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A Creative Spin on Teaching Anthropology

Professor Balmurli Natrajan of William Patterson University has put a creative spin on his anthropology class – Global Transformations and the Human Condition. The class started out as a small 10 student class when introduced, but due to growing popularity Natrajan added the course to the spring term as well.

Mr. Natrajan has been teaching anthropology courses at William Paterson University, in New Jersey, for more than six years, but he says this course is easily the most beloved by his students. It’s called “Global Transformations and the Human Condition,” and it uses everyday objects to teach students about globalization, development, and how different parts of the world are linked in complex and subtle ways…

As part of the course, students are required to write a research paper about an object from their everyday lives and trace its journey. They discover how their item was made, the treatment of the workers who made it, and the borders the product crossed to reach the United States. Then they find where it ends up as waste. People have chosen objects as varied as a baseball, a diamond, and a guitar string.

The idea to research objects came partly from Mr. Natrajan’s experience teaching globalization. He knew his students needed a way to relate to the material so they wouldn’t be limited to picturing faraway places disconnected from their own lives. Most of them had never traveled abroad, and it was a challenge to make students realize that they were already part of a global economy. But when he started assigning the research paper, he says, they began to “rethink the world around them.”

Read the entire article in The Chronicle to learn more about the variety of innovative research projects Natrajan’s students are doing.

2 Responses

  1. [...] AAA also highlights A Creative Spin on Teaching Anthropology through Professor Balmuli Natrajan’s class on “Global Transformations and the Human [...]

  2. Kudos to Professor Natrajan for bringing these issues to the classroom and getting these highlights. This method of intensive research into the social relations of a single commodity has a deep anthropological history. Sidney W. Mintz used this technique in _Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History_. Mintz also taught a graduate seminar which asked students to research a single crop or commodity.

    Great work by Professor Natrajan to take this to undergraduates and provide encouraging news on relevant anthropology.

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