Teach-Outs and the Progressive Stack

Amidst the incredible student-led gun control movement in the US and the completely sickening slaughter in East Ghouta, the USS strike amongst (some) UK university workers seems rather unimportant. The surface cause of the strike—fighting for our pensions—sounds downright quaint even within the UK context, but it is within a landscape of intensive, predatory neoliberalism that has been eroding the UK university system for the last 20+ years.

This strike action has been a rapid education for me—though I’ve been teaching in universities since 2006, my lectureship so far has basically been firefighting, with developing new courses and getting used to new responsibilities while conducting top notch research (right???) and occasionally seeing that child that I’m rather fond of. I didn’t really think I’d have to learn the specifics of my pension, the timeline of escalating student fees (beginning to understand why Tony Blair is so thoroughly despised), and the subtly different rules of protest and industrial action in the UK, but here we are. We are two days into a strike action that could potentially take out 14 days of teaching from a critical time of the student year, the end of the spring term.

I’m no stranger to protest; my mother took me to an anti-nukes rally in the early 1980s, I protested the build-up to the 9/11 (forever) wars and took action in Berkeley many, many, many times, as perhaps one might expect. One of my photos of these protests made the cover of the 2010 University in Crisis issue of the Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ The Habit of Courage is published in that issue, and much of it still rings true for the UK actions:

The first act of civil disobedience doesn’t come easily to most people of good conscience. We are raised, with good reason, to be obedient; it requires a great deal of discernment to decide what matters enough to justify going against our more sociable inclinations to conform….

…the call to direct action was not limited to ‘safely’ tenured faculty – but included undergraduate and graduate students, and untenured faculty, drawn into sometimes uncomfortable confrontations with the administration by their sense of integrity and drawing strength from what I am calling “the habit of courage.”

This habit of courage and willingness to engage in ‘non-violent resistance’ has weakened in recent decades, replaced by a self-interested and protectionist academic ethos. A more politically cautious faculty have followed a neoliberal notion of decorous and quiet civility….

Meanwhile, there is a resurgence of anti-intellectualism, the infiltration of corporate business models to every aspect of academic and university life, the devaluation of the arts, humanities and the social sciences, increasingly seen either as a luxury or as intellectual enemies of the global economy. The Enlightenment idea of the university as a voluntary community of teachers, researchers, and students dedicated to the open and disinterested pursuit of knowledge and learning is being rapidly replaced by the idea of the university as a corporate enterprise whose primary functions are to provide a skilled workforce and to generate profitable and usable research for industry and global commerce.

Scheper-Hughes points out that, ironically, during these strike actions we actually do more teaching and admin than we would have done otherwise, through organized teach-outs, strategy meetings, and public outreach on the radio, print and television.

We’ve been organizing Teach-Outs (as opposed to Teach-ins, which would cross picket lines) at our local archaeology pub who immediately and fervently declared their solidarity. I was afraid that our first Teach-Out would find me and a handful of fellow lecturers having a lonely pint, but…we had standing room only. There is a hunger for action amongst students and staff that is refreshing but honestly unsurprising.

During the Teach-Out, we had questions and discussion guided by the progressive stack, a tactic used for group meetings during Occupy. Sara Perry and I had been talking about ways we could use it in the classroom, and I had written it up for review by our teaching committee. The progressive stack in the context of the Teach-Out was invigorating; POC spoke before white people, LGBTQ+ people before cishets, students before lecturers, women before men…to the best of my ability, at least. It relied on my own biases and foreknowledge, so it was (deeply) imperfect, but foregrounded voices that were critical to our discussion. We’re doing it again on Monday, and hopefully gathering momentum–getting more diversity on our speaking panel, etc.

It was and will continue to be, completely exhausting. Organizing on the fly, standing out in the bitter, bitter cold, and keeping up the emotional energy left me with very little to give my family afterwards. So…basically like academia, right?

But, again, as Nancy Scheper-Hughes states:

Nothing good happens without struggle, without solidarity, without a readiness and a willingness to court controversy, to take risks, and to expect and to sustain retaliation….

There’s a very real chance that this, my first UK industrial action, might be the last. If it fails, a toothless union isn’t worth much, except to be laughed down by ridiculously overpaid VCs sipping “pornstar” martinis in expensive hotel suites while our precarious associate lecturers and other university workers struggle to make ends meet. It’s critically important to support the strike and to take back our universities.

Teaching with the Archaeology Data Service and Internet Archaeology

It’s fairly well-known that I’m a fan of the Archaeology Data Service, lauding their efforts and crashing their parties whenever I can. It is amazing to be right down the hall from the hive of archival activity, and Internet Archaeology is just up a couple of flights of stairs. I’m always happy to publish in Internet Archaeology, as the journal’s Open Access ideals and flexible data formats work well for digital archaeology.

What didn’t occur to me, at least at first, was the powerful teaching tool that combining the two would represent. This year I led on Accessing Archaeology, a module that our entire first year cohort of undergraduates takes. Students are introduced to basic concepts of Archaeology, including sessions on Landscape, Material Culture, Excavation, Archaeology & Science, etc. Each week students are in seminars wherein they discuss these concepts, using a textbook (available online through the library) and, importantly, present in small groups on a particular case study that shows the application of these concepts.

Some of case studies that the students present are from Internet Archaeology, and many of these articles have backup datasets stored at the Archaeology Data Service. For example for the seminar on Excavation, we use:

Prehistoric:

Wickham-Jones, C R and Dalland, M (1998), A small mesolithic site at Fife Ness, Fife, Scotland, Internet Archaeology, vol. 5

Historic:

Richards, J D (2001), Anglian and Anglo-Scandinavian Cottam: linking digital publication and archive, Internet Archaeology, vol. 10

The Cottam excavation is archived with the ADS and students are encouraged to find out more about the site and excavation techniques by investigating the archive.

I did not design the module–the heavy lifting was done a few years ago by my colleague Dr Steve Ashby (of Real Vikings fame), but I find that the way it integrates teaching the basics of archaeology with specific case studies presented by students to be an excellent method of engaging students with the material.

The module culminates (as many do) with an essay, and this year I set the question to draw from two different lines of evidence (say, analysis of structures + zooarchaeology or human remains + environmental sampling) from a single site to make an argument. Sorry I’m being a bit vague–I’d like to use variations on the theme in the future!

The students were able to pick one of six sites, five of which were archived with the Archaeology Data Service. This way they could access not only the associated official publications, but they could really dig into (sorry) the excavation data to query the methods used at the site. One of these sites was Sutton Hoo, which has a huge amount of data archived at the ADS. Students can access field reports, images, specialist reports, maps, and other archaeological gray literature to build their arguments.

I’m fairly new at teaching with archives, but I hope to integrate more of the materials at the ADS into the courses I teach as it’s an incredible resource and evokes both the desk-based assessments that archaeologists must perform before archaeological investigation and reveals how archaeologists make arguments with archaeological data–for better or worse!

New Adventure: Lecturer in Digital Archaeology & Heritage at York

After a series of tough decisions, I am extremely happy to announce that from 1 September, I’ll be the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology & Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. For USA-folks, this is basically a tenure-track position, but without the tenure process. Kinda.

I am very happy to continue to work with my great friends and colleagues there…expect shenanigans of the highest order.

Come visit!

Course Description: Materiality and Ethnographic Film

When it comes to UC Berkeley, these days I feel more like a politically-minded voyeur than grad student. I’ve been following the Occupy movements in both Oakland and Berkeley online, but I’m half a world away, working and writing my dissertation out in the desert.

Still, I’m going to be teaching a Reading and Composition course next summer, and I used part of my weekend to come up with a course description:

Materiality and Ethnographic Film

Ethnographic film has a long and ambivalent tradition within anthropology. The theory, technology, and methodology behind making ethnographic films has changed radically during the last century, but often this historic context has been ignored. In this course we will critically examine a wide range of ethnographic films through the lens of materiality. Materiality, or the study of the relationship between people and things, allows us to think about technology and social interactions in new and compelling ways. What were people wearing and using in the film? How was the film made and how does this effect the scenes that were filmed? What can these films tell us as artifacts in themselves? In our “archaeological” examination of ethnographic film, we will read the current interdisciplinary literature regarding materiality and excavate the context of these anthropological artifacts. This course satisfies the second half of the University’s Reading and Composition requirement.

The Reading and Composition requirement is a two-part writing skills class that all undergraduates have to take to graduate. The first class is the basics of writing and the second class, which is what this course description is for, is for intensive reading and writing on a particular topic. The only prerequisite is that the student has taken the first class–no Anthro or Media Studies is required to take the class.

Anyway, it is my first course description and I have no idea if it sounds of any interest at all to undergraduates. Any thoughts? Too boring, complex, or obscure?

Archaeology Strike Force!

By Turtlemoon, on Flickr.

So last week for our Wednesday archaeology brown bag lecture we had Ran Boytner from UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology come and speak to us about their collective archaeology field school program. It is a good idea, that universities and individual field schools have a centralized place for organizing and funding field schools so that larger pools of money can be around when something goes wrong and more students from varying institutions can participate. I was less happy with the administration–UCLA professors are the only ones who can decide if the methodology on site is rigorous enough for your field school to be associated with the Field School system.  I guess I’d like to see what training in excavation methodology and pedagogy these professors have, especially if they’re the 1m x 1m square-heads that dominate US institutions.

Anyway, during the Q&A at the end of the talk I had a question about that–just how vigorous is vigorous? What is your metric for a rigorous field school? I didn’t really get an answer more than “UCLA professors decide and they know what is best” but I did get a particularly good anecdote:

So a semi-anonymous professor/field director last year lost a piece of equipment on the plane ride over and decided to replace that equipment from the student food budget.  Field school budgetary decisions are absolutely opaque to students (and to most of the team) so this information must have gotten leaked somehow and it got passed around.  The students went un/underfed, and had to lead tours of the excavation to visitors while holding a can that said “food money” and beg for tips. While this is hilarious, and sadly fairly typical, word of this came back to the Cotsen Field School system and they immediately flew out a “crack team of UCLA graduate students” to “separate the director from the undergraduate students” and to make sure that the undergraduate students had enough food. The director could no longer have any contact with the undergraduate students and the graduate students effectively took over the excavation.

This is a great boon to field schools in that the students–who are absolutely under the complete sway of directors who may or may not care about their tutelage, living situation, or dietary needs–have recourse if something goes terribly wrong during the field season. The students also have no metric to judge if the field school is particularly bad, as it will be their first time in the field and they have nothing to compare it to. So they put up with a lot, have little decision-making ability and can be fairly thoroughly abused. Some people even consider this a sort of “jumping-in” for students to see if they are tough enough for archaeology. Utterly ridiculous.  For this reason I endorse the Cotsen program, perhaps combined with a little radical transparency for individual field directors and budgetary concerns…

…but only if I can be part of the graduate student strike team, of course.

Dead Birds and Penis Sheaths

Part of grad student professionalization as nascent professors is developing your own class syllabi.  I already have a bit of experience in this from teaching Ancient World History at San Quentin, and Ruth allows a fair amount of my input into the classes we teach together.  Still, it’s good to have a few stock syllabi, especially for job applications and the like.

I’ve been trying to develop a syllabus for a class I’d really like to teach and this involves watching a lot (more) ethnographic films.  I’ve seen quite a few already, but access to these films is restricted at UC – we have to go into the media room and watch them in uncomfortable little cubicles.  Needless to say, my further research has been fairly limited.  That is, until UC gained trial access to Alexander Street Press’ Ethnographic Video Online.  It’s a pay model, but I’m really pleased with the format and the interactive follow-along transcript accompanying the movie.  Our trial access runs until May 4th and I hope it is extended, but in the meantime I’ve been soaking up as much ethnographic film as I can stomach.

Earlier this week I watched Robert Gardener’s 1964 classic Dead Birds. He filmed it among the Dani of West Papua, who at the time he characterized as having an “almost Neolithic culture.”  The film follows a day-in-the-life-of narrative structure, following the lives of a Dani man, woman, and child.  The narrative is done entirely in voice-over, with Robert Gardener’s solemn, commanding voice telling us the inner dialogues and motivations that drive the on-screen action of these people.  He notably characterizes the child Pua as being lazy, smaller, and more awkward than his playmates.  Poor Pua.

In 2007, Robert Gardener released a book about the film, Making Dead Birds, which includes his extensive notes while taking the film, along with an amazing collection of letters and photographs of his time with the Dani.  It reveals the impact that his stay had on the people, and of the reactions they had to his film, many years later.  In all, it’s a great resource, especially for the class that I’m planning.

One small consideration that adds to the challenge of teaching this material is the Dani’s gourd penis sheaths.  They’re pretty standard ethnographic fare–Peter Ucko published a comparative study of them in 1969 that is a classic (and at times hilarious) study of material culture.  They are a somewhat distracting feature of the film, with different morphological details and attachment schemes sometimes upstaging the interaction between people.  A higher-minded anthropologist would probably disdain my distraction, but it brings to mind cultivation strategies, processing times, and the possibility of even recognizing such a thing archaeologically.  So, Dead Birds makes the cut. I hope I get the chance to teach it!

Tumblr in the Classroom

I mentioned at the beginning of the semester that we were tumblr blogging our classes, the Serious Gaming seminar, 39B and Archaeology and the Media: Film, 136i.  Tumblr is a simplified, speed-blogging service that provides a place to “tumble” your thoughts. I appreciate it as a sort of visual short-hand while I’m doing research–I tend to tumble what I’m reading about or thinking about, select quotes and photographs. It makes a nice, general record of your research trajectory.  I like that it is an explicit acknowledgement of the marginalia created during the construction of knowledge. Anyway, so we decided to try it out for our classes, with mixed results.

http://136i.tumblr.com

It was great for 136i. The Archaeology and the Media classes tend to be structured discussion sessions, where a lot of examples of movies, television, online video, and other forms of media come up in class. The tumblr blog was a way to track class discussion in a non-intrusive way. It helped that there were two of us–me and Ruth–so one of us could take over while the other typed. If I held the seminar by myself, I might arrange for round-robin of responsibility among the students for tumbling class discussions. Though I have a hard time on occasion with the “multi-tasking” that goes on during class.  Having folks referencing online sources and their own previously typed notes can be handy, but I’ve had to ask for “laptops down” many times this semester.

In any case, I found Tumblr to be not only a great “rapid-repository” for references during class, but also appended clips from movies discussed in the readings for students to reference before class. Most of the students had never seen such movies as Double Indemnity and Stagecoach.  I was also able to provide a small collection of important links to address issues such as copyright, and finding creative commons-licensed music for their movies. I even threw in a few “fun” links to archaeology videos that circulate among academics, but aren’t often seen by students.

http://39b.tumblr.com/

The Serious Games and Virtual Worlds for Archaeology Tumblr blog didn’t fare quite as well. Perhaps it was because so much of the class was oriented toward trying to manage awkward CAD systems in Second Life, or that the readings were primarily about Catalhoyuk or other history games. The students also were not quite as engaged, and did not offer as many examples from their own experience for us to reference on the blog. This class was also completely new, and we had to wrangle material about a subject that is not a fully formed field of inquiry quite yet.

In any case, I could recommend using tumblr for both smaller seminar settings, and for larger classes when there is a TA available to follow the discussion with links to examples and salient points.  We are not quite to full immersion–live blogging a lecture so that a powerpoint isn’t necessary, but we’re getting closer. I’m guessing that in the next decade we’ll have it being done for us–word clouds, reference images, and networks of meaning appearing behind us as we lecture.  That might actually get the attention of the students…for a second or two.