Higher Education History Editor at University of Toronto Press. A biography, of sorts, of Eddie McKay. Could it be done? I dunno, I said. I’m not sure if there’s enough material. What the students and I had gathered in 2007 provided no more than a sketch. Even better, she proposed. It would really be two biographies: the story of Eddie McKay and the story of how I wrote that story—or failed to write it. A pedagogical microhistory.

    So, I committed biography, as they say. Sort of. I was able to locate only about six documents relating specifically to Eddie’s life prior to his twentieth year, for example, so the “biography” was pretty much confined to the last three years of his life when he was a student and soldier. Moreover, the experience of thinking my way through things I had taken for granted, such as how I went about doing history, why I believed the things I discovered about the past were probably true, laid me bare. Oh, back in the day I had taken the obligatory theory and methods courses, and I had wandered the thickets of “theory” over many hours of beer and argument with classmates who were convinced that there was nothing in this world that we could be convinced about. But I had always believed that, for all the interventions of the post-modernists, the core methodology of the historical profession hasn’t changed much over the years. We write about more things and often take a broader perspective, but fundamentally it seems to me that most historians do what historians have been doing for a very long time: they gather evidence to tell stories and make arguments about the past.

    My book, One in a Thousand: The Life and Death of Captain Eddie McKay, Royal Flying Corps, is the story of a promising young man who was killed in a terrible war. It is also the story about how I struggled to learn what I did about him, how I came to certain conclusions—however tentative—about him, and how I dealt with gaps in the record and the mysteries I couldn’t resolve. Where is he buried? Who was the mystery woman who inquired after him when he failed to return from his final patrol? What was in the envelope, addressed to him, that was never sent by the President of UWO in 1917? The book serves as an entry point, then, for students wanting to learn more about historical theory and method. It’s possible to skip the methodological discussions and read the book as biography alone, but it’s my hope that readers who come for the history will stay for the historiography.

    Eddie McKay was killed in action the day after his 25th birthday, 28 December 1917. For the past two years, I have been tweeting significant events in his life from @AEMcKayRFC. You can follow him there. In a future blog post, I’ll ruminate some about how I learned to stop worrying and love the tweet.

    Graham Broad is Associate Professor of History at King's University College at Western University and the author of A Small Price to Pay: Consumer Culture on the Canadian Home Front, 1939-1945 (2013).

  • An Introduction to the Crusades

    To start off the fall semester, UTP is proud to post the following words from author S.J. Allen on the importance of understanding, teaching, and debating the Crusades. Her most recent book, An Introduction to the Crusades, published earlier this year, provides an excellent overview of a very complex time period. We hope that the book, as part of our new Companions to Medieval Studies series, will help to clear up some modern misconceptions of the Middle Ages.

    The Crusades have drifted in and out of my life from my first secondary school research paper (thankfully now lost in the mists of time) to this year’s publication of An Introduction to the Crusades. My fascination for these events lies in that fact that they embrace a myriad of medieval cultures and regions. It is also a topic that continues to be revived and redefined in the succeeding centuries, including our own.

    Crusade studies are today one of the most popular of undergraduate history courses, and reasons for this are not difficult to understand given current East/West tensions. The subject is, however, a controversial one, for as much as we seek to understand the interactions of eastern and western societies within the medieval crusading context, modern events and circumstances have enabled some to commandeer and manipulate the period to serve modern ends. This “management” of history, no matter its origin, is nothing new, but as both Emilie Amt and I argued in our related sourcebook: “…the Crusades, more than any other medieval event, have become inextricably linked to present-day political and religious debates.” This is perhaps why I believe their study to be important, not just for future medievalists, but for students of all backgrounds and all academic interests. With this in mind, the book’s final chapter, “The Crusades and Modern Memory,” aims to offer students a clear and relevant example of how historical events—their interpretation, remembrance, and use—can change over time, influencing, for good or ill, not only our view of the past, but also how we perceive and interact as contemporary societies. I am certain it is a topic that will stimulate discussion and debate, no matter what the make-up of the undergraduate classroom. For myself, I would share Umej Bhatia’s hope that:

    "…a better understanding of the [Crusade] period may offer the scaffolding for an informed dialogue between the west and the Muslim world. As the poster conflict of civilizational clash, the history of the Crusades is an ideal subject for the foregrounding of such dialogue." (quoted in An Introduction to the Crusades)

    I would also anticipate that students would come away from the book with a deeper understanding of the nature of the crusading period, that is, to see this not simply as a time of violent conflict, but also one of peaceful coexistence, exchange, and cooperation—a period where truce, treaty, and negotiation played as much a role in the lives of these peoples as armed confrontation.

    I would hope that An Introduction to the Crusades proves a useful teaching tool, enabling instructors to deliver engaging exercises and stimulating class discussions, as well as to facilitate further student research. As an interactive text, it is designed to develop a student’s ability to adopt a critical approach. As noted above, it can be read as a stand-alone work, although its use with The Crusades: A Reader should lead to a more developed understanding of the subject and its related issues.

    Considering the book as a whole (and with instructors in mind), An Introduction to the Crusades is the second publication in UTP’s Companions to Medieval Studies, a collection of introductory histories that can be used in conjunction with the Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures series. The idea behind the Companions series is to offer both an introductory history as well as texts and topics that engage and encourage students to interact directly with the subject’s primary sources and current academic debates. In my own teaching, I’ve always valued that moment when a student progresses from a descriptive to an analytical approach. The Companions series aims to facilitate this development.

    I was fortunate to have, as an exemplary model, UTP’s first volume in this series, The Vikings and Their Age (2013). I also greatly benefited from the advice and guidance of the series editor, Paul Dutton, history editor Natalie Fingerhut, and the knowledgeable, professional, yet incredibly humane team at UTP.

    S.J. Allen is Associate Lecturer in Arts and Humanities at The Open University, UK.

  • Posthumanism as Holism without Boundaries

    Authors Alan Smart and Josephine Smart provide the following comments on what it means to be human in the twenty-first century (as well as the twenty-second century) and on the importance of rethinking anthropology in a way that does not place the human species at the centre of the universe.

    PosthumanismPosthumanist ideas are becoming mainstream, as the April 2017 National Geographic cover story on “The Next Human” aptly indicates. Regardless of what we call it, attention to the implications of more-than-human realities is growing rapidly. It can be seen in what has become known as the “Anthropocene”: the newly identified geological period in which human activity has become the dominant influence on climate and geological processes. One of the ironies addressed in our new book, Posthumanism: Anthropological Insights, is that just at the time when humans have developed the capabilities to become one of the dominant forces shaping the world itself, we need to become less anthropocentric. If we do not become more aware of the non-humans with which we share the world both inside and outside our skins, saving the world, ours and theirs, for the 22nd century will be much more difficult. In fact, one of our key goals in writing Posthumanism was to explore the implications of our shifting relationship to the world. Our book asks what new emerging human relations with our non-human companions and contexts means for anthropology, and what our discipline can contribute to study of these situations. However, we believe that such entanglements are not new, but have been central to the whole duration of the human condition.

    The effort to develop a non-anthropocentric anthropology, one that does not see the human species as being at the centre of the world, sounds paradoxical, yet it seems to us to be both feasible and urgent. The urgency of rethinking anthropology to incorporate our non-human companions and tools is not just for the good of the discipline itself, but for what such an anthropological perspective can offer the world more broadly. Posthumanism, and particularly transhumanism, is dominated by Western ideas and perspectives, yet we consider the core mission of anthropology to be studying the whole range of ways of being human. To do this, we cannot restrict ourselves to just the latest technologies and their implications for human life and society. While recognizing their profound consequences and potential, we need to consider them in a broader context. In Posthumanism: Anthropological Insights we discuss a variety of compelling work that sheds light on how to do this. The groundwork for a post-anthropocentric anthropology can be carried out in ethnographic encounters with Siberian reindeer herders and Amazonian foragers as well as in robotics workshops. If anthropologists don’t incorporate the whole spectrum of diverse ways of being human into posthumanist intellectual, cultural, and political projects, who will?

    One of the key lessons of this book, at least for us, is that the classic anthropological principle of holism is ripe for reinvention for a new age. To fully meet the disciplinary mandate, anthropologists should pursue holism not only across borders, as in the anthropology of globality or transnationalism, but across all boundaries, including species boundaries. The complex global entanglements of the contemporary world mean that to understand local societies we not only have to consider interactions with people outside that society, but also address our non-human co-travellers on this planetary journey: microbes, parasites, domesticated species, and technologies. Researching and writing this book revealed the strength and importance of what we call “holism without boundaries.” By tracing our interactions beyond humanity to the non-human agents that have been involved in the formation of our past and present, we can see ourselves in new ways; not separate from non-humans, but entangled with them. Readers will be able to observe and appreciate some the tremendous transmutations during their own lifetimes.

    Over the last two years we have been teaching draft chapters of the book in courses ranging from a large first-year introduction to anthropology course to a final-year seminar and a graduate theory course. The enthusiastic responses from students vindicated our initial motivation for writing this short book: to make exciting ideas and perspectives accessible to students at all levels, and to scholars who have been put off by jargon-heavy work in the field. We had ourselves found posthumanist writing intriguing but hard to understand, but gradually became convinced of the power and importance of these ideas.

    We noticed that there was a tendency initially for students to think of posthumanism as what we prefer to call transhumanism: sci-fi ideas of transcending human nature through prostheses, implants, and other enhancements, including uploading one’s consciousness to computers or the internet. Students recognize how their own lives have changed through the adoption of social media, cellphones, GPS navigation systems, and so on, meaning they tend to consider this a new phenomenon. They had more difficulty with our argument that people have always been posthuman, and that the very nature of humanity is reliance on more-than-human extensions of our capabilities, through fire, cooking, tools, and language, both spoken and written.

    Our approach was to include ample examples of the exciting new technological enhancement of humans, while insisting that there had been equally radical departures throughout the human past. Posthumanism is not only about the future, although it does involve that in fascinating ways. It is about human nature and its repeated transformations throughout our species’ history and prehistory.

    Alan Smart is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Calgary.

    Josephine Smart is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Calgary.

    Note: If you are an instructor and think that this book would be a helpful addition to an upcoming course, simply email us for an examination copy.

  • A Reformation Sourcebook: Documents from an Age of Debate

    Author Michael W. Bruening explains the impetus behind his new Reformation sourcebook, the innovative structure of the book, and how it contributes to the important task of teaching empathy to today's history students.

    Reformation SourcebookOver several years of teaching an undergraduate Reformation history course, I have noticed that, more than ever before, students bring to the course almost no understanding of basic Christian history or theology. As a result, most have difficulty grasping the significance of the issues at stake during the Reformation. The roots of this difficulty may lie partly in increasing secularism across the western world and in the growing number of religious "nones." Or perhaps we can attribute it to the rise of nondenominational congregations which have consciously detached themselves from the mainline Protestant churches and, consequently, from their sixteenth-century roots. Whatever the case, whether self-identified Christians or not, many students today are not equipped to evaluate the religious upheaval of the Reformation. A Reformation Sourcebook: Documents from an Age of Debate is an effort to help students understand the historical significance of the Reformation by showing them more clearly what was at stake.

    The key innovation of the Sourcebook is that it places texts in pairs or groups that expose students to opposing perspectives on the contentious debates of the period. Every text stands alongside one or more documents that articulate a competing perspective. Many texts are direct responses to key arguments presented in other selections. This approach helps students see why the changes introduced during the Reformation were so controversial. For example, students can read Luther and his Catholic opponent Johannes Eck on justification and the priesthood. They can read Luther and Erasmus on free will, Calvin and Sadoleto on the Reformation generally, Thomas More and William Tyndale on the English translation of the Bible, and much more. Students will also be able to read excerpts from a number of formal disputations during the Reformation, including the First Zurich Disputation, Luther and Zwingli’s debate on the Eucharist at the Marburg Colloquy, and one of the first Christian debates on slavery at Iwie. In this way, students will be able to understand far better why what can seem like arcane theological arguments led to real tumult and cultural change all over Europe.

    But there is much more to the book than erudite theological debate. Despite the fact that so much recent scholarship has focused on the social and cultural history of the Reformation, the Sourcebook is, to my knowledge, the first Reformation primary source reader to highlight these issues. Its final chapters will allow students to see the enormous impact of the Reformation on Christian rituals as well as on attitudes toward women, marriage, Jews, and religious toleration in western culture since the sixteenth century.

    Each chapter begins with a general introduction and concludes with suggestions for further reading. Sections within each chapter include short introductions to the texts as well as focus questions for students to consider as they read. Many of the texts are available in the public domain, but A Reformation Sourcebook makes them more accessible by modernizing archaic spelling and language (e.g., changing thee and thou and replacing King James biblical quotations with newer translations). Several documents are original translations, including (among others) selections from Eck’s Enchiridion, the Sorbonne’s condemnations of the Meaux group, Francis de Sales’s sermon on fasting, and Theodore Beza’s The Authority of the Magistrate in Punishing Heretics.

    My main hope is that A Reformation Sourcebook will facilitate students’ understanding of the Reformation and its many debates. But I also hope that in this era of increasingly partisan political rancor and hardening of ideological positions, it will help students develop a greater sense of empathy and a recognition that there are almost always more ways than one to look at controversial issues.

    This is one skill that the study of history generally, and A Reformation Sourcebook in particular, can help students to develop. The study of the past—especially the distant past—forces students to confront worlds very different from their own. It requires that they practice being empathetic. To understand the Reformation era properly, one must recognize that the ideas and circumstances that have produced modern perspectives on religious freedom, democracy, gender and social equality, secularism, and relativism did not yet exist. To be sure, it was precisely during the Reformation that these ideas began to develop, but not until then and not without stiff opposition. The structure of this reader, therefore, should help students to hone their ability to understand the perspectives of authors who were in many cases vehemently opposed to one another. And they will learn that in order truly to understand the debates of the Reformation, they will need to place themselves in the shoes of the people on both sides.

    Michael W. Bruening is Associate Professor in the History and Political Science Department at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Items 1 to 5 of 48 total