"If life is messy and unpredictable, and documentary is a reflection of life, should it not be digressive and open-ended too?"

-Lucien Castaing-Taylor

  • Course: ANTH 477 Visual Anthropology (Fall 2013)
  • Classroom: Alumni 308
  • Days/Hours: Tuesday 5-7:50pm
  • Instructor: Jean Dennison
  • Office: Alumni 409E
  • E-mail: jeand@email.unc.edu
  • Office Hours: 3:30-4:30pm Tues/Thurs (please email to sign-up)

In this course students will have a direct and sustained engagement with visual forms of communication as tools for understanding and communicating anthropological concepts. While this class does require weekly readings and film viewings, the central component of the class will be the production of a video for public consumption. Through weekly creative assignments and extensive in-class critiques, students will spend over 30 hours building and refining their final visual projects.

Our central goal will be to move away from concepts of objectivity or subjectivity toward the use of deeply situated spaces to investigate the making of reality. The class will thus critically engage cross-cultural representations, colonial and post-colonial representations, as well as feminist and science studies approaches to ethnography. Finally, we will discuss the processes of production and the culture of social relations between media artists and community.

Rather than approaching visual anthropology with a divide between 'anthropological content' and 'aesthetic composition' this class will attempt to foster both, pushing an artistic eye toward newly unfolding anthropological concerns. Experimentation and creativity will be highly valued within this setting.


Upon completion of the course, students should be able to: 1) use visual forms of communication to communicate to a general public 2) creatively and artistically explore issues of anthropological concern, 3) explain a variety of theoretical approaches to the visual, 4) comprehend and compare the process of constructing media representations, and 5) explain the ways in which knowledge never exists independent of inequalities.


This will be a challenging and time consuming visual production class. Make sure you consider this when making your final class decisions for the semester. Be prepared to devote the time necessary to both projects and to class reading each week. With all of the assignments you will need to plan ahead in order to get the project adequately completed on time. To do well in the course you will need to have some background in photography and/or art, however you do not need to have a background in video production. As you will work in teams, you must be willing to develop team skills to do well.


Because this is a hands-on production and critique-based class, attendance is critical. The format of the class outlined below necessitates that everyone not only come to class, but come having read and viewed the materials assigned and done the assignment for the day. Credit for participation cannot be made up. If you cannot attend class you must talk to me before the class begins. Because we only meet once a week, more than one absence without a written excuse in advance will affect your grade. All assignments are known well in advance; therefore, opportunities for make-up work or permission to hand in an assignment late are only granted for exceptional circumstances. If you feel that your situation is such, contact me before your assignment is due and provide me with a written medical excuse.


Around the UNC campus there are several places to access video equipment. The Beasley Multimedia Resource Center and The Media Resources Center both have still and video cameras available as well as computers with video and web page design software. You are strongly encouraged to reserve the equipment from the MRC well ahead of time, but the Beasley center is on a first come first serve basis, so get there early. While the Beasley center is only open to students enrolled in classes registered with the center, such as ours, the Media Resource Center is open to all students, faculty and staff. During the semester the Beasley center will provide various training sessions. The MRC also offers online tutorials and one-on-one media lab classes in a wide range of visual media programs to fit your schedule. You are strongly encouraged to take advantage of these training opportunities. The Beasley center also has trained staff on hand during operating hours to answer additional questions. If you use one or both of these resources you will need an external hard-drive for storing your video project.

Of course, students are also welcome to edit/design their projects at home with their own or free editing software for Windows and Apple computers.

Technology problems are very common with video editing, so please do not wait until the last minute to attempt to edit your video or upload it to Sakai. Problems with technology will not be accepted as an excuse for late projects.

No matter how you decide to edit your video, you will need a great deal of patience and time.


Participation (100 points): If you do not attend class, you cannot participate. Therefore, attendance is required (see policy on attendance above). Furthermore, there is no way to make an "A" in the class if you do not actively participate in class each week with a solid understanding of the readings and films.

At all times, we need to remember to respect each other's ideas and comments. Learning to be a good academic citizen is not only about engaging with texts, but is also about learning to listen and consider other viewpoints carefully and thoughtfully. Many of us will be unfamiliar with some if not all of the course material. If you don't understand a word or concept, look it up prior to class.

Participating in activities not directly related to the class during class time (such as the use of personal technologies) will automatically result in a loss of participation points for the day.

Question Posting (100 points): For 10 of the classes where question postings are due, students are required to write one discussion question on the reading/viewing assignments due that day. All questions must be posted to the appropriate place (Assignments / Questions Posting) on the course's Sakai page by 11:55 pm on the Sunday prior to class. These questions will not be accepted late and are intended to show students' abilities to meet deadlines. Students can earn extra-credit by completing all 11 question postings.

You do not need to answer the questions. The goal of these questions is to show your engagement with the course material and thus your questions should connect all of the week's material together. These questions will each be graded on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being 'exceptional', 7 being 'adequate', and 3 being 'needs improvement.' 

Projects (800 points): Each assignment will be graded based both on its creativity and its content. All projects should be posted to the course's Sakai page, under the appropriate assignment, prior to class on the date due. Any file over 200MB will have to be compressed or split into multiple parts. All material must be created solely for this class during this semester. After week six, the projects will be completed in small groups of 3-4 students, and only need to be submitted to Sakai by one group member.

Style (25 points): Go to the art/architecture library or look online and find a photographer whose style is interesting to you. Using The Photographer's Eye, look for key terms to describe how they frame their shots or create certain effects. Scan/upload 5 of their images that illustrate these key terms and present the photographs to the class. The presentation should be 2-5 minutes in length and include terms found in The Photographer's Eye to talk about style of the images. Upload images as a single .pdf or .ppt file. DUE 8/27

Final project idea (25 points): Research and submit to Sakai one well thought-out idea for the final project. Choose a social issue about which a video could challenge existing notions. An ideal topic for the class will be something close to home (both physically and mentally), in which you already know some of the key players involved, allowing more depth within the project.

In your presentation, highlight why the topic is important and why a visual medium would be useful. You will have 2-5 minutes to present your ideas in class and take notes of the other presentations. Email me by the following day listing which project(s) you would be willing to participate in. If you do not complete this final step you will not get credit for completing the assignment. DUE 9/3

Autoethnography (50 points): Study your personal space and document the ways in which that physical environment visually symbolizes who you are. Photograph that environment and construct a photo essay (with no more than 10 images) that represents that understanding. Framing is important to this exercise. Using The Photographer's Eye, incorporate a variety of shots to add depth and understanding to your visuals. Pay special attention to how the images are sequenced to tell a story. Upload images as a single .pdf or .ppt file, with the first page containing all of the images arranged graphically on a page (or pages if necessary) and the remaining pages arranged sequentially with only one image per page. DUE 9/10

Installation (25 points): Give a 5 minute visual presentation on an art exhibit/installation that you feel effectively engages with material related to your final topic. You can search through our libraries holdings here or attend a local musuem, or find something online. During your presentation, show at least three images from the exhibit, talk about the mechanics and content of the exhibit, and discuss how the exhibit encourages viewer engagement. Submit an outline of your discussion points and at least 3 images on Sakai. DUE 9/17


Consent Form (50 points): Based on UNC IRB protocol, construct and upload a consent form. The template is located here. This assignment will serve as your final project proposal and the consent form should be used for all of the remaining assignments. DUE 9/24

Autobiographical/Indigenous Ethnography (50 points):  Ask one or more of the informants of your final project to take photographs that reveal something about your project’s central issue or problem. Discuss the images with the photographer. As a group write and upload (as of .doc) a one page analysis of the pictures, the discussion, and what you have learned from the exercise. In class display up to 15 of the photographs and prepare a ten minute presentation of your analysis. Upload images as a single .pdf or .ppt file, with only one image per page. DUE 10/1

Representing Others (50 points): Find an individual/place that is in some way related to your final project idea. Capture a day-in-the-life of that person/place. The visuals should reveal activities, say something about social/cultural life, as well as capture personalities. Using The Photographer's Eye, incorporate a variety of shots to add depth and understanding to your visuals. Framing is important to this exercise. In particular, look for details that describe the person without them having to be in every image.

In your presentation, be prepared to discuss the problems you encountered and future solutions in class. Pay special attention to how the images are sequenced to tell a story. This project may be presented in either photos or video with no more than 10 images or a 2 minute video (if you have prior video editing experience). Upload video as a quicktime file and images as a single .pdf or .ppt file, with the last page containing all of the images arranged graphically on a page and the remaining pages arranged sequentially with only one image per page. DUE 10/15

Ethnographic Film (50 points): Ethnographers often focus on social and cultural "events." As part of your final project find one or more formal or informal events that reveal world views or ideologies within the area you are investigating for your final project. Using techniques discussed in the previous week's class, edit together a three minute video segment and upload (as a quicktime file) it to Sakai. DUE 10/22

Interviews (50 point): Using the techniques discussed in the previous week's class conduct three interviews with key participants in your final project, either as background research or as footage. Upload a clip from each interview (as a quicktime file) and discuss what worked and did not work with the interviews in class. DUE 10/29

Experimental Video (50 points): Using various experimental techniques discussed in class the previous week, edit together a 2-5 minute video sequence for your final project. Students will be required to upload (as a quicktime file) and present this material during class, discussing the techniques they have deployed and how they were achieved. DUE 11/5

Storyboard (50 points): Create a series of diagrams to depict the composition of your final video. Each diagram should consist of: a sketch of the video; a brief description of the visuals; notes for the camera operator; the details of the desired audio that will accompany the visual; and an estimate of how long the segment will be. The storyboard should then be placed in order to provide a foundation for capturing the proper footage/photographs and for making the most engaging editing decisions. Submit as a .pdf or .ppt file. DUE 11/12

Rough Cuts (50 points):  Students will be required to upload (as a quicktime file) and present 2-5 minutes of rough cut footage of their final projects during class. They should also be able to discuss their plans for the remainder of the video. DUE 11/19

Rough Draft (75 points):  Students will be required to upload (as a quicktime file) and present a rough draft of their final projects during class. Full credit on this assignment will only be given to projects that complete the requirements of the final project, and only need to fine-tune the editing. DUE 12/3

Final Project (200 points): Video projects should be designed to be 8-10 minutes. These videos will be uploaded (as a quicktime file) and presented publicly at the end of the semester, as your final exam. DUE 12/10, 7pm


Honor Code

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has had a student-administered honor system and judicial system for over 100 years. The system is the responsibility of students and is regulated and governed by them, but faculty share the responsibility. If you have questions about your responsibility under the honor code, please bring them to your instructor or consult with the office of the Dean of Students or the Instrument of Student Judicial Governance at:http://honor.unc.edu. This document, adopted by the Chancellor, the Faculty Council, and the Student Congress, contains all policies and procedures pertaining to the student honor system. Your full participation and observance of the honor code is expected.

Plagiarism in the form of deliberate or reckless representation of another's words, thoughts, images or ideas as one's own without attribution in connection with submission of academic work, whether graded or otherwise. Plagiarism will not be tolerated in this class and will result in a failing grade for the class and suspension for one academic semester. Materials for class assignments should be produced specifically for this class unless prior approval from the professor is granted.

There is one required books (The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos) and one recommended book (Final Cut Pro Portable Genius). Both books are available through the University bookstores or the internet. All other readings are provided online.

Readings are generally under 30 pages per week, but will often be challenging. You should plan to read each week’s reading at least twice: once before you complete that week’s assignment and once right before class. You will also be required to watch a film each week, on your own time, online or at the Media Resource Library. Your grade will suffer if you do not incorporate these materials into your projects (where appropriate) or if you cannot discuss this material articulately in class each week.

Reading materials are made available through the course's Sakai page, under resources, for the educational purposes of students in Jean Dennison's Visual Anthropology class. No further reproduction, transmission, or electronic distribution of this material is permitted.


Week 1 (8/20) - Introduction to Course

Introduce course and discuss syllabus. Fill out information sheet. Go around and introduce self. View Passing Girl: Riverside (25 min) and discuss.


Weeks 2 (8/27) - Anthropological Ways of Knowing

Present assignment. Discuss next assignment. Discuss reading and film. Documenting Space slide show.

Due: Style; Sign-up on Sakai for discussion weeks. Question Posting due on Sunday prior.

Readings for class: Abu-Lughod, Lila (2002) Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? American Anthropologist 104(3): 783-790.

Dumit, Joseph (1997) A Digital Image of the Category of the Person: PET scanning and Objective Self-Fashioning. In Cyborg and Citadels: Anthropological Interventions in Emerging Sciences and Technologies. Gary Lee Downey and Joseph Dumit, eds. Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research Press. Pp. 83-102.

View for class:  Cannibal Tours (68) and Islak (9:41)

Weeks 3 (9/3) - Image Acts

Present project ideas. Discuss next assignment. Discuss reading and film. Discussion of Informed Consent and Ethics.

Due: Final project ideas; Email by 9/4 with project list; Question Posting due on Sunday prior.

Readings for class: Bakewell, Liza (1998) Image Acts. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 100, No. 1. (Mar., 1998), pp. 22-32.

Pink, Sarah (2006) Engaging the Visual: An Introduction. In The Future of Visual Anthropology. London: Routledge. Pp: 3-20.

View for class:  Faces of the Other (3) and The Danger of a Single Story (19)

Weeks 4 (9/10) - Autoethnography

Present assignment. Discuss next assignment. Discuss reading.

Due: Autoethnography; Question Posting due on Sunday prior.

Readings for class: Russell, Catherine (1999) Auto Ethnography. In Experimental Ethnography. Durham: Duke University Press. Pp: 275-313.

View for class:  Toungues Untied (55) Media Resource Center 65-DVD5538 or on Sakai.


Weeks 5 (9/17) - Art and Anthropology

Discussion with Director Sterlin Harjo. Discuss next assignment. Discuss reading.    

Due: Installation; Question Posting due on Sunday prior.            

Readings for class:  Schneider, Arnd and Christopher Wright (2010) Between Art and Anthropology. In Between Art and Anthropology. Arnd Schneider and Christopher Wright, eds. Pp: 135-146 Berg: Oxford.

Perkins, Morgan (2010) Cultural Knowledge on Display: Chinese and Haudenosaunee Fieldnotes. In Between Art and Anthropology. Arnd Schneider and Christopher Wright, eds. Pp: 135-146 Berg: Oxford.

View for class:  Barking Water (55) Media Resource Center 65-DVD12422, or public screening September 16th 6pm FedEx Global Education Center – Nelson Mandela Auditorium.


Week 6 (9/24) - Research

Present assignments. Discuss next assignment. Groups present reading and film.    

Due: Consent Form

Readings for class: Assigned based on topic.

View for class: Chosen based on topic. 


Weeks 7 (10/1) - Indigenous Media

Present assignment. Discuss next assignment. Discuss reading and film.

Due: Autobiographical/Indigenous Ethnography; Question Posting due on Sunday prior.               

Readings for class: Handout on Video Technique

Peterson, Leignton (2013) Reclaiming Diné Film: Visual Sovereignty and the Return of Navajo Film Themselves. Visual Anthropology Review 29(1) 29-41.

Ruby, Jay (1991) Speaking For, Speaking About, Speaking With, or Speaking Alongside — An Anthropological and Documentary Dilemma. In Visual Anthropology Review 7(2): 50-67.

View for class:  Bad Indians, a Poem by Ryan Red Corn (5:14) and Geronimo E-KIA, a poem by the 1491s (4:28)


Week 8 (10/8) - Video Editing

In-class discussion of video editing techniques by Will Bosley. Discuss reading and film. Rewatch and map section of class viewing.

Due: Set up meeting (in groups) with Will Bosley <wbosley@email.unc.edu> at the The Beasley Multimedia Resource Center; Question Posting due on Sunday prior.

Readings for class: Handout on Editing

Block, Bruce (2008) Practice, Not Theory. In The Visual Story. Pp 254-270. Elsevier: Amsterdam.

MacDougal, David (1998) Visual Anthropology and the Ways of Knowing. In Transcultural Cinema. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Pp: 61-92.

View for class: February 14th, 2011 (7:07) on course's Sakai page.


Weeks 9 (10/15) - Ethnographic Film

Present assignment. Discuss next assignment. Discuss reading and film.

Due: Representing Others; Question Posting due on Sunday prior.  

Readings for class: Grimshaw, Anna (2011) The Bellwether Ewe. Cultural Anthropology 26(2) 247-262.

Wright, Christopher (2010) Notes on Observation and Context. In Between Art and Anthropology. Arnd Schneider and Christopher Wright, eds. Pp: 67-74 Berg: Oxford.

View for class:  Sweet Grass (101). Media Resource Center 65-DVD10775 or on course's Sakai page.


Weeks 10 (10/22) - Interviews

Present assignment. Discuss next assignment. Discuss reading and film. Discuss general interview strategies.           

Due: Ethnographic Film; Question Posting due on Sunday prior.           

Readings for class: Handouts on Interviews

Sheftel, Anna and Stacy Zembrzycki (2010) Only Human: A Reflection on the Ethical and Methodological Challenges of Working with " Difficult " Stories. In The Oral History Review 37(2).

View for class: Club Native (78). Media Resource Center 65-DVD4958 or on course's Sakai page.


Week 11 (10/29) - Experimental Video

Present assignment. Discuss next assignment. Discuss reading and film. Storyboard technique.

Due: Interviews; Question Posting due on Sunday prior.

Readings for class: Schneider, Arnd (2008) Three Modes of Experimentation with Art and Ethnography. In Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14:171-194.

Handout on Story boarding: Begleiter, Marcie (2001) Text, Image, Diagram. In From Word to Image. California: Michael Wiese Productions. Pp: 54-77.

View for class: No Place to Go - Syria; Zuccotti Park; A Day in New York.


Week 12 (11/5) - Visual Culture

Present assignment. Discuss next assignment. Discuss reading and film.      

Due: Experimental Video; Question Posting due on Sunday prior.       

Readings for class: Sarvas, Risto (2011) Digital Photo Adoption. In From Snapshots to Social Media.

View for class: Instragram (Search for: a friend [in users] and a town and a hobby/personal interest [in hashtags]) and I forgot My Phone.


Week 13 (11/12) - Situated Knowledge

Discuss progress on final project. Present assignment. Discuss reading and film.  

Due: Storyboard; Question Posting due on Sunday prior.  

Readings for class: Haraway, Donna (1988) Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. Feminist studies 14(3): 575–599.

View for class: Language of My Reality (3).


Week 14 (11/19) - Rough Cuts

Present rough cuts and discuss needed changes.     

Due: Rough cuts    


Week 15 (11/26) - Group Editing, NO IN-CLASS MEETING   


Week 16 (12/3) - Rough Drafts

Present rough cuts and discuss needed changes.     

Due: Rough draft


Final Exam (12/10 at 7pm) - Final Presentations

Present final projects publicly.

Due: Final project









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