Considering Intangible Values and Social Context in Cultural Resource Management

Considering Intangible Values and Social Context in Cultural Resource Management

The Pinery stage station, a historic resource of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Photo credit: National Park Service.

By: Rochelle Bloom

The article, A Critique of Unfeeling Heritage, by Denis Byrne, is a useful text to introduce holistic approaches to archaeology. It is particularly well suited for students in an applied archaeology program who are considering a career in cultural resource management (CRM) and might not have a solid background in cultural anthropology or intangible heritage values. The article highlights the tendency of archaeologists, particularly those working in CRM, to privilege large-scale inventorying of sites and focus upon the “technologies and economics of the past” at the expense of the behaviors of the humans who created the sites. Though archaeology is, by definition, the study of material culture, this article helps to articulate the risks inherent in ignoring the social values communities attribute to sites.

The author illustrates the necessity for consideration of past and present social context through discussion of how communities relate to Cold War-era mass grave sites in Indonesia and massacre sites in other areas, particularly in instances where material evidence of past events is not visible in the landscape and specific locations have not been recorded. The article proposes an approach to archaeology in which artifacts are used as an avenue to explore the lives of associated individuals, rather than allowing for recordation and salvage of material as an end in itself. Although the article does not seek to develop a comprehensive methodology for a “feeling” archaeology, it does provide an excellent foundation for reflecting on some of the limitations of a purely tangible approach to the discipline.

A useful way to incorporate this article into the curriculum would be in a discussion of the potential issues that prevent best practice archaeology in CRM. It might be helpful to explore the pressures of projects,such as limited time and money, and how they affect the quality of work and goals for CRM projects. You may demonstrate how the investigation of past and present social context can be incorporated practically into fieldwork. For instance, in addition to discussing survey,excavation, and recording methodologies, you may wish to introduce some of the methods by which it is possible to obtain knowledge of human behavior, even with the prescribed limitations dictated by CRM. A useful exercise with students might be to provide examples of reports that are typical of more traditional environmental impact assessments and ask them to provide critiques and recommendations for more holistic studies.


Byrne, Denis. 2009. “A Critique of Unfeeling Heritage.” In Intangible Heritage, edited by Laurajane Smith and Natsuko Akagawa, 229-252. London and New York: Routledge.

As of 10/23/2018 the article is available for free through Marquette University.

Link to the article:

Resource Contributed By: Rochelle Bloomis, Portland State University

Rochelle Bloom is an anthropology research assistant contracted to Portland State and working as a collaborator with the National Park Service. She assists with identification of ethnographic resources on federal lands.

Teaching Endangered Language Preservation using “The Linguists” Film

Teaching Endangered Language Preservation using “The Linguists” Film

Movie poster for The Linguists, from Ironbound Films

Ideal for introductory linguistic as well as cultural anthropology classes focused on the nation-state or childhood, this 104 minute documentary film helps students better understand the real-world complexities of conducting anthropological fieldwork with a focus on the documentation and preservation of endangered languages. In multiple arrival stories, we see how two linguists, David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, struggle to locate the ever-decreasing speakers of endangered languages in Siberia, India, and Bolivia. While preliminary research helps them select a region as well as connect with key informants, they also depend on snowball sampling as they rush to track down native speakers with whom they conduct exploratory interviews. This documentary highlights how the production of anthropological knowledge is shaped by the relationships between local indigenous communities around the world and nation-states. Documenting endangered languages, as the film illustrates, also necessitates studying the forms of oppression that endanger them.

The film stresses that the generational decline of people who speak endangered languages is often the result of forced assimilation projects like the state-driven separations of indigenous children from their communities. Places like boarding schools where teachers shame children for speaking indigenous languages decreases the likelihood these children will teach them to future generations.

The film could also complement anthropology of childhood classes because it calls attention to the agential roles children play in language acquisition and transmission. We see this in India where students from the Bonda tribe are required to learn English, which is perceived as a money-making language that promises children and their families a better future.

How languages become linked with the past, present, and the future is key to addressing the ways in which power-dynamics prioritize learning imperialist languages exclusively. The film underscores the point that language preservation efforts will not be successful if they are only driven by Western academics. Addressing the diminishment of linguistic diversity requires a much more systemic approach, such as the active participation of indigenous communities in language preservation projects, as well as widespread political reforms that, for instance, require national educational systems to bolster multi-language learning. The linguists emphasize that collective action is needed now because the world is losing indigenous languages at exponential rates. And the risks for losing humanity’s linguistic diversity are profound because when languages become endangered the diverse ways people understand and experience the world become endangered as well.

Check out the trailer for The Linguists on Youtube. To view the complete movie, see if you can access it through a library or purchase a copy directly from the Ironbound Films production company’s website here

PBS also has complementary resources for teaching the film on their website. They introduce the topic of language loss, give examples of how words can reflect unique worldviews, offer opportunities to hear them spoken, define key linguistic terms, and provide references for further reading on endangered languages. They also offer a teaching guide and unit focused on teaching students in high school or college about language loss.  

Resource contributed by: Megan Neal, University of California, Irvine

Megan Neal is a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine. Her research centers on how disabled citizens in La Paz, Bolivia challenge normative understandings of development, the senses, and political participation. She also serves as the Web Content Producer for the Teaching and Learning Anthropology Journal’s website.

Teaching Anthropological Analysis through Annotated Participant Observation Essay

Teaching Anthropological Analysis through Annotated Participant Observation Essay

By: Danica Loucks

Students just beginning their undergraduate education may not have a strong grasp of the distinction between description and analysis and what that looks like in anthropological work. If they’re just beginning to be introduced to anthropology and/or other social sciences, this may be especially so. In order to facilitate the growth of students’ abilities to conduct anthropological analysis, gain a better understanding of how description and analysis relate to each other, and see how anthropological concepts and theories can become useful tools, I have assigned Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology students what I call an annotated essay.

With this assignment, students carry out participant observation in a public space. Afterwards, they use their field notes to compose an essay describing their experience. I ask students to write their essay in a formal organized style (i.e. aiming for strong macro, meso, and micro organization, clear topic sentences, etc.) but to focus on describing their experience/what they observed. After writing this essay, the students then must annotate their own writing. With each annotation they must identify a concept or theory introduced in the course that their observation relates to. They must explain how the concept relates or detail why their observation is an example of that concept, as well as provide a formal definition of the concept (you can also require citations if that is a desired learning outcome of your course/the assignment). Carrying out this conceptual work as annotations separates and makes distinct basic analytical skills–a distinction that can be pointed out to students to help them identify how analysis differs from description. This assignment can function well as a precursor to an assignment later in the term in which students will be expected to write into a way that integrates analysis into the main body of their compositions.

Skills and learning objectives: de/familiarization, semi-structured field observation, taking and organizing field notes, applying anthropological concepts and perspectives to data gathering in order to gain experience in how anthropologists “code” observational data.


  • This could be done as an ongoing “observation journal” in which students write field notes numerous times throughout the academic term (e.g. weekly or biweekly) and annotate with concepts as they are introduced in the course.
  • If you are leading discussion sections and are not in a position to create/choose formal assignments for your students, you could modify this to be on a smaller scale or ask students to analytically annotate news articles, media, etc.

See the following text for an example of how this assignment has been presented to students:

  • First, spend 30-60 minutes in a publicly accessible location (a space that is available to you as a member of the public, student, or worker, not one that is private, proprietary, or requires special permissions to be in and report about). This space can be an everyday place, or a site where a particular event or gathering is taking place. Direct your attention to observing the space and the people, beings, and things around you. As you observe, take down notes of all you see and notice.While recording everything you observe, try to identify what things you might usually take for granted. If you’re in a familiar space, challenge yourself to make the familiar strange, in other words, to write about things you take for granted as something culturally produced and not necessarily “right” or”natural” or “common sense.”  If you’re in an unfamiliar setting,try to make sense of what is going on in terms of those who belong to it–that is, try to make the strange familiar. Write down descriptions that don’t assume you know what something is or why something is done a particular way.  Also, using our course concepts, feel free to include speculations in your notes.
  • Take into the field a notebook, writing instrument, and phone for pix or video if you want (not required). Take also a mental “checklist” of socio-cultural features that we know, from our work in class, that can be observed in human social spaces. This list includes but is not limited to:  language/gesture, sights and sound, ideologies, ways relations are structured or enacted, relational activities (human and non-human),how material cultural objects are part of or excluded from the space, rituals and performances, gendered signs and processes, racialized spatializations,social inclusions or exclusions, sexism, racism. Combine walking around and using defamiliarization and semi-structured observation (as we will discuss in class) to immerse in the space. Take detailed notes while you are doing this or wait until you are finished and write down your experience right away so you don’t forget. Write down everything you see, hear,feel, smell, taste, and or perceive in any other way.  We’ll talk about strategies in class!
  • The final product for this assignment should be 4-6 pages of typed (double spaced) field note-based description and footnoted annotations. Minimum 1500 words (including footnotes/endnotes). 
  • Here are instructions and requirements:
  • Write up your field notes into a clear, cogent description. Although this is not a formal essay with a thesis or argument, you must title your essay, use standard good writing skills, and organize description through logically flowing paragraphs.
  • Read over your description and use the colored highlighter function to highlight phrases or sentences that relate to concepts or processes we’ve studied in class.
  • Then annotate your highlighted parts, here’s how:  Use the footnote function to put a footnote after those highlighted phrases or sentences. In those footnotes,relate what you observed and highlighted to a concept or process we have discussed in class. Explain what that anthropological concept or process is,then offer your own analysis or speculation of what is going on. You do not have to do a bibliography referencing the concepts or lectures, because the purpose of this is to show how you can observe and identify examples of what we’ve been exploring. You can go ahead and speculate to – use educated guesses when you can. Some of your footnotes will point to things that require that you reference multiple concepts and processes, this is just fine and indicates how social life is anthropologically complex. You must provide a minimum of 10 annotations, but see how many anthropological concepts and processes you can discover and point out!
  • Skills and learning objectives: In this assignment you will practice de/familiarization, semi-structured field observation, taking and organizing field notes, applying anthropological concepts and perspectives to data gathering in order to gain experience in how anthropologists”code” observational data.

Resource Contributed by: Danica Loucks, University of California, Irvine

Danica Loucks is a PhD student at the University of California, Irvine. Her dissertation research examines how different stakeholders understand public lands in the U.S., considering how differing ways of knowing landscapes, contrasting ideologies about land and property, and competing historical narratives (as well as understandings of how history matters) shape contemporary public lands conflict. Danica is a Pedagogical Fellow through UCI’s Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation and is currently conducting research regarding how students develop anthropological analytical skills.

Seriously, you can teach with these data (even if you’re not an archaeologist)!

Seriously, you can teach with these data (even if you’re not an archaeologist)!

By: Dr. Ian Straughn

Perhaps you are a cultural anthropologist who has been toying with the idea of how that other, grubby subfield – archaeology – could make a cameo appearance in your introductory course or even an upper level seminar on race, colonialism, or the body. Or, take another scenario in which you find yourself assigned to teach or TA an archaeology course when your colleague is on leave (curse you and your last-minute sabbatical), and want to shame them by adding something awesome and new to the syllabus. In both instances, and many others we might concoct that are not motivated by vengeance,I will demonstrate here the potential for utilizing the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS — as tool for teaching an array of topics and concepts to undergraduates through actual data sets. DAACS is a resource which bills itself as a “Web-based initiative designed to foster inter-site, comparative archaeological research on slavery…”with the intention of assisting students and scholars from “different disciplines use archaeological evidence to advance our historical understanding of the slave-based society that evolved in the Atlantic World during the colonial and ante-bellum periods.” Without getting into extensive detail about the history of this database and its structure, much of which is amply and carefully documented on the site, it accommodates educators’ varying comfort levels with archaeological data by offering a range of pathways for navigating and querying the materials from the more than 50 sites it covers. In what follows, I offer a few suggestions for how to incorporate this tool in teaching students to explore archaeological assemblages and incorporate material culture into their anthropological thinking.

The first exercise I want to share allows students to get a feeling for the database and its potential for doing comparative analysis. It has them establish a query of a particular artifact category across a set of sites, the parameters of which are theirs to determine. In this example they would open the query database tab, choose the option for “object query,” and navigate to Object Query 3: Select Artifact Attributes by Type. In the first step of their query they have a variety of options of subsets and for this example I will suggest using “object form” as it can allow for a more precise choice of the artifact type. Students should consider and document what they see as significant about the particular artifact type they are tracking across the various sites in the database. In the second step students limit what set of sites to include in their query. Here, as well, they should discuss why they choose their specific parameters (or defaulted to selecting all) and what it might demonstrate. Perhaps the student is interested in evidence for whether enslaved populations had access to stimulants as part of their diet, and did this vary across the coverage area of the database. From this point they can retrieve their results which might look something like the following search for “Ceramic: Coffee Pot” across all sites:

The student’s analysis might document how such vessels were found at multiple sites all of which were in Virginia and not elsewhere. The expectation is not that students will make conclusive arguments, rather that they will begin the process of using material culture to ask interesting questions about patterns of social practice such as sociality and consumption. It is also important to note that students can download data results to an Excel file by clicking on the query options button. In order to further contextualize their preliminary findings they should also examine the wealth of information about the sites connected with their results by using the “Archaeological Sites” tab.

It is also productive for students to approach these data from the specific site as the starting point rather than a category of objects. As another exercise I will assign each student or group of students a particular site to explore in order to identify a specific “feature” within that site to investigate through the assemblage of artifacts associated with it. Not all sites are equally suited to this exercise, so it is necessary to limit students to those that strike a balance between sufficient quantity of materials that may demonstrate patterning or facilitate useful comparisons and those where assemblages are either overwhelming or thin. Some sites that work well include Monticello buildings l, o, r, s, and t, Palace Lands, and Mount Vernon’s House for Families, though you should feel free to experiment with others. After students carefully read the “background” and “before you begin” sections of their assigned site, they should run an Artifact Query 1: Basic Inventory in which they click the radio button for site in Step 1 and chose their specific site in Step 2. This will return a finds list for the entire site organized by artifact type and category. After downloading the data into an Excel sheet they can produce basic histograms and charts of the counts and discuss those findings.

Next students can drill down into a specific artifact type or category that is well-represented in the data through a second query that explores its attributes. For instance, using an Artifact Query 3: Select Artifact Attributes by Type, they could choose button as the artifact category in step 1 along with several attributes (e.g. material, manufacture, shape), no selection in step 2, and Building S at Monticello in step 3. Such a query might be designed in accordance with either a formal hypothesis about sartorial habits or as part of a broader inquiry about access to prestige items or other aspects of the domestic life of slavery. Once the results are downloaded into an Excel table, students can visualize the data in appropriate charts and analyze their findings. These examples only scratch the surface of what is possible with DAACS. The many scholars involved in making these data available also provide valuable guidance and suggestions under the site’s research tab. Such data do not need to be intimidating even for the introductory classroom. This is particularly the case in providing students with skills in comparative analysis and how to approach material culture in formal assemblages. Even within the context of a socio-cultural course such exercises encourage students toc onsider material culture as a lens into anthropological concerns over bodily practices, social class, consumption and more.

Resource Contributed by: Dr. Ian Straughn, University of California, Irvine

Dr. Straughn is an archaeologist whose research focuses on the spatial and material formation of the emerging Islamic tradition in the Levant. Additionally, he published on issues of Islamic heritage in the Middle East. He is currently co-editing a volume on the Islamic textual tradition of West Africa and developing new pedagogical tools for teaching archaeology and material culture.

First Day Activity: Ten Things You Believe to be True

First Day Activity: Ten Things You Believe to be True

This resource was originally published by Cultural Anthropology: Teaching Tools:

By Angela Jenks

The first day of class is often a challenge for new instructors. After addressing the inevitable logistical issues (e.g., enrollment, the syllabus, access to course materials), should you end early? Dive right into a lecture? Engage students in an ice-breaking activity?

Like other faculty (Lang 2008; Nilson 2003), I have several goals for the beginning of a class: 1) I want to introduce the course topic and ways of thinking about course materials; 2) I want to introduce myself as an instructor, setting the tone for the rest of the course and stimulating student interest; 3) I want to encourage students to talk to each other, both to learn about their colleagues and to make connections that may prove useful if they want to form study groups or share notes and resources later on; and 4) I want to learn more about who my students are and why they chose to enroll in the course.

Here at the University of California, Irvine, courses run on a quarter schedule, so we have just started spring classes. This has given me the chance, once again, to bring out one of my favorite beginning-of-class activities. I first participated in this activity when I was a student in a folklore course taught by Alexandra Griswold at the University of Pennsylvania. I remembered it years later when I began teaching on my own, and I have used it routinely in both introductory cultural anthropology and anthropology of religion courses. I often use it on the first day of class, and always during the first week. It is easily adaptable to both small and large courses.

The activity has 6 steps:

Step 1

Ask students to write a list of ten things they believe to be true.

In my experience, the activity works better if students do this before class, rather than writing the list during the class session, although I’ve done it both ways. I tell them that I will collect the lists, so all of the items should be things they are comfortable with me knowing, and at least three should be things they are willing to share with other students in the class.

I purposefully leave the interpretation of the term belief up to students, although I often say that they are not limited to listing religious beliefs. Students’ lists often do include statements about the supernatural: I believe that God exists; I believe in karma; I believe that I have seen a ghost; I believe witches are real. Others include statements they perceive to be explicitly anti-religious: I believe in evolution; I believe that science can answer all our questions; I believe that there is no life after death. Many will include statements about their everyday lives: I believe my boyfriend loves me; I believe I live in California. And there are always some whimsical responses: I believe that chocolate makes everything better.

Step 2

In class, students are instructed to find a partner who they do not know well. Each student should interview his or her partner, learning the partner’s name and other information (e.g., major, year in school, where they are from) and three things she or he believes to be true. Small groups of three are also fine if necessary. I often explicitly tell students that they should not simply trade lists to read, but should share their three beliefs in conversation. This step can usually be completed in 5–10 minutes.

Step 3

Ask students to introduce their partners to the entire class and to share one thing their partner believes to be true. At this stage, I have divided the board into three columns. I write short versions of these beliefs in the first column. In small classes, every student is introduced; in large classes, I ask for volunteers to introduce their partners.

Step 4

Ask students why, when they were being interviewed, they chose that set of three beliefs to share with their partner. I write these responses in the second column on the board. Common responses include: Those were the three I felt strongest about; the three I’m most certain of; the three I thought were least weird; the three I thought others would agree with and not judge; the three I thought would be most controversial; the three I thought were most unique to me.

Step 5

Ask students why, when they were introducing their partner to the class, they chose that one belief to share. Again, I write the responses on the board, this time in the third column. Common responses include: That was the one I agreed with; the one I thought everyone else could relate to; the one that was most different from my own beliefs; the one I remembered; the one nobody else had said yet.

Step 6

Depending on the course I am teaching, this activity provides a segue into future conversations about epistemology, the culture concept, anthropological representation, or ethnographic research. In introductory courses, I ask students to reflect on their understandings of the term belief, and I use their lists to help demonstrate multiple ways of knowing. Following this activity, we might talk about the problems of defining culture or religion in terms of easily articulated beliefs, and I emphasize the normalized, invisible aspects of cultural life that we would never think to write on a list or to state to a stranger.

This activity is also helpful as I encourage students to question common understandings of culture that presume bounded groups: the Azande believe X; the Trobriand Islanders believe Y; or Latinos believe Z. Would it be possible, I ask, to create a list of what college students believe?

The activity is also a simple way to introduce some of the complexities of ethnography and to encourage students to think critically about the way anthropological knowledge is produced. What factors, we discuss, might affect the ways in which people talk to an anthropologist or the ways anthropologists write about their data and craft ethnographic representations? Are any of those similar to the factors that affected what students in the class chose to share or report?

In upper-division classes, students and I engage in a deeper interrogation of the concept of belief in the history of anthropology, and this activity leads into a discussion of introductory readings by Malcolm Ruel (1997), Byron Good (1993), or Stanley Tambiah (1990).  

I have found this activity to be successful at a variety of institutions. In addition to introducing and encouraging critical reflection on course concepts and providing a reference point for future class discussions, the “ten things you believe to be true” activity gives students an opportunity to meet each other, encourages their active participation in the course, and allows me to learn more about my students and their understandings of anthropology.


Good, Byron J. 1994. “Medical Anthropology and the Problem of Belief.” In Medicine, Rationality, and Experience: An Anthropological Perspective, 1–24. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lang, James M. 2008. On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 

Nilson, Linda B. 2003. Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. 2nd edition. Bolton, Mass.: Anker.  

Ruel, Malcolm. 1997. “Christians as Believers.” In Belief, Ritual, and the Securing of Life: Reflexive Essays on a Bantu Religion, 36–59. Leiden: Brill.

Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja. 1990. Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Resource Contributed By: Angela Jenks, University of California, Irvine