Anthropology 229:  Ethnography and Film

Department of Anthropology, SUNY Geneseo

Fall 2015


Class Meetings:  Wednesdays 4- 6:30 Bailey 201

Instructor:  Dr. James Aimers

Office:  Bailey 148

Office Hours:

Please visit me at Bailey 148 if you have any questions regarding the content or organization of the course, or for reasons related to your academic progress.  My office hours are:

Tuesday 12:50 -1:50 pm

Wednesday 2:30 - 3:30 pm

Thursday 12:50 -1:50 pm

You can also meet with me by e-mailing for an appointment 2-3 days in advance.

E-mail:  Questions I can answer in three sentences or so can be e-

mailed, but please speak to me for more complex questions and problems.  As a slow typist, I prefer long discussions to long e-mails.  I read e-mail as often as possible but please allow 1-2 days for a response, not including weekends and holidays. Please include ANTH 229 and a topic in the subject line and sign your message.

Office Phone: 245-5276


Course Description:

This course is designed to explore ethnography with a focus on the use of photography, film, and video in the representation of individuals and groups.  Students will be exposed to the history of ethnographic film and its current relationship to documentary and fiction film. What are the strengths and weakness of visual representations in anthropology compared to written representations? Students will be required to engage in data collection, analysis, and interpretation in the production of a short ethnographic film and an accompanying website.  Prerequisites: ANTH 100 or ANTH 101.


Learning Outcomes:

In this course students will demonstrate

  • familiarity with the history and theory of ethnographic film and its relationship to both academic ethnography and popular entertainment.
  • the ability to design and complete an ethnographic research project with a written component
  • the ability to create a short ethnographic film as a group project with supporting documentation on the Geneseo wiki.


Multi-cultural Graduation Requirement and Social Science Core

In addition to fulfilling your multi-cultural graduation requirement, this course also fulfills one course in the social science general education requirements. The guidelines for social science core courses stress the development of the following characteristics of a responsible member of society:

(1) KNOWLDEGE – an acquaintance with major empirical, analytical, or theoretical approaches to human behavior, institutions or culture;

(2) HISTORY – an acquaintance with social, economic, political, or moral alternatives;

(3) SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC ISSUES –an acquaintance with major problems, issues, institutions, practices or trends in the social world;

(4) THE SYMBOLIC WORLD – an understanding of the symbolic world coded and manifested in the non-Western societies;

(5) a capacity to express ideas clearly, coherently and grammatically in written form as one component of the evaluation process. This written work must total at least 1500 words, at least half of which must be prepared outside of class.


SUNY Geneseo will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented physical, emotional or learning disabilities. Students should consult with the Director in the Office of Disability Services (Tabitha Buggie-Hunt, 105D Erwin, and their individual faculty regarding any needed accommodations as early as possible in the semester.

Required Readings

All readings are available electronically.  The easiest way to access them is through my Outbox.  Go to, click ANTH à aimers à ANTH 229 Readings


Value of Course Components

Attendance and class participation (you will record this)          15 %

Online reading tests                                                                  20 %

One-minute video (reaction to Nanook of the North)                10%

Research proposal (250 words/student)                                   10%    

            Final video                                                                    15 %

Wiki space on your video topic (800 words/student)                15 %   

            Written reflection on final project (450 words/student)  15%


Grading Scheme

A   =  94% +

A - =  90 -  93.99 %

B+ =  87 - 89.99 %

B   =  83 - 86.99 %

B - =  80 - 82.99 %

C+ =  77  - 79.99 %

C   =  73 - 76.99 %

C - =  68 - 72.99 %

D   =  58 - 67.99 %

E  = 0 - 57.99 %


My grading criteria are available in a document in MyCourses (e.g., What kind of work receives an A, etc).


Assignments, Attendance and Lateness

Regular attendance is the easiest way to ensure success on this course.  Please arrive on time.

Late assignments will be penalized 5% per day, including weekends.

Make-up tests and exams are available only under extraordinary circumstances, and will require medical or other documentation.



Online Reading Tests

Online tests are due by 11:55 pm the night before the readings are discussed in class.  You may ignore 2 of these tests during the semester without penalty.  These tests can be found in Course Materials -> Online Tests in MyCourses.  If you complete all of the tests I will drop your lowest two scores.  The best strategy to succeed with these tests is to do the appropriate reading first and then complete the tests while referring to the reading.


One-Minute Video:  see Week 1


Research Proposal

Throughout the semester you will conduct research for an ethnographic video.  The research proposal (about 250 words) should outline the goals and methods for your video.  You should make explicit reference to course readings and you should reference other anthropological works as well.


Wiki Space on Video Topic

You will create a wiki space on your video topic.  The wiki space should be a maximum of 800 words and should provide basic background information for the issues with a substantial list of scholarly and peer-reviewed References Cited listed (References Cited are not included in the word count).  The wiki space should address the same issues as the video and we will use this as a basis for discussion about how written representation differs from filmic representation at the end of the course.  Although students will not work in groups this semester, the class will be divided into groups that will introduce their topic and wiki space throughout the semester.  A draft of the wiki space must be online by 8 am the day it is due (see schedule, by group, starting in Week 5 below). A formal presentation is not required but you should be prepared to lead the discussion using the wiki.  The final wiki space is due near the end of the course.






Final Video

Your final video will be 6-7 minutes and will be posted to YouTube.  I will deduct 5% from your grade per minute starting at 7.01 minutes because we have limited class time to watch/discuss the films.  As an ethnographic film, you must find ways to explicitly reference anthropological theory and/or method in your video. We will develop this project together as the semester progresses.


Written Analysis of Final Video

On the day of the final exam you will submit a reflexive statement that evaluates your video in relation to your written wiki space and the course readings, with explicit references to both.  Consider what you planned to do in your proposal—how much of that did you accomplish?  What choices did you make about the style of the video and how successful were they in conveying the subject matter?  How well did the video work in comparison to the written component?   You should explicitly reference the course readings (and other resources if you wish).


Academic Honesty

Students are urged to read the policies on Academic Honesty at:

As the policy notes:

“Any one of the following constitutes evidence of plagiarism:

  • direct quotation without identifying punctuation and citation of source;
  • paraphrase of expression or thought without proper attribution;
  • unacknowledged dependence upon a source in plan, organization, or argument.”

I also consider reusing your own work from another class to be plagiarism.  I take academic honesty very seriously and I follow up on instances of cheating and plagiarism to the fullest extent that the university allows.  If I believe the offense is very serious, I can—and will—recommend suspension or dismissal to the Student Conduct Committee.


Facebook-Free Zone

You may use your laptop to take notes.  You are not permitted to access Facebook, other social networking sites, play games, etc. in my class.  Photos and moving images distract other students.


Topics and Readings

You are responsible for each week’s readings and you should be prepared to discuss them. All readings are in my Outbox.  To access my Outbox, Go to, login with your usual Geneseo username and password, then click ANTH à aimersà ANTH 229 Readings


Week 1:  Wednesday, September 2

  • Introduction to course.


TEST: Asch, T. and P. Asch

            1996    Ethnographic Film. In Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology, edited by D. Levinson and M. Ember, pp. 411-416. Henry Holt and Company, New York.


Mead, M.

            1975    Visual Anthropology in a Discipline of Words. In Principles of Visual Anthropology, edited by P. Hockings, pp. 3-10. Mouton, Paris.


TEST:  Ruby, J.

            2000    Researching with a Camera:  The Anthropologist as Picture-Taker. In Picturing Culture:  Explorations in Film and Anthropology, pp. 41-66. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


Film: Nanook of the North (1922, Inuit; 79 minutes). We may not finish this in class.  If this is the case, finish watching it online:

Flaherty’s film is documentary of the saga of an Eskimo family pitting their strength against a vast and inhospitable Arctic which juxtaposes their struggle for survival against the elements as they go about their daily affairs.

  • Note that FOUR online tests are due by 11:55 pm Tuesday Sept 8:   Asch and Asch (1996), Ruby (2000) Research with the Camera, Grimshaw (2001), and Ruby (2000) The Aggie Must Come First.
  • Homework:  Prepare a written reaction to Nanook of about one-half to one page, double-spaced.  You do not have to submit this to me, but you will use it to make a 1 minute video of yourself delivering all or part of this commentary, due Week 3.  The goal here is to be concise:  try to convey as much as you can about the film and your reaction to it without rushing.  Find a minimum of 5 digital images of Eskimo/Inuit life to be included in your video.  The source of each image (e.g., website, book) must be noted in the video as well.  You will use this written and visual material for your one-minute video (note:  if you will need it seek assistance with video production from the Digital Media Lab at Milne Library well in advance).  Your video will be evaluated on pacing, anthropological insight/connections and the use of images as specified (i.e., with sources).


Week 2:  September 9 

  • Note:  Plagiarism quiz due Tuesday Sept 15



TEST: Grimshaw, A.

            2001    The Innocent Eye:  Flaherty, Malinoski, and the Romantic Quest. In The Ethnographer's Eye:  Ways of Seeing in Modern Anthropology, pp. 44-57. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge


TEST: Ruby, J.

            2000    The Aggie Must Cone First:  Robert Flaherty's Place in Ethnographic Film History. In Picturing Culture:  Explorations in Film and Anthropology, pp. 67-93. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


Film: Housing Problems (1935, Britain; 17 min)

Film: Nanook Revisited (2004; Inuit; 55 min, by Claude Massot). The filmmakers revisit Inukjuak, the Inuit village where Flaherty filmed Nanook of the North. Examines the realities behind the ground-breaking documentary and the changes since it was made almost 70 years ago.

  • Online tests continue throughout the semester.  There is also a plagiarism quiz due next Tuesday.





Week 3:  September 16

  • Post one-minute video to Youtube by 8am. You will need to have a free YouTube account to do this.
  • Plagiarism quiz due Tuesday Sept 15



TEST Heider, K

            1976    Chapter 1: Introduction. In Ethnographic Film, pp. 1-15. University of Texas Press, Austin.


TEST   Heider, K

            1976b  Chapter 2: A History of Ethnographic Film. In Ethnographic Film, pp. 16-45. University of Texas Press, Austin.


Film:  Grass (1925, Persian transhumance; 71 minutes) Film # 289

  • Discussion of research projects.


Week 4:  September 23

  • Post video proposals to wiki by 8am. Remember that these must make explicit reference to the course readings and other anthropological references.


TEST: Heider, K.

1976    The Attributes of Ethnographic Film. In Ethnographic Film, pp. 46-117. University of Texas Press, Austin.


TEST: Ruby, J.

            2000    Robert Gardner and Anthropological Cinema. In Picturing Culture:  Explorations in Film and Anthropology, pp. 95-113. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


Online tests continue throughout the semester.


Film:  Dead Birds (1964 Dani; Indonesian New Guinea, 85 minute film on DVD)  By Robert Gardner. A cinematographic interpretation of the life of a group of Grand Valley Dani, who are mountain Papuans in West New Guinea (Irian Barat, Indonesia), studied by the Harvard-Peabody Expedition (1961-1963). This film was made by Gardner in 1961, before the area was pacified by the Dutch government. The film focuses on Weyak, the farmer and warrior, and on Pua, the young swineherd, following them through the events of Dani life: sweet potato horticulture, pig keeping, salt winning, battles, raids, and ceremonies.

Film:  The Feast (1970, Yanomamo, Amazon, 30 minutes)


Week 5:  September 30 

TEST: Chagnon, Napoleon A.

            1992    Doing Fieldwork among the Yanomamo. In The Fierce People, pp. 5-31. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, New York.


TEST:  Ruby, J.

            2000    Out of Sync:  The Cinema of Tim Asch. In Picturing Culture:  Explorations in Film and Anthropology, pp. 115-135. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


FilmThe Axe Fight (1975, Yanomamo; Amazon; 30 min)

Film:  10th Parallel (2011, Brazil, 87 minutes) dvd F2519.3.S58 P37 2011

  • Groups 1 and 2 report on their research








Week 6: October 7


TEST:  Nichols, B.

            1991    Documentary Modes of Representation. In Representing Reality:  Issues and Concepts in Documentary, pp. 32-75. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.


TEST:  Edmonds, R.

            1974    Truth Vs. Veracity. In Anthropology on Film, pp. 16-25. Pflaum Publishing, Dayton OH.


Film:  Ongka’s Big Moka (1976, New Guinea; 50 min) Video #364

Film:  First Contact (1983; Papua New Guinea; 54 min)


  • Groups 3, 4, and 5 report on their research


Week 7: October 14


TEST: Elliston, Deborah A.

1995 Erotic Anthropology: "Ritualized Homosexuality" in Melanesia and beyond. American           Ethnologist 22(4):  848-867


TEST:  Loizos, P.

            1997    First Exits from Observational Realism:  Narrative Experiments in Recent Ethnographic Films. In Rethinking Visual Anthropology, edited by H. Morphy and M. Banks, pp. 81-104. Yale University Press, New Haven.


FilmGuardians of the Flutes (1994; Sambia; Papua New Guinea, 70 min)

Film: Cannibal Tours (1987, Papua New Guinea, 77 min Directed by D. O Rourke GN495.8 .C36 1987).


Week 8:  October 21 

Life History


TEST:  Sherman, S. R.

            1998    Projecting the Self: Filmic Technique and Construction. In Documenting Ourselves:  Film, Video, and Culture, pp. 207-222. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington.


TEST:  MacDougall, D.

            1998    The Subjective Voice in Ethnographic Film. In Transcultural Cinema, pp. 91-122. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.

Film: The Times of Harvey Milk (1984; USA, 90 Minutes)


Week 9:  October 28

Documentary film and Reflexivity


TEST Loizos, P.

            1992    Admissible Evidence?  Film in Anthropology. In Film as Ethnography, edited by P. I. Crawford and D. Turton, pp. 51-65. Manchester University Press, New York.


Mathew, W.

            2014    Reality in Ethnographic Film:  Documentary Vs. Docudrama. Visual Anthropology 27:17-24.


TEST:  Ruby, J.

            2000    Exposing Yourself:  Reflexivity, Anthropology, and Film. In Picturing Culture:  Explorations in Film and Anthropology, pp. 151-180. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


Film:   The Thin Blue Line (1988, USA, 1hr 41 min).  Excellent example of a reflexive documentary.


  • Groups 6, 7, and 8 report on their research


Week 10:  November 4


TEST: Lee, R. B.

            1969    Eating Christmas in the Kalahari. Natural History December 1969:60-64.


TEST: Hawkes, K., A. Jon, S. Beckerman, R. R. Grinker, H. Harpending, R. J. Jeske, N. Peterson, E. A. Smith, G. W. Wenzel and J. E. Yellen

            1993    Why Hunter-Gatherers Work: An Ancient Version of the Problem of Public Goods [and Comments and Reply]. Current Anthropology 34(4):341-361.


Film: Remembering John Marshall (15 min)

Film: The Hunters (1957, Bushmen, 72 mins.). John Marshall’s classic anthropological film follows the hunt of a giraffe by four men over a five-day period. The film was shot in 1952-53 on the third joint Smithsonian-Harvard Peabody sponsored Marshall family expedition to Africa to study Ju/'hoansi, one of the few surviving groups that lived by hunting - gathering. John Marshall was a young man when he made this, his first feature length film


  • Groups 9 and 10 report on their research


Week 11: November 11


One TEST on BOTH:  N!ai study guide, AND An Argument about a Marriage study guide

TEST:  Loizos, P.

            1993    Constructions from Real Lives:  Biographies and Portraits. In Innovation in Ethnographic Film : From Innocence to Self-Consciousness, 1955-85, pp. 67-90. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


Film:  An argument about a Marriage (1957, !Kung, 19 min: Film #311) John Marshall’s film documents a conflict between two groups of Bushmen (!Kung) in the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa over the legitimacy of a marriage and a child born out of wedlock. Skillful mediation prevents violence.

FilmN!ai, Portrait of a San Woman (1979, San; Namibia, 59 minutes)

FilmBitter Melons (1971, !Kung, 30 min)


Week 12:  November 18


TEST:  Balikci, A.

            1975    Reconstructing Cultures on Film. In Principles of Visual Anthropology, edited by P. Hockings, pp. 191-200. Mouton, Paris.


TEST:  Morphy, H.

            2006    The Aesthetics of Communication and the Communication of Cultural Aesthetics:  A Perspective on Ian Dunlop's Films of Aboriginal Australia. Visual Anthropology Review 21(1 & 2 ):63-79.


FilmDesert People (1967 Aborigines, 51 min, Video # 122)

FilmNice Coloured Girls (1987, Australia, 18 minutes)


Week 13:  November 25 No Class Thanksgiving break 2015


Week 14:  December 2


TEST:  Ruby, J.

            2000    Toward an Anthropological Cinema:  Some Conclusions and a Possible Future. In Picturing Culture:  Explorations in Film and Anthropology, pp. 239-279. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


  • 10- 15 Student Videos




Week 15:  December 8

  • Final wiki revisions due by 8 am
  • 10-15 Student Videos


Final Exam:  Wed Dec 16 2015 6:45-9:45 pm in regular room

  • Post written analysis of final video on wiki by 8 am on the day of the exam. Be prepared to discuss it.
  • Review of final wiki Spaces.