Saturday, February 22, 2014

Exciting New Classes!

With so much snow on the ground in Chicagoland (and more on the way soon) it seems like Fall semester is a very long way off and yet....already each Department has been asked to submit a list of classes that will be taught and soon the bookstore will need orders. I've been thinking hard about our little anthropology program lately. Currently we have 28 majors which is wonderful but 15 are seniors and will graduate soon. We are always looking to gain new majors, so I have decided to jazz up the cultural side of things with some new classes for Fall 2014: Peoples of the World and Native American Art.

I've been pondering a fun addition to our curriculum that would draw good numbers and still satisfy the basic aspect of introducing students to culture and diversity. I'm confident that Peoples is the will offer a broad overview of 5 different culture groups each semester, use several films, and have smaller case study readers instead of a big (expensive) textbook. I got the idea while showing a wonderful Wade Davis film, part of a larger film series that goes with his book Light at the Edge of the World.
Davis is an interesting guy and heavily funded by National Geographic. His early work followed his mentor, the Amazonian ethnobotanist Richard Evans Shultes, but Davis has veered off a bit to include more on religion and mythology in his work. He has traveled extensively and has an approachable style (as Canadians do I suppose). His films lean to the exotic, sexy side of culture but perhaps this is what students need for their very first introduction to the diversity of global cultures (instead of the more mechanistic approach that has them learning about kinship charts and just how to define a complex Chiefdom). I need to decide which 5 groups to include in this first semester and likely they will be similar to the ones Davis uses in his films...will also have to find case study books, preferably recently written. Pearson academic publishing offers good ones in their Immigrant Series, so I am hopeful to find something soon!

My other new class will look at Native Am art traditions (and some modern examples too). I'm hoping this class will appeal to our Fine Arts majors who only have a European focus in their program. I've asked 2 of the art faculty to help in planning the class, with suggestions of what their students need to understand about non-Euro expression. I always include art in my Native classes so it will be an expansion of previous discussions about materials, objects, artists in society, the social uses of art (religious, political, domestic), changes with the Euro-Am encounter and a movement into a commercial marketplace. I will also offer some hands on training and hope the Fine Arts majors may want to explore some themes, styles in their studio classes including ceramics. I'm comfortable teaching bead work or making small hide bags etc, even moccasins or dolls but wish I knew more about quillwork, basketry, feather work, jewelry making and other art forms. Clearly students won't be making Native art but some hands on experience with beads etc will give them a greater appreciation of how indigenous peoples express culture through art. I need to find some books for us, but there are several syllabi on the internet from others who have taught this type of class and I can see how they have approached the topics and their reading selections.

Its a lot of work to create 2 new classes at one time but I have the summer to prepare and neither are new concepts for me, just need to get them properly organized and determine the correct pacing, plus round up any extras such as films. I'm really very happy at the prospect of doing something new and shaking off the dull drums of old...hopefully it will make me a more interesting instructor and start to bring some life back into our stalling program. I will make up flyers soon and leave them with colleagues around campus; hopefully they will advise students to enroll.I'm looking forward to a really fun fall semester!!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Postcard Exchange

I belong to an international postcard exchange group and continue to add to my own collection of Native American, Canadian First Nations, as well as Central & South American indigenous cards. Several years ago I began to work postcards into class projects & assignments with varying success; I have submitted a paper to the British journal Teaching Anthropology discussing my efforts and the students' reactions. Eventually I fine tuned the effort into an optional extra credit project and arrange exchanges between my students and members of the postcard group. This semester 30 students (about half the total enrolled) are participating and the postcards are starting to be mailed! A short discussion paper is due at the end of the semester giving everyone plenty to time to mail and receive. For most students this is their first time sending a postcard and one student has already decided to join the postcard exchange organization for herself and her children. Cards are not easy to find, but they are sold at some of our area truck stops, museums, airports, and a traveler info stop on the expressway. Its nice to have students participate in an activity that I personally value, and I hope some will enjoy the cross-cultural experience.

I'm also very happy that the journal Plains Anthropologist has accepted my article discussing Kiowa, Comanche and Plains Apache depictions on postcards. I need to do some revisions and send off by March 30...have several other smaller postcard papers in the works and look forward to submitting them to other journals later this year.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Spring 2014

New semester is up & running, well sort of. The Dean allowed my MWF section of Intro to carry even with very low numbers (our main campus has urged us to offer more MWF classes but there seems to be limited interest); sadly my Middle East reading seminar didn't carry so I quickly created a hybrid mix of on-line and in the classroom for the Intro to Native Americans and my afternoon section of Intro did just fine. But we have had some winter weather; I canceled classes one day as the roads were bad and then the University canceled classes on 2 days due to the severe cold. Adding in the MLK holiday it feels like the semester hasn't even begun!

The Native class will be an interesting experiment...I scanned some articles from American Archaeology & Native American Art Magazine, then loaded them into the web page for the class to get us started. Eventually the textbook will be available so everyone will read the same materials. Not all can attend class lectures so I had to make sure any films I will show are available on You Tube...fortunately someone loaded up all the episodes of 500 Nations. I often use more but this will be enough. The most interesting element is the ability to record my lectures and power point presentations simultaneously with a system call Echo 360, installed in just a few classrooms. I signed up, had some training and will give it a try...hopefully all the students who are taking the class as an on-line only will be able to access these and so catch most of the in-class lectures.

Its clear there is student interest for on-line courses so I am considering offering my 1st one next fall. The University has a standard model for all instructors to follow; I understand it takes alot of work to organize and load all the content but presumably it runs more smoothly. One portion of on-line classes is student participation in discussion by posting comments in a forum. Interestingly a friend has suggested another idea that I like even better and am considering how to offer it for my spring Intro class, perhaps as extra credit.

Instead of requiring a term paper Randy had the students set up a blog and post weekly on a topic he suggests. He then adds comments or questions to their posts to encourage them to analyze and rethink their ideas. He thinks students may be more comfortable with a blog format and I think they may actually spend more time on it than is usually given to a term paper (that is often cranked out at the last minute). I like this idea very much and have asked my Department colleagues for their thoughts....I don't know if the University would be opposed to use of a public blog and am unsure if the internal system accommodates a student blog. I would like to have Intro students try this and offer their ideas about culture...something to consider more fully!

Saturday, January 11, 2014


Still not sure what classes I will be teaching this spring semester...sadly my Middle East reading seminar failed to attract enough student attention so we added a section of Introduction to Native Americans in the hopes that may carry. Another campus is offering an on-line version with 185 students enrolled, including 58 from my campus. I have sent out several emails inviting them to join me instead and have until Monday morning to generate a little buzz. If it does carry I will teach it as a hybrid, offering an on-campus lecture as well as allowing students to complete all the assignments and exams electronically. We will need to start offering on-line classes and clearly there is student demand. Perhaps with some training we could be ready this summer or fall.

The weather in Chicagoland was cold & snowy over the break and I felt trapped inside; so I relaxed with old movies and much enjoyed down time but I need to get back to writing papers this spring and sending them off to journals for consideration. I don't have any conferences planned until fall and have enough to keep me busy! So one more day of break to enjoy and perhaps draft a syllabus in the event that my class carries...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Late Fall, 2013

Wow! I can't believe the semester is almost over and this is just my 1st posting...its been a busy, fast paced fall. Classes have been going well with 2 sections of Introduction as well as a smaller course that explores the history of the discipline and gives a brief taste of theory. But the semester ends in just 2 short weeks...

The Plains Conference in Loveland Colorado was outstanding and the hosts did an amazing job with all the arrangements. The hotel was such a wonderful facility with nice rooms, a free breakfast buffet, free cocktails in the evening and so many tasty refreshments during the day!! All the conference papers were great and as always it was wonderful to see old friends and meet new folks. I was a little worried that my session, held on a Saturday morning, would not have an audience but we did and several friends from grad school who now live in Texas came. My paper was nicely received and I really enjoyed the others in my session! I volunteered to join the membership committee and hope to encourage more cultural folks to join our organization.

I was invited by the student Anthropology club to join in on a presentation of summer activities. All the students who had attended field schools received some financial assistance from the club and they did a great job. Several learned archaeology field techniques and one student learned about ethnomedicine in Mexico. I presented on the beginnings of my Smithsonian project that will explore the biographies of Native peoples represented in their collection of plaster face casts and busts.

Next up is the American Anth Assn annual meeting in Chicago this week. I am presenting a paper and also Chairing my session. This will be my 3rd conference presentation of the year! Sadly one participant from Mexico had to decline due to finances but I look forward to discussing the other papers in our Indigenous Anth session. The meetings are being held in several hotels in downtown Chicago; the train station is a short walk to all the stores and they will have their Christmas window displays which are always great fun to see.

I just submitted a grant application with the American Assoc of University Women for the summer; I plan to use the time to revise an article that I submitted over the summer (but returned with review comments). It considers how Native American women and girls have been depicted in children's coloring books. I have only located 2 other articles that discuss gender representation in coloring books but nothing on ethnicity so I hope to add to this small literature niche. I am still waiting to hear about the other 3 articles that I submitted but hope they will be accepted. I am almost finished with an article examining Apache painted tipi materials from the Mooney materials archived in Washington. Father Peter Powell just published his amazing book on Mooney's Cheyenne tipis & shields. It was a nice splurge to buy the book and it will add to my own articles (a discussion of Apache shields is planned for this spring).

Its been a super fast fall but all of my activities have kept me busy. I would love to assemble my new Navajo loom over the Christmas break but may use the time to work on article drafts instead. But there is a bit more class and exam prep to be done in the meantime...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tempus fugit

Hard to believe the summer is almost over, will hate to hear my alarm clock on the 26th. Despite the stinky weather (too cold to be called summer and it ruined my tomato production) it was nice to sit on the back deck in the mornings with coffee and books. Read some good ones covering the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, traveling in the Amazon, traveling in the Andes, the history of Pendleton blankets, and a bunch that I used for my own research. I submitted 3 papers to journals for possible publication: KCA postcards to Plains Anthropology, Native Women in Coloring Books to Jrnl of Popular Culture and a Kiowa historical calendar to Great Plains Journal. All 3 were accepted for review and sent out for comments; I should get those back in mid-Fall. With some luck the journals will ask me to edit and revise then resubmit for the editor's approval and publication. I'm now working on another paper: Plains Apache tipis and will use materials that I collected from the Smithsonian this summer.

I booked my hotel and plane to Colorado for the Plains conference in early October but must decide on a paper to present. That deadline is coming up super fast!! I also need to contact the members of my AAA paper session in Chicago in November as I am to coordinate things as well as present my own paper. I hope to get my tipi paper completed & submitted sometime in Sept or October so its going to be a super busy fall along with my 3 classes.

I have decided to explore Navajo style making another beaded blanket strip and just couldn't find a blanket to buy. So I'll make my own! Have been exploring many web sites, purchased some books and made my own loom (paint is drying right now). Will buy some nice Navajo wool and weaving tools and see what happens. I've learned quite a bit already about this art form and am excited to learn more!

I've also been buying more postcards lately, especially some really wonderful Kiowa/Comanche/Apache photos by Edwin Bates who had a studio in SW Oklahoma in the early 1900s. I plan to write a short article for "Chronicles of Oklahoma" on the ones that are associated with the silent film Daughter of the Dawn. Need to pop home to talk with archivists at the Oklahoma Historical Society and hopefully view the film...should have gone home this summer but I lingered and now am out of time. Wish summer could last just a bit longer...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Moving along...

My recent trip to DC was super excellent....I was to fly from Chicago on a Monday but due to weather was sent to Atlanta but once in DC I dropped off my bag at the guest house, walked a block to the subway station and got off just a block from the mall. A short walk to the Museum of Natural History and then the free shuttle used by employees & interns to go to all the other museums. Its a brief ride out to the storage area in Maryland, lunch with the staff, and then the fun really began: tours of the amazing items kept in big metal cabinets & drawers, lots of conversations with others about their projects, and starting to look over papers in the archives. I did this same routine for 3 days and in the evenings I would stop at the various museums, look at exhibits & buy postcards, then walk around the downtown. After a short rest in my guesthouse I'd go out for refreshments at a neighborhood bar and then home to an early bed. The weather was just fine, not too hot or muggy as DC can be in the summer although a storm did blow through while I was writing postcards alone in the guesthouse one evening. I was sad to leave so soon as I had just settled into my routine and had not read all the papers I wanted, so I'll have to go back again sometime!

Just a few more weeks left in the summer work season but its been good so far. I completed 2 articles and sent them in to journals for consideration; the review process can be quite long (2 months for the ones submitted), and so I'll wait for their comments. I am wrapping up a 3rd article before my attention shifts to fall course preparation. I will also start to write up another one using materials I collected from the Smithsonian; plan to present those findings at a conference in October so hope to have a fully prepared draft ready for submission in the early fall. I will be giving another paper at very large conference in November (and will also chair the session so I have to read and comment on the other presenter's papers) so the next few months are jam packed! I have also suggested to a friend that we co-author a paper and we have discussed doing that over the winter; perhaps I can get the bulk of my part written during the Christmas break. So my campus office door will likely be closed most of the fall semester to better accommodate work...I'll be there for students (although few ever stop by) but hopefully fewer distractions from the main hall.

I've also enjoyed reading books over the summer including travel adventure stories from South America. I've also read 2 that will be used in my fall class, one on Inupiat Eskimos in 1900 and another on life in Ghana today. Sadly, book time on the deck has been seriously hampered by our recent cold weather; hopefully we will have an August warm-up! I have selected several more books (African travel adventures this time) from a discount catalog, so I should be well stocked through the early fall.

I have mixed feelings about teaching next summer...I get so much work done when I have large blocks of time off and I need the break from the constant grading of papers & exams. If I decide to stay home I will need to start saving money from each paycheck now...its hard to go 3 months without a paycheck! But its well worth it...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Next week I head to Washington for a few days to look over materials at the National Anthropological Archives, the Library of Congress and National Museum of Natural History's physical anthropological collection. NAA and NMNH are under the Smithsonian umbrella as is the National Museum of the American Indian. Hopefully I will find information to fill gaps in my on-going projects that are being drafted for journal article submission.

One question is to identify individuals shown in the Blackbear calendar, a collection of pictures telling history from an unknown Kiowa's perspective. One image involves a yellow shield; Mooney interviewed tribal elders in the 1890s and again in the early 1900s about shield designs and their owners. John Ewers and Ron McCoy have examined Mooney's notes and published on the topic so I will look over the Ewers files as well. I suspect my yellow shield is one of the 25 Bird Medicine shields, but am unlikely to determine the exact identity being referenced by the calendar.

Another question concerns the identity of the calendar's yellow stripe tipi, listed as Itselpa in Mooney's tipi notes which I propose is Chal'pa in Apache. This issue led me to consider Apache tipis, also a topic of Mooney's research. Mooney asked his informants to draw tipis and record information about the designs; he also had a number of them recreated in miniature. Late last year the Smithsonian photographed all the models, adding the images to their on-line database....I was amazed to find at least 17 Apache tipis (Ewers wrote about 4) so I plan to investigate all the others.

The final calendar question is the identity of a Kiowa soldier; many joined the all Indian cavalry unit known as Troop L but curiously little has been written about this group. The unit's commander was Hugh Scott and his papers have all been archived at LOC. I found a folder with his notes and will examine. I may not be able to identify my calender individual but hope to learn more about this aspect of Kiowa life.