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About ANTH 1100 A

Introduction to cultural anthropology, using fieldwork-based concepts and methods to study diverse cultural views and practices, varied forms of social organization, and contemporary global issues.


Open to degree and PACE students

Section Description

Cultural anthropologists are interested in how people around the world deal with common human problems, like how and why they communicate with each other in the ways they do, organize themselves to get things done, make their lives predictable and meaningful, and deal with conflict and change. What makes it such an engrossing subject is the tremendous global diversity in how people think about and manage these issues. A central goal of this course is to help you understand the similarities and variations in how distinct cultures shape human thought, beliefs, activities, and behaviors, as well as the effective tools cultural anthropologists have developed for understanding these things, among them cultural relativism, holism, and ethnographic research techniques. Because people and their cultural processes are not static, we will also explore the power of cultural anthropology for understanding contemporary global changes, social problems, and issues of public concern. The approach we will take is problem-centered, the course being organized around a selective number of important and interesting questions, many of which anthropologists have been asking and trying to answer for quite some time. Although these questions reflect a selective representation of the many things that interest anthropologists, in exploring these questions and the answers to them you will nevertheless gain a comprehensive introduction to the whole field. The motivation of this problem and question-centered approach is to: 1) frame learning about culture as an active process of asking questions about real world issues and problems, and applying disciplinary and theoretical insights to understand them, and 2) help you develop the ability to pose good anthropological questions, and to begin answering them by using anthropological thinking skills. This pedagogy emphasizes the importance of active learning, asking relevant questions, critical thinking, familiarity with theoretical concepts, and the impossibility of simple answers. The problems we will explore include: " Why should we, and how can we, know our own and other cultures? " How should we make sense of the biological and socio-cultural factors that jointly shape bodily experience? " Why do people believe things that others consider wrong? " How do people get what they need to survive, and how do those processes shape their relations with the natural environment? " How do different societies sort out social roles, organize and control people, and manage conflict? " What is the role of everyday substances and objects in constructing social relationships and cultural meanings? In answering these questions, we aim to strike a balance between anthropology's interest in other cultures, our own culture, and what many of us are most worried about in the contemporary world: globalization, environmental degradation, sustainable development, ethnic diversity and conflict, international tensions, terrorism, religious fundamentalisms, and so on. Required texts: 1. Brondo, Keri Vacanti. 2020. Cultural Anthropology: Contemporary, Public, and Critical Readings. 2nd edition. Oxford University Press. 2. Chrzan, Janet. 2013. Alcohol: Social Drinking in Cultural Context. Routledge. 3. Fadiman, Anne. 2012. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 4. Welsch, Robert and Luis Vivanco. 2023. 3rd edition. Asking Questions About Cultural Anthropology: A Concise Introduction. Oxford University Press.

Section Expectation

This course combines lectures, discussion, films, and experiential activities. See evaluation for expectations.


This course uses a “Points Menu” (AKA “Choice-Based) system of assessment, in which you start with zero points and work your way to the grade you desire for the course. I have deliberately designed this assessment system with the following principles in mind: • It gives you a large amount of control about how you will demonstrate your learning about cultural anthropology. To an important extent, you can “choose your own adventure” when it comes to the assignments in this course. • There is no one single pathway to accumulate points. To pass this course, you will need to do a variety of things to earn points, which will include taking quizzes, writing things, trying out anthropological methods, etc. • In order to reach a passing grade, you cannot simply accumulate all the points you need quickly and then disappear for the rest of the semester. I have spaced out the points activities throughout the semester to ensure you stick around. In order to do well in this course, you will need to do all the things you would in any course: take notes on lectures, watch films, keep up with readings, participate in discussions and activities, study hard, etc. But there are two added responsibilities here that carry both risks and rewards: The first is that by giving you substantial control about how you will travel through this course, the ball is in your court to make a plan and don’t procrastinate in taking up the opportunity to gain points because the windows to get those points will be limited. Unless it is cleared ahead of time, late work is not accepted (see the policy below) and there will be no extra credit. The second is that you have a chance to adapt this course, to some extent, to your learning style and goals. Here are more details about each menu item: Film Responses: During the semester, we will view six films. For each film, you can gain points by writing and submitting a minimum of one typed, double-spaced page (but no more than two pages) reaction to the film. These writings should not be mere summaries of the video, but your reactions about what you saw and heard in it, including questions, commentary, assessments, analysis, protests, opinions, or any combination of these (for more precise instructions, see the handout on Blackboard). For doing it well, you will receive 10 points for each. Do a mediocre job and you will receive 5 points. You must submit each film review to Blackboard within five days of its viewing window. Reading Worksheets: We will be reading two monographs—The Spirit Catches You and Alcohol—during the semester. Before you read them, I will share a worksheet for each book that orients you to the kinds of issues to which I would like you pay attention. Do a good job that demonstrates you actually read the book, and you receive 40 points for each. Do a mediocre job or show me you really didn’t read the book or cherry picked some things to fill out the form, and you receive 20 points. Rapid Responses: I will periodically pose a question or two for your consideration and ask you to jump over to Blackboard to write a quick, very short response. These are not meant to be elaborate or time-consuming, just to get your juices flowing. For each one you do you will get 5 points. Weekly Reading Quizzes: I will not always refer to the readings in lectures and discussions, but it is essential that you keep up on the reading assignments in the two textbooks—my text and the Brondo reader—because they provide crucial background on and illustration of the issues we will cover in class. Each reading quiz will have ten questions, each worth 2 points. The quiz covers the readings for that week. You will take the quizzes on Blackboard. They are open-note, open-book, and there is no time limit for getting through the quiz. You can retake the quiz once to improve your grade. The quiz portal for the week will open on Monday at 12 noon and close on Sunday at 11:59pm and you will take (or retake) it when you feel ready during that window of time. If you miss a weekly reading quiz you cannot make it up unless you have an excused absence for the whole week. Quizzes will begin during the second week of the semester. Weekly Professor’s Choice Quizzes: The purpose of these quizzes is to show how well you’re keeping up with lecture materials, taking notes, following the random questions I’m posting, and viewing Public Anthropologist videos, etc. My “choice” will be to develop questions from those buckets (lectures, random questions, and public anthropologist presentations). Each quiz will have seven questions, each worth two points. The quiz covers any content videos or PPTs posted by me that week, and any random questions or public anthropologist videos from the week before. You will take the quizzes on Blackboard. They are open-note—the books won’t help you here—BUT there is a time limit of 20 minutes on these quizzes and you cannot retake the quiz to improve your grade. The quiz portal for the week will open on Monday at 12 noon and close on Sunday at 11:59pm and you will take it when you feel ready during that window of time. If you miss a weekly quiz you cannot make it up unless you have an excused absence for the whole week. Quizzes will begin during the second week of the semester. The Fieldworker: This gives you the opportunity to undertake ethnographic fieldwork exercises, using my interactive fieldwork guide/workbook, Fieldnotes: A Guided Journal to Doing Anthropology. You can turn in up to 15 exercises during the semester, with each exercise counting for 10 points (or less if you do a poor job). There will be two times during the semester that you can turn in activities: in mid-October (up to 7 activities from Part 1 of the book) and early-December (up to 8 activities from Part 2 of the book). IMPORTANT: I will provide a few “freebies” on Blackboard so all of you can try these out and turn in a few. However, to undertake this fully requires you to purchase the book on your own (the UVM bookstore has a few copies, but you can also get it online at all the major booksellers). Since it is a workbook, do not purchase a used copy or one that has otherwise been written in. The book, which costs $19.95 (or $9.95 as an e-book), is: Vivanco, Luis. 2016. Fieldnotes: A Guided Journal for Doing Anthropology. Oxford University Press. If you desire to do the whole thing and have financial difficulties securing the book, please let me know. The Public Anthropologist: This gives you an opportunity to learn about the relevance of anthropology beyond academia and its insights into newsworthy issues of public concern. This activity requires you to create a Fliprgid video that 1) explains in your own words what public anthropology is and does drawing on some provided readings, and 2) reporting on an actual example of public anthropology/cultural anthropology in the news. The video should be no less than 4 minutes and no more than 6 minutes. Note: On Blackboard you will find a document with guidelines for what kinds of newsworthy examples to look for and of selected readings that will help you understand the goals and aims of public anthropology. Do a good job—which means you obviously have read those readings and worked hard to find a good example to share—and you receive 150 points. Do anything less and you receive lower points in increments of 25 points. In other words, you could get 125, 100, 75, 50, or 25 points—even a zero—if you just post something that is not fulfilling the expectations. IMPORTANT: Because these assignments are meant to be viewed throughout the semester, you have a window to submit one if you plan to do it. If you miss the window, you cannot make it up. The Museum Anthropologist: The Fleming Museum at UVM has several permanent collections that display non-Western cultures. This activity requires you to visit the either the African Gallery or the Native American Gallery. A full description of this assignment will be posted, but in short you should choose ONE of the following adventures—1) Anthropology of the museum experience, 2) Representing non-Western cultures, or 3) Material culture and objects—and then go to the gallery you have chosen and begin the activity. There are two levels, and your choice should be based on how much effort and thinking you want to put into this. Doing the Minimalist is worth 70 points, doing the Engaged Scholar is worth 100 points. Provided you meet the basic expectations for your level, I will add the appropriate points to your overall course point total. • The Minimalist: You don’t need to go into great depth in your answers, just basically show up, examine the exhibit, jot some notes, and write up the answers to your questions. Your paper should be 500-600 words. If it’s too short, you skip too many questions, or it is sloppily written, I will deduct points. Otherwise you get 70 points for doing it. • The Engaged Scholar: You need to demonstrate not just that you showed up and jotted some notes, but that you’re thinking anthropologically and critically about these issues. Your answers show that you’re making connections to issues we’ve discussed in class and/or you’ve read about, and exercising your anthropological thinking muscles. Your paper should be 1200-1400 words. If it’s too short, you skip questions, or it is sloppily written, I will deduct points. Otherwise you get 100 points for doing it. Final exam The final exam will give you an opportunity to show me how well you have learned the basic concepts, approaches, and history of cultural anthropology over the whole semester. It will be a timed multiple choice exam taken through Blackboard. It is open-note.

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