In this introductory course, we will cover many areas of interest in the field of anthropology. With so many interesting topics to discuss and so little time, we will barely scratch the surface of human cultural variation. The research project will allow you to cover one of these areas in a more comprehensive fashion going beyond general features.
What is Anthropology?
Step 1: Select a topic and notify the instructor of your selection via e-mail or in class. You may choose any of the topics we discuss during the course of the semester. If you need help getting started, review the topics at the end of the assignment.
Step 2: Select at least three sources (min. – two from the library database) to research your topic.
Step 3: Prepare presentation for the class detailing the main points of your research. You may use PowerPoint, Prezi or presentation posters to create your visual. You must have at least 15 slides or a 22 x 28 (36 x 48 tri-fold recommended) poster with text, pictures, figures and/ or charts.
What is Anthropology?
To get a feel for the changes in anthropological interests over time, you may go to the library and examine the tides of articles in the journal American Anthropologist during a sample of years. For example, you may look at all the titles in the spring issue of every tenth year. For each title, note the kind of question being addressed and the kinds of data presented in the article (if it is an empirical study). What changes do you see in topical interests over the years (e.g., kinship studies, evolution, psychological questions, methodological questions, and applied anthropology questions)? Does the article present descriptive data about a foreign society, descriptive data about some sector of our own society, or quantitative comparative data?
Culture is often thought of as shared behavior and beliefs, but not all individuals think and act exactly the same. Demonstrate this by surveying your family and friends on topics such as politics, food preferences, movies, sexual behavior, concerns about the future, and so on. Are there any obvious patterns? How does ethnicity, age, gender, or socioeconomic status relate to these patterns? What beliefs are held more commonly than others? What beliefs demonstrate wide variation? What do these patterns tell us about our society?
People of different social classes and different ethnic groups vary considerably in the kinds and quantities of food they eat. Ask friends and family to keep food diaries for everything they eat in a twenty-four hour period. Compare factors such as the quantity of meat or other proteins in their diet, quantities of vegetable foods, and the times at which the people eat. Can the differences in diet be explained by differences in income, differences in time available for food preparation, or differences in cultural norms for what constitutes a “good” meal? Students should also compare data to the typical diets that are reported in the literature/ethnographies.
Division of Labor and Stratification
Historically, Americans have relegated recent foreign immigrants to the lowest paying jobs in the country. The poor English eventually became the bosses of the Germans and Swedes, who then employed Italians and Irish, who then employed Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. Each group has risen socially above the most recent immigrants. Students might use census data on ethnicity, occupation, and income to explore how well some of the historic and contemporary associations of specific ethnic groups with different jobs can be attributed to the migrations. Why, for example, in New York, are schoolteachers so often Jewish, police officers so often Irish, and garbage collectors so often Italian?
Minority groups that have failed to make broad gains in the U.S. stratification system despite long residence in this country are African Americans and Native Americans. Why have these groups had trouble advancing while recent immigrants have not? How is racism against African Americans different from racism against these other immigrant groups? Why has it also been especially difficult for Native Americans?
Sex and Gender
As noted in discussion, there are many misconceptions about sex differences in behavior. How often do we hear statements such as “Women are more sociable” or “Men are more independent”? Sometimes, certain areas of employment are identified as “woman’s work” or “man’s work.” For example, it was only recently that men were hired as elementary school teachers because it was believed that teaching was a job more suited to a woman’s nature. Perhaps the legend of “Rosie the Riveter” (the archetypal woman who was hired to work in the defense industry during World War II) is so enduring because it runs contrary to our expectations about how women should work and behave.
What other misconceptions about men and women persist in our culture? Is it possible to explain these beliefs? How have these misconceptions changed over time? Why might they have changed?
Examine the statutes governing marriage in the United States. Do all fifty states in this country have the same laws about marriage? Does the legal definition of incest change from state to state? Who is allowed to marry whom? What about Europe or Africa? Why should the laws vary cross-culturally? Do they change over time? How might we explain both the variation and the universality?
Determine to what extent people depend on their relatives for different things. You may interview people of different ages or ethnic groups, and with different numbers of children. How often do people see their relatives? How often do they talk to each other on the phone or write? For what kinds of things do they depend on relatives (money, practical advice, moral support, business, etc.)? Which relatives are most often consulted? Are women more likely than men to be the central links in the family network? Are there relatives who are outside of the family network? If so, why? Is there a relationship between geographical distance and social distance? Does one’s profession or that of one’s relatives have anything to do with the degree of closeness or the kinds of things discussed?
Religion and Magic
Use reference guides and encyclopedias of folklore to randomly choose three to five cultures and read a few folktales from each, making careful notes about the behavior being acted out in them. Do some cultures have relatively more violence in their tales? Do ogres, monsters, or witches appear with the same frequency in all cultures’? How can the behavior in the tales be related to the social, cultural, and natural environments?
Popular musical styles change regularly in the United States. Often people find the musical preferences of others intolerable. Conduct a field project that involves interviewing people about their musical tastes. What kinds of people like classical music, jazz, music from the 1960s, disco, hard rock, or reggae? Are people most likely to prefer the music that was popular in their adolescent years? If so, why? If not, what factors might account for different musical tastes? How important are the lyrics in determining preferences for popular songs? How important is the musical style?