Ethnographic Insights Across Cultures: An online introduction to anthropology

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In the third post in our series dedicated to online learning, we explored how the dynamics of classroom teaching everywhere are changing due to temporary campus closures. For instructors grappling with compiling work-from-home-friendly syllabi in the absence of physical libraries and lecture halls, we proposed helpful tips in response to the question: “How can I use all digital resources?”, and offered a roundup of useful anthropology websites, media repositories, open-access materials.

Sorting through a variety of online anthropology materials while adjusting to remote teaching can be overwhelming. How can we identify quality content from reliable sources on the web, and then effectively convert these disparate resources into cohesive syllabi suitable for newly online classrooms? HRAF’s digital anthropologist Francine Barone has taken up the challenge of building an entire anthropology curriculum based upon born-digital resources including the eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology databases. Ethnographic Insights Across Cultures presents a richly curated and comprehensive introduction to cultural anthropology designed for online and remote learning.

Course Description

Through the comparative study of different cultures, anthropology explores the most fundamental questions about what it means to be human. Drawing upon eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology, this introductory course encourages students to explore cultural similarities and differences to better understand how culture shapes who we are: our societies, our shared meanings, and our everyday lives. Beginning with unpacking the concept of culture in anthropology, each week covers a different anthropological theme, including love, ritual performance, gender, language, food, and kinship. Evaluating cultural universals will allow students to contemplate the rich diversity of the human experience. With remote learning in mind, wholly online sources on timely topics are interwoven with classic ethnographic accounts to inspire lively class discussions. The cross-cultural and database research skills developed throughout the course provide a solid framework for understanding and analyzing anthropological concerns both within and beyond the social sciences.

Format and Contents

The Ethnographic Insights Across Cultures exercise is available to view online in an easy-to-share interactive slideshow format, or to download as HTML and PDFs. This includes PDFs of the colorful presentation slides that are ready to be inserted into an existing curriculum, shared by email, or uploaded to a learning management system. Here is a preview of the presentation slides for the full syllabus:

The weekly lecture themes are inspired by popular articles freely available on the HRAF homepage with direct links provided on each slide. These accessibly written and academically referenced posts feature engaging topics supported by cross-cultural insights from the eHRAF databases. Every week of the syllabus also includes one or more selected videos, micro-lectures, and/or web-based activities curated to inspire thoughtful reflection and lively classroom discussion by offering additional perspectives and debates on the overarching theme for the week, from kinship and gender to reciprocity and ritual. The videos can be shared during online class hours or assigned for independent learning to suit flexible remote learning schedules.

Selected background reading from trusted anthropological sources – including a variety of open access textbooks and encyclopedias as well as HRAF’s Explaining Human Culture summaries – provide students with theoretical context for each week. Lastly, ethnographic source material from eminent anthropologists rounds out the syllabus by connecting the introductory weekly readings and videos to classic monographs and articles on the relevant anthropological topics. These are listed as optional “advanced reading” for each week at the discretion of the instructor to assign as needed.

The variety of materials and formats included make the syllabus more dynamic, extensible, and a comfortable fit for all learning levels. Both the text-based and slideshow versions of the teaching exercise include hyperlinks to web content for easy, one-click access to all assigned readings and videos in a single document.

Where possible, hyperlinks to relevant documents within eHRAF World Cultures are indicated for the weekly assignments. These resources can all be provisioned online; however, HRAF membership is required for full paragraph-level access to documents in eHRAF. Learn more about membership and HRAF’s policy on extended trials for Spring 2020 here. Instructors may also be interested in learning more about teaching with the eHRAF Databases by scheduling a free webinar.

Student Assignments

In addition to the weekly videos and articles, there are guidelines for two assignments included in the syllabus: a group interview project, and an essay. The instructions for these activities are also available to download in Teaching eHRAF.

The group collaboration requires students to interview each other via a videoconferencing platform on one of the assigned weekly topics in order to discover how their cultural backgrounds and experiences might be similar or different to that of their classmates. The teams of 3-4 students then present their interview findings to the class. Preview the assignment below:

The writing assignment – Do cultural universals exist? – requires students to research an anthropological subject of their choice across several cultures in eHRAF World Cultures. Based on the ethnographic evidence uncovered, the essays should assess whether or not (or to what extent) the chosen subject constitutes a human universal. Students also have the option to include their own photos, videos, or other creative media in their essays. A preview of the writing assignment guidelines can be found below.

In addition, Week 2 of the syllabus is dedicated to an eHRAF workshop that instructs students on how to search the databases for ethnographic evidence in support of their thesis. Links to the eHRAF User Guides and additional help materials are provided on the slide for Week 2 in the syllabus, but this could also be substituted for another week in the course as needed.

While these exercises have been designed to fit within the Ethnographic Insights Across Cultures curriculum as presented, either of the assignments could likewise be extracted for in-class or at-home guided learning activities.

View and Download

Instructors can view and download the full text curriculum syllabus, online slideshow, and/or PDF versions in Teaching eHRAF.