Bard College at Simon's Rock: the Early College
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Anthropology Courses

Introduction to Anthropology

Anthropology 100 CP | Bonvillain, Boswell | 3 credits

This course introduces students to the development of cultural anthropological theory and practice. It considers important anthropological topics such as myth, religion, gift exchange, totem/taboo, and kinship as a way to approach the comparative study of human societies and cultures. Specific topics include rival concepts of culture, critical senses of differences, and ways diversity is represented in distinctive worldviews. The course also samples some current and long-lasting issues in interpretive practices and critical theory.

No prerequisites. This course is generally offered once a year.

Language and Culture

Anthropology 202 CP | Bonvillain | 3 credits

We will study the interconnections between language and other aspects of culture. These interconnections include the ways that language molds and transmits people’s concepts about the world in which they live and the relations between themselves and others. We will study the connections between concepts of the world (or a culture’s worldview) and the language spoken by examining vocabulary, metaphor, grammatical constructions, and other features of language.

No prerequisites. This course is generally offered once every two years.

Anthropology Goes to the Movies

Anthropology 212 CP | Bonvillain | 3 credits

This course explores the ways that indigenous and non-Western peoples are portrayed in popular commercial film. Through viewing films and texts about visual representation, we will consider questions such as: From whose point of view is the story told? Whose voices dominate the film’s narrative and perspective? Are characters presented as multidimensional or stereotypical? The course will also focus on the ways that social and political issues involving indigenous peoples are presented. We will analyze the differences between films made with indigenous participation (as writers or directors) and those with no significant non-Western influence.

Prerequisite: One course in social studies or film. This course is generally offered once every two years.

Native American Religions

Anthropology 214 | Bonvillain | 3 credits

This course examines religious beliefs and practices of Native North America. Although we concentrate on religions, analyses of beliefs and practices are studied within the context of other cultural patterns, including economies, political systems, social life, artistic expressions, and ethical/philosophical themes. Topics include indigenous concepts of the spirit world, beliefs about personal contact with the spirit realm, rites of passage, earth and resource renewal, healing, methods of achieving visionary experience, and the causes, contents and outcomes of Native revitalization movements. Finally, we consider the ways that state and federal policies in the United States and Canada (both historically and currently) impinge on the free practice of religions by Native Americans.

 Prerequisite: one course in social studies, religion or philosophy.

Life Histories

Anthropology 223 CP | Boswell | 3 credits

This course examines the life history, a form of ethnographic literature. Life histories straddle autobiography and biography, historiography and memoir, and constitute a chronicle of the storyteller’s life as it is communicated to their audience, the anthropologist. We will examine the processes that lead to these informative, yet intimate, accounts of individual lives and so understand the value life histories have to empower their narrators and to broaden our knowledge of less examined populations, such as women, the sick, or the poor. We will champion life histories in this course, but will consider critiques of this widely popular method nonetheless. Our reflection on these texts will extend to the manner in which life histories exist as a testament to the worthwhile, but complex, friendships that arise during fieldwork between the narrator and the anthropologist. The course looks to life histories with an eye to content as well as construction, and so students will have the opportunity to collect a life history over the course of the semester.

This course is generally offered once every two years.

Gender in Africa

Anthropology 227 CP | Boswell | 3 credits

This course examines gender in sub-Saharan Africa in both a colonial and postcolonial context. Inquiries into the subject have made important contributions to our understanding of gender as culturally diverse and dynamic as well as influenced by age, class, race, and nation. African women and their achievements have been frequently ignored in the historical record and in many cases continue be overlooked in comparison with their male counterparts. Under European colonization, men and women’s roles were transformed and oftentimes remade in the patriarchal image of the imperial power. Despite these tumultuous transitions, African women, both then and today, productively meet their social and economic needs and exercise power in their multiple roles as mothers, wives, entrepreneurs, activists, and politicians. We will explore these successes in our studies, yet our exploration of gender in Africa necessitates looking at men’s changing position within African societies as well. As African women provide more consistent care for their families’ daily needs through trade, farming, and domestic service, men find their responsibilities as husbands and fathers transformed and their opportunities limited by forced migration and unemployment. We will thus explore in this course what it means be male and female in historic and contemporary African societies from multiple vantage points.

This course is generally offered once every two years.

Anthropological Encounters with Rupture and Rapture

Anthropology 231/331 | Boswell | 3/4 credits

This course examines collective social action in response to crises and transformations in societies, with a particular focus on millenarian thinking, i.e., the belief that following a major transformation everything will be different, due either to rapture (the rising up of a new, and better, society) or to rupture (the destruction of the existing, and good, social order). Various examples of millenarian thinking, including apocalyptic expectations as found in major world and syncretic religions and throughout history and across cultures, are examined. These belief systems often exemplify a wish for or fear of a complete reconfiguration of society through supernatural intercession. We explore the pacifist and violent dimensions of these movements through case studies that include the Shakers, the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project (a.k.a. “Jonestown”), and Aum Shinrikyo. Also of interest to us are millenarian movements stemming from changes provoked by colonial conquest, including the cargo cults in the Pacific Islands, the events surrounding the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Native American Ghost Dance, and the Santa Brígada in Brazil.

Prerequisites: Completion of a 200-level Social Studies course or permission of instructor . This course is generally offered once every four years.

City Life

Anthropology 232 CP | Boswell | 3 credits

This course examines cities and their inhabitants in a cross-cultural perspective as these dynamic environments shape and are shaped by their diverse populations. Students will be introduced to the development of urban studies from its late–19th–century origins in the United States and Europe to the current interdisciplinary focus on the various facets of city life today. We will explore those social, economic, political, and religious forces that have contributed to the creation of varied urban centers that operate as administrative and commercial headquarters, sacred sites, centers for recreation and festival, and global metropolises with influence that extends beyond national borders. Topics that will be discussed include migration and immigration; licit and illicit economic activities; urban violence; the configuration of space with its links to power; expressive culture; and the complex class, ethnic, gender, and racial dimensions found in cities. We address urban life through ethnographic works centered on Ireland, India, Thailand, Bolivia, Brazil, and the United States.

Prerequisite: One 100-level social studies course. This course is generally offered once every two years.

Subjects and Objects: Engagements with Material Culture

Anthropology 317 | Boswell | 4 credits

Does a treasured family heirloom hold the same importance in the life of its owner as a newly purchased item of clothing or technology? Do some objects contaminate those with whom they come into contact, while others have medicinal powers or bestow good fortune? In what circumstances are objects and owners’ inseparable? This course examines material culture, or things, from two related perspectives: The object and its owner. As Appadurai observes, “objects have social lives” that are sometimes independent from their owners. Objects such as kula shells are treasured by their temporary owners and desired by others because they have a lengthy and renowned history of circulation between the Pacific’s Trobriand Islands, whereas some Pacific Northwest Indians amass objects only to give them away in a ritualized ceremony—a Potlach—in order to become “big men.” In certain societies the presence of key resources, such as designer clothing or cooking implements, permits their possessors to have social lives that lead to the expansion of social networks and community building or political advancement. In this course, we will examine a range of theories that correspond to these related approaches to material culture. From classic texts on circulation and exchange to theories on materiality, consumption, and object fetishism, our investigation of objects and owners looks at an array of case studies from across the globe to better understand the life of objects and the lives objects engendered in order to illuminate connections between people and possessions.

Prerequisite: One 200-level course in social studies or permission of instructor. This course is generally offered once every two years.

Anthropological Perspectives on Dispossession and Displacement

Anthropology 330 | Boswell | 4 credits

Individuals in communities impacted by dispossession and displacement access multiple forms of redress to come to terms with the upheaval and change in their lives. By drawing on ethnographic case studies from across the globe, this course examines how individuals and communities look for relief from and explanations for their upheaval and the means by which they receive compensation for their losses and seek to restore equilibrium to their lives. Of particular interest in this course are the ways in which social relations, identities, and gender are impacted by the processes of disruption and restoration. The course will also examine the complex causes and characteristics of those events leading to dispossession and displacement, as well as the local, national, and international actors involved. An anthropological exploration will enable us to understand the complex and often long-ranging causes and consequences of dispossession and displacement, including humans’ capacity for resilience, forgiveness, and rebirth.

Prerequisites: Junior or Senior standing or completion of Seminar II and permission of the instructor.

Anthropology Tutorial

Anthropology 300/400 | BonvillainBoswell | 4 credits

Under these course numbers, juniors and seniors design tutorials to meet their particular interests and programmatic needs. A student should see the prospective tutor to define an area of mutual interest to pursue either individually or in a small group.