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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Gary J. Witherspoon
ANTH 536
Seattle Campus

Seminar in Visual Anthropology

Significance of anthropological cinema and photography placed in historical perspective. Screening of films to determine the role of the anthropologist as filmmaker, as well as the role of the filmmaker as anthropologist.

Class description

I am committed to making this a different kind of course than students usually take at the university. University education gives too much priority to narrative text and not enough to visual imagery. I want this class to balance some of that imbalance. That is why there are few assigned readings and no textbooks, no written exams and no usual research or term papers for this class. I presume that your enrollment in this class indicates your interest in and willingness to make an equivalent commitment to this class one that emphasizes visual thought, expression and creativity. That is why we have visual homework instead of assigned readings and I ask you to do visual projects rather than research or term papers.

The emphasis of this course is on doing visual anthropology rather than critical analysis of the visual works of others. The emphais is on how visual ethnography can improve and enhance traditional narrative ethnography.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Lectures, presentations and discussion that emphasize the history of visual ethnography, and contemporary efforts in the areas of visual thought, visual expression and visual creativity. The first four weeks is on the history of visual ethnography and expression, the next three weeks covers my own experienced in the ethnographic film and the producrtions I have created. The last three weeks are filled with student presentations of their visual projects.

Recommended preparation

Interest in creating a visual ethnographic project, usually that means a video or a Power Point or Keynote slide with an emphasis on visual content (graphic arts, photographs, video, animation, etc.). The topics and the content of the visual project are wide open with two exceptions. The projects should have something to do with anthropology broadly defined. Basically that means it should have something to do with people or peoples, culture or cultures. This includes all subdisciplines of anthropology (physical, archaeology, linguistics and cultural anthropology). The other expectation is that it should have significant visual content. That visual content can be the imagery of art, graphics, photography and/or moving pictures (film and video). It does not have to have anything to do with American Indians or American Indian cultures or histories, but it certainly can deal with these subjects.

There are two other general expectations. To the extent possible and appropriate, it should include original work by you. That means that if you are doing a photographic project, I would expect, in most cases, some if not most of the photographs to be photos taken by you. If you are doing a video project, I would expect some of the footage to be original work taken by you. This does not mean that you cannot or should not use photographs, illustrations and video taken by others. You must, however, give proper credits when you use the work of other people just like you must document quotes and sources when you use ideas and writings of others. These are usually done at the end of your productions. Not only do I prefer you to do some of your own work, I would like to see you handle some of the equipment yourself. That is why I have told you about sources of equipment you can check out and use. Video and audio recording equipment, as well as editing equipment, are available to students on the fourth floor of the Communications building.

Undergraduates are permitted in the course and can take it either as Anthropology 536 or AIS 475. They are the same course.

Class assignments and grading

Course Requirements and Expectations: 1) Attend seminar and participate in discussions. 2) View all assignments before class to prepare you to discuss the works and issues raised in seminar. 3) Create a visual project for the seminar and present it in class sometime during the last three weeks of class, and turn the project in to me by the last day of class. 4) There will be no written exams, only two required readings and no written papers due, but I am very serious about the three requirements above. The projects can utilize written texts and oral narration, but they should have a primarily visual emphasis and expression.

Grades for the course are based on participation in the seminar, doing assignments and creating and presenting a visual project.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Gary J. Witherspoon
Date: 05/16/2005