Anthropology 229:  Ethnography and Film

Department of Anthropology, SUNY Geneseo

Fall 2013



Class Meetings:  Thursdays 4- 6:30 pm Welles 24

Instructor:  Dr. James Aimers

Office:  Sturges Hall 13H

Office Hours:

Please visit me 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:

Monday 2:30- 4 pm

Thursday 2:30- 4 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 through photography, film and video. Images will be used to extract information and as a means of reinforcing, documenting, and checking ethnographic statements. The course is designed to emphasize the development of both technical and observational skills. Students will be required to actively engage in data collection, analysis and interpretation. 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 Book

Ruby, Jay

2000    Picturing Culture:  Explorations in Film and Anthropology.  The University of Chicago Press,



Value of Course Components

Attendance and class participation (you will record this)           10 %

Online reading tests on Ruby (2000) Picturing Culture             10 %

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

Group research proposal (200 words/student)                          10%

Group analysis of a major film (300 words / student)                10%

Unannounced reflective statements on non-Ruby readings        5%    

Group wiki space on video topic (500 words/student)                15%                

            Final video                                                                       20 %

            Reflexive statement on final video (300 words/student)  10%


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.


Unannounced Reflective Statements

I will occasionally ask you for a short, written in-class reflection on readings that are not in Ruby (2000).


Group Analysis of a Major Film 

Each group will prepare an analysis of a major film.  This should be more than a summary, it should place the film in the context of anthropology and ethnographic film.  This will require research and references beyond the course readings.  I will grade analyses that make explicit reference to scholarly and peer-reviewed sources higher than those that do not.  These are not film reviews (e.g., whether you enjoyed the film is not relevant)—each response should connect the film to issues of anthropological method and/or theory, and the course readings where appropriate.    This year’s major films are in bold type on the syllabus.


Research Proposal

Throughout the semester you will conduct research and interviews for an ethnographic video.  The group will post a research proposal (average of 200 words/student but written as an integrated whole) that will outline the goals and methods for your video.  You should make explicit reference to the reading by Tosuner-Fikes (1980) from Week 1.  Ideally, you will reference other anthropological works as well.


Wiki Space on Video Topic

In groups you will create a wiki space on your video topic.  The wiki space should be a maximum of 500 words/student and should provide basic background information for the issues with a substantial list of scholarly and peer-reviewed resources listed.  This should read as an integrated, coherent whole not as three separate contributions.  The wiki space must be online by 8 am the day it is due. To find and contribute to the ANTH 229 Wiki, go to the Geneseo wiki:  Login at the top right of screen (with your usual ID and password), then scroll down the left side of the screen.  Throughout the semester groups will introduce their wiki space and topic to the class (see schedule below).  A formal presentation is not required but at least one group member should be prepared to lead the discussion using the wiki.


Final Video

Your final video will be 10-15 minutes (for a group of 3 students) and will be posted to YouTube. 


Reflexive Statement

On the day of the final exam you will submit a reflexive statement that evaluates your video in relation to the points raised by Ruby (2000) about reflexivity as well as your own reaction and that of the class. Consider what you planned to do in your proposal—how much of that did you accomplish?  What unexpected changes occurred in the process of making the video?  How did the topic and methods evolve?  What were the biggest challenges and successes in making the video?


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. _____________________________________________________________________________________

Week 1:  August 29

Read:  Tosuner-Fikes, Lebriz

   1982   A Guide for Anthropological Fieldwork on Contemporary American Culture.  In

            Researching American Culture:  A Guide for Student Anthropologists, edited by Conrad

            P. Kottak, pp. 10-35. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

Read:   Ruby (2000) Preface

            Ruby (2000) Introduction

Film: Nanook of the North (Inuit; 79 minutes). We will not finish this in class.  Finish watching it online:


  • Introduction to course.
  • Discussion of topics for ethnographic videos.
  • Note that two online tests are due by 11:55 pm Wednesday September 4:   (Ruby [2000] Preface and Introduction).
  • Homework:  Prepare a written reaction to Nanook of about one-half to one page, double-spaced.

For Week 3 you will make a 1 minute video of yourself delivering all or part of this commentary.  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 well in advance)


Week 2:  September 5   

Read:   Ruby (2000) Chapter 1:  The Anthropologist as Picture Taker

FilmNanook Revisited (Chpt 2)  (Inuit; 55 minutes)


  • Discussion of informed consent and informed consent forms.
  • Groups meet to discuss research topics
  • Note that three online tests are due by 11:55 pm Wednesday Sept 11:   Ruby [2000] Chapters 1 and 2, and the Plagiarism quiz.


Week 3:  September 12

Read:  Ruby (2000) Chapter 2: Robert Flaherty

Post one-minute videos to Youtube by 8am. You will need to have a free YouTube account to do this.

  • Plagiarism quiz due.

Film: The Nuer (Ethipia, Sudan) (73 min)

  • Groups meet to discuss research projects.


Week 4:  September 19

Read:  Ruby (2000) Chapter 3:  Robert Gardner  Ruby Online tests continue throughout the semester.

Read:  A reading on The goddess and the Computer is posted in MyCourses (Course Materials)

Post group video proposals to wiki by 8am. Remember that these must make explicit reference to Tosuner-Fikes (1982) from Week 1 and other anthropological references are encouraged.


Clip:  The Goddess and the Computer (Bali; 8 minutes of 59 minute video)

Clip:  Dead Birds (Chpt 3) (Dani; Indonesian New Guinea)(9 minutes of 85 minute film on DVD)

Clip:  Karl Heider on Dani Sweet Potatoes (6.25):

Film: Remembering John Marshall (15 min)

We will begin watching the FilmFirst Contact (Papua New Guinea; 54 min)

Finish First Contact for homework.




Week 5:  September 26

Read:  Ruby (2000) Chapter 4:  The Cinema of Tim Asch

Read:  Chagnon, N.  1992 “Doing Fieldwork among the Yanomamö.” In Yanomamö: The Fierce People, Fourth Edition, pp.5-31.   Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.  (MyCourses)


Film:  The Axe Fight (Yanomamo; Amazon) (30 min)

Film:  The Feast  (Yanomamo; Amazon)(30 minutes)

Film:  A Man Called Bee (Yanomamo; Amazon) (40 min)

  • Discussion of Research Proposals.       


Week 6: October 3

Read:  Ruby (2000) Chapter 5:  Ethics and Realism

FilmKeep the River on Your Right (Asmat--Indonesian New Guinea /Amazon)(93 min)


Week 7: October 10

Read:   Elliston, Deborah A.

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

Film:  Guardians of the Flutes (Sambia; Papua New Guinea) (70 min)


Wiki Space 1

Wiki Space 2 


Week 8:  October 17

Read:  Ruby (2000) Chapter 6:  Reflexivity

Read: Voorhees, Courte C. W. , Vick John, and Perkins Douglas D.

     2007  ‘Came hell and high water’: the intersection of Hurricane Katrina, the news media, race       and                     poverty. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology 17(6):415-429.

Film   Bury the Hatchet (New Orleans) (86 min)


Wiki Space 3

Wiki Space 4

  • Discussion of research progress


Week 9:  October 24

Read:  Ruby (2000) Chapter 7:  The Reception of Ethnographic Films, Television.

Film:   The Amish:  Not to be Modern (USA, 1988; 57 minutes)


Wiki Space 5

Wiki Space 6


Week 10:  October 31

  • This week we view the last film that is eligible for a written response.

Read:  Ruby (2000) Chapter 8:  Speaking for etc.  Representation, objectivity, consent

FilmN!ai, Portrait of a San Woman (Chpt 8)(San; Namibia, 59 minutes)

Film:  Bitter Melons (!Kung, 30 min)

Wiki Space 7

Wiki Space 8


Week 11: November 7  I am in Calgary for an archaeology conference this week; watch film online

ReadRuby (2000) Chapter 9:  Eric Michaels and Indigenous Media (Australia)

FilmIshi the Last Yahi (online , USA, 1992, 57 minutes)

  • Work on major film analysis on Wednesday.  This should be posted to the wiki by 8 am Monday November 11.



Week 12:  November 14  

Read:  Ruby (2000) Chapter 10:  Conclusions

Film:  Eduardo the Healer (Peru, 1978, 54 minutes)


Week 13:  November 21

  • 3 to 5 Student Videos with discussion


Week 14:  November 28 Thanksgiving Break, no class 


Week 15:  December 6

  • Final wiki revisions due for all groups by 8 am
  • 3 to 5 Student Videos with discussion


Final Exam:  Thursday, Dec. 12th 2013 from 6:45 to 9:45 pm in regular room

  • Post Reflexive Statement on wiki by 8 am. Be prepared to discuss it.
  • Review of final wiki Spaces.