Visualizing Culture in Papua New Guinea

A 2003 Venture Fund Project

Instructor: Robert L. Welsch, Department of Anthropology

Project: Anthropology students have watched documentary films and videos about the world’s exotic peoples for many decades. These carefully edited films illustrate different ways of life and different cultures. But such documentaries rarely allow students to observe how anthropologists actually conduct interviews, sift through contradictory interview data, or reach conclusions. This project was designed specifically to address this limitation in existing ethnographic and anthropological videos.

During a month-long research field trip to Papua New Guinea Welsch interviewed Papua New Guineans about a variety of different topics. These interviews were videotaped on mini-DVs with the assistance of Kellen Haak (Registrar of the Hood Museum) and Sebastian Haraha (Senior Technical Officer at the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery) who accompanied Welsch on the field trip. With the assistance of Alice Matthias ’07 who served as video editor, Welsch used Blackboard to distribute several 15-30 minute clips, allowing students in Anthro 1 (Intro to Anthropology), Anthro 3 (Intro to Cultural Anthropology), Anthro 17 (Anthropology of Health and Illness), and Anthro 38 (Peoples of Oceania) to see some of these interview clips and make sense of this raw anthropological data.

These video clips show how anthropologists conduct interviews in difficult and exotic settings. They illustrate how anthropological informants can disagree with one another, and how a single informant can draw upon a complex mix of explanations. These video clips allow students to try to reach conclusions from confusing, ambiguous, and conflicting informant statements in much the same ways that professional anthropologists do in their own research. The project demonstrates the utility of using field video clips in the classroom, and the effectiveness of Blackboard as a means of providing student access to these materials.

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Posted in 2003 Projects, Social Sciences, Venture Fund Projects