AnthroWrites Initiative

What is AnthroWrites?

In the fall of 2015, the Department of Anthropology received a grant from the Office of the Dean of the College to implement the AnthroWrites Initiative, a program to bring together faculty and students in a series of conversations—some over lunch, some as part of panel discussions, and some as part of a working group to develop online and in-class teaching and learning materials for reading and writing in the concentration—so that they can reflect together on their study of anthropology and what opportunities the field affords them to make a difference in the world.

The AnthroWrites website, a disciplinary focused iteration of the HarvardWrites digital teaching and learning platform, represents the outcome of this collaboration. The website features departmental faculty and students discussing the discipline and its aims and values in short videos, modules on best writing and research practices, sample readings and assignments.

We envisioned the process of making AnthroWrites as an opportunity to engage the discipline from the bottom up, much like anthropologists go about carrying out their research in the field. For the content to become meaningful and useful to concentrators and instructors, the project could not be merely a collection of resources that faculty hand down to students via a website. Rather, the content needed to emerge from thoughtful and repeated conversations among all the stakeholders in the project—undergraduates, from sophomores to seniors, and instructors, from TFs to professors. 

From its start, therefore, the project has been spearheaded by a student executive committee with guidance from faculty and some graduate students. The process involved three key areas: the development of department wide-events to bring together faculty and students, followed up with interviews with select students and faculty to explore these themes in greater detail, and finally the development of the website itself.

A starting point for the project was HarvardWrites and GovWrites, as well as A Student's Guide to Reading and Writing in Social Anthropology.  The latter, in particular, served as an inspiration for general issues and direct text for some pages across this site.  It also provided an important springboard for the group to produce original, student-driven content that addresses their concerns as writers and, more broadly, concerns of writing in the discipline of Anthropology.


The Process of AnthroWrites 

In 2016, the committee organized a spring colloquia, entitled “Anthropology’s Past, Present, and Futures: Conversations,” with three key events:

Confronting a Questionable Past, a panel discussion with Professors David Carrasco, Steven Caton, and Jeffrey Quilter, about ways to address the colonial legacy of anthropology and its ongoing relevance and lessons.

Engaging with the Present: Black Lives Matter, a conversation moderated by Professors Ajantha Subramanian and John Comaroff, about engaged scholarship and anthropology’s relationship to movements against racial violence and social justice.

Future Explorations: Art, Technology, and the Social Sciences: a screening and discussion with Professor Lucien Castaing-Taylor about sensory ethnography and anthropology beyond the written text.

In the fall of 2017, three events were also organized:

On Getting Stuck: Making Meaning, Maintaining Integrity: a conversation on the ethical challenges of anthropological research and writing with Professors Ajantha Subramanian and Rowan Flad.  

Writing With a Purpose: From Field Notes to Finished Work: a conversation with Professors George Meiu and Matt Liebmann about techniques and methods for approaching anthropological writing at different stages in the research process.

Why Anthropology Matters: A discussion with Paul Farmer and Arthur Kleinman: explored writing for multiple audiences, interdisciplinarity, and the potential impact of research beyond academia.

These events brought together faculty and students to engage in a serious and ongoing conversations about what concerns them as students of anthropology and as global citizens, and to think through writing and forms of representation in academia and beyond.  The themes reflected interests in exploring questions central to the discipline and their own study of anthropology: methods of anthropological engagement, power hierarchies of writing and representation, integrating scholarly and community critiques, the ethics of engaged research, and the role of researchers in society.

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From conversations and concepts
to digital mockups and prototypes

The second component of the project involved continuing these conversations in the form of interviews with faculty and students in The Bok Center Learning Lab. The executive committee culled topics and questions from events which they then posed in the form of interviews with faculty and students. These interviews with faculty and students form the backbone of the audiovisual material on the AnthroWrites website. 

In the final stage, students reviewed the footage of interviews to draw out larger themes that would then be addressed in the AnthroWrites website. In weekly meetings over the semester, the major focus on the website began to emerge. The students' writing content, pushing for the development of resources that would benefit students at different stages in their academic careers, and focusing attention on topics that would be inclusive of students in both subfields of the department (archaeology and social anthropology). It literally took hundred of hours of work to realize this process. It was a testament to the personal investment on the part of all those involved as well as a unique form of collaboration and engagement that was part classroom and part design studio. The final design of the website and its features was overseen by Jared McCormick.

Thus, while we hope the site will afford concentrators and instructors considerable benefits in teaching and learning, the actual planning and making of AnthroWrites are equally important as intellectually transformational experiences.