Nascent Worlds: a journey of cultural discovery

Nascent Worlds banner image

Nascent Worlds, a teaching exercise by digital anthropologist Dr. Francine Barone, is a build-your-own-culture learning activity. Designed with introductory socio-cultural anthropology classes in mind, it incorporates all four fields of anthropology (physical anthropology, linguistic anthropology, cultural anthropology, and archaeology). This fun and inventive teaching activity allows students to be as creative as they like in exploring and applying the anthropological concept of culture.


The idea behind Nascent Worlds is for students of anthropology to imagine themselves as ethnographers encountering an entirely distant culture for the first time. What would they discover at this moment of first contact? Over time, by exploring the different areas of life in that society, the alien anthropologist must file a report with an intergalactic board of ethnographers. Who are these beings, and what has been learned about their culture?

Using Culture Summaries in eHRAF World Cultures as a model, students are asked to prepare their own “culture summary” or overview of their invented society. They should name and describe the culture and its facets, including the “rules” or norms governing society along with an origin story, mythology, or explanatory secular cosmology. Students are encouraged to reflect on the past, present, and future trajectories of their societies to build a holistic and realistic story with awareness of both patterns of cultural change and the ethnographic process.

View or download

The activity slideshow, available to view online or download in PDF format, takes students through various questions about different aspects of culture to help them design their narrative. Ethnographic snippets from different cultures around the world illustrate how they can describe key facets of their “newly discovered” world. View the full activity, including notes for instructors and downloads, in Teaching eHRAF.

For all classrooms

pen, cup, notebook

Nascent Worlds is ideal for students working in small groups. They may collaborate on all features of the culture creation, or choose to divide up the various social, economic, political, and religious aspects and combine their efforts into a whole. To submit their work, students should present a narrative of the distant culture, describing all features in as much nuance as possible.

Instructors may decide how they wish for the assignment to be completed. This may include a combination of text, video, a PowerPoint presentation, original graphics, artwork, or performance. Additional activities might include dressing as members of the culture and enacting life on a typical day or a special ritual. Virtual classroom students can create digital materials to display and share online, or members of the team can dress as representatives of the society and answer questions from the class about their culture.

Open to discovery

We would love to learn more about how you choose to apply this activity in your anthropology classrooms. If you are looking for more teaching tools from HRAF, you may be interested in our eHRAF Workbooks. Additional sample teaching exercises can be found in Teaching eHRAF. Bookmark our Teaching Online page to find all of our teaching resources in one place.