April 24, 2013

Presenting Anthropology - Weeks 13&14 (Avant-Garde Projects)

Last week in class, we attempted to define what precisely avant-garde is, and we got into the mood by watching some old Project Runway clips from an avant-garde challenge.  The most discussion-worthy topics included Amber Case's idea of cyborgs and cyborg anthropology -- are we already cyborgs due to our reliance on technology?  Do we suffer from split personality issues because of the various statuses and personae we maintain and project?  From there, we talked about the potentials of and the drawbacks to technology -- are we constructing ourselves for us, for others? Are others helping to construct who we are through feedback and other channels?  And we talked a bit about the field of anthropology in general in light of Dawdy's "clockpunk" anthropology -- should we collapse the historic/prehistoric, us/them, and indigenous/industrialized dichotomies?  Should we collapse the Boasian four fields of anthropology?  If we did, would we seem less scatterbrained than we often do to the public ("Oh, I'm an anthropologist.  I study all of humanity, across time and space, and everything we've thought or have done or have said.  Sure, that's a field of study.")?  Mostly, we raised a lot of questions we couldn't hope to answer and looked at some projects on the web that we felt were particularly avant-garde.

This week's projects, then, ran the gamut, and I had no idea what to expect going in to class (which was kinda fun).  Projects included: mixed drinks inspired by a student's thesis; an episode of Drunk Archaeology (on analogy with Drunk History); a genealogy of all the anthropologists in the UWF anthro department; a sensory anthropology exercise; brochure for an anthropological travel agency; high school archaeo class curriculum; human stratigraphy (performance art on campus!); a collectible pin series integrating with a FourSquare social media project and FPAN; a department t-shirt; anthropology flyer bombing around the Florida Gulf Coast; slideshow of "real" archaeology; and a prototype sculpture of an anthropology monument (to go on the Mall in D.C., of course).  All of our scores this week were quite high (we rate each project based on aesthetics, quality of the topic, and ability to communicate anthropology), but the winners are below.



Second Runner-Up: Tristan Harrenstein's idea to create a collectible, commemorative set of pins integrated with his FourSquare project, with the blessing of the Florida Public Archaeology Network.  The idea is to give out one of five pins to people who participate in FPAN events.  Each pin displays a representation of a local monument or historic site (Arcadia Mill, Fort Pickens, Pensacola Lighthouse, Old Christ Church, and the T.T. Wentworth Museum), and each pin will be available for a particular amount of time.  Participants who collect all five pins over the course of a few months' time may then be eligible for an additional prize, such as an FPAN lanyard.  We all thought this was a neat and different way to present our local archaeological resources to the public, as well as to get the public involved on a regular basis and engaged in history.

* First Runner-Up: Becca Booker decided to create four mixed drinks inspired by her thesis topic, which revolves around a partially submerged archaeological site in the Escambia River.  Her drinks, then, include the Escambia River (which is very muddy), the Floating Bunkhouse, the Cypress Swamp Logging, and the Alligator Gar.  Becca brought in giant nalgene bottles full of these drinks and kicked off the seminar by passing out drinks and encouraging everyone to try more than one. (What a way to cap the semester!)  Only a couple people attempted all four; I unfortunately couldn't try any since I'm pregnant, which made the project hard to grade, but my taster-by-proxy Nelma proclaimed the Escambia River the best, followed by the Floating Bunkhouse, and others really liked the citrusy Cypress Swamp Logging.  For my part, I learned that alligator gar is a type of fish---a really freaking terrifying type of fish that needs to be highlighted by Ze Frank or WTF Evolution.  Here's Becca's drink list, in case you want to make your own:


* And the Winners of the Avant-Garde Challenge... Linda Hoang and Stella Simpsiridis created a "sensory anthropology" activity to counteract the over-reliance we tend to have as anthropologists on visual stimuli.  Their project is actually based on the sensory stimulation exercises used by the Alzheimer's Society of Manitoba, using as many of the five senses as possible to trigger thoughts, emotions, memories, and ideas, and they explained to us that not all cultures divide the senses in the way that we in the U.S. do -- ESP, altered states of consciousness, and other sensory experiences may be more a part of other cultures' understandings of sense than they are in our own.  So Linda and Stella got Nelma and Zach to volunteer -- they were blindfolded and handed a number of different objects: pottery, bone, woven blanket.  They were encouraged to touch the objects, smell them, and even taste them, then talk about what the objects meant to them.  Ground coffee, dirt, and bug spray were passed to the volunteers as well.  And they were treated to an audio compilation of sounds, both natural and cultural.  It was a neat exercise, and Nelma and Zach were excellent participants, often spinning tales about the memories that the object, scent, or sound triggered for them.  Below is the flyer/info sheet Linda and Stella made for their project (click to embiggen):




That actually wraps up this semester's Presenting Anthropology (ANG6002) course here at the University of West Florida!  It was interesting and helpful as the instructor to blog about this each week, and I am glad that I got to highlight some of the students' awesome projects to #ShareAnthro with a wider audience.  Hopefully once the semester ends, I'll have a chance to reflect on the course as a whole in a separate blog post, so be on the look-out for that.  And if you ever end up using any of these ideas, please come back and drop me a line to tell me how it's going for you!  This is a seminar I hope to run again in the future, so any input from students, instructors, and the public at large would be appreciated.

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