Fall 2011: Day 2

Posted: August 26, 2011 in anthropology, School Daze

I am both shocked and amazed.

I’ve been dreading having to retake Theories of Culture for a year, and it appears my dread was completely unfounded.  This goes to show you what happens when you have a really terrible professor like I did in the Fall of 2010.  So far, the new professor (who I have twice back to back) really makes this boring, dry material more accessible to the students. He’s going out of his way to give us explanations and details about these theories that are supposed to be the backbone of our discipline.  Not only is he teaching this in a way to make it easier to comprehend, he’s provided us with textbooks by people he knows personally, and one of these books is a critique of the canonical literature we use in Anthropology.  Everything deserves critique, but most especially certain beliefs that are still upheld in anthropology today.

That brings me to another point, one that I’m sure I’ve made in the past: Too many professors do not care about their students. They only care about their research, and having to teach courses to maintain funding is a nuisance to them it seems. I feel extremely lucky to have 2  professors this term who really reach out to their students and make an effort. We are paying their salaries with our exorbitant tuition fees, tech fees, green fees, fees fees fees.  You would think they would remember this.  I’m not above pointing out that I am paying for this education, this isn’t public school. Not only does my Theories professor like teaching his courses, he ASKED to teach Theories of Culture, and has been doing so for 20 years now. It really shows in the way he operates his classroom.  Unlike previous instructors who basically thought of themselves as the Fount of All Knowledge Anthropological and the students as humble receptors of said knowledge, the ones I have this year from my department are more interested in a dialectic process between us instead of memorize, memorize, regurgitate.  It makes a nice change, and it really does facilitate the learning process.

My course on the Caribbean was boring-ish yesterday.  I say that because I’m a major in the department, and the professor spent the period explaining what Anthropology is to the students who are not from our major. For me, this was all stuff I learned in Introduction to Anthropology a billion years ago. So I sat listening as he explained our 4 subfields (at least, those in the U.S. – Other countries do not include certain subfields under the heading of Anthropology, such as Forensics, Archaeology and Linguistics), what the anthropological perspective is and how we will use it this semester in our survey of the Caribbean cultures. I took notes anyway, because as he stated in class, “Everything we discuss, read, see and know can and will be fodder for any exam this term.” I’m expecting some questions on the nature of Anthropology on our first exam.

My last class of the day, Museum Informatics, took a turn towards the awesome. First, the class size has shrunk dramatically since tuesday.  The first day of class we had about 25 students: 80% female, 20% male.  Yesterday, that had become 15 students, 99% female, 1% male (me!).  At the beginning of class, I looked around and saw that I was the only guy left in the course now.  One of the girls said I should feel special, and I guess in a way, I do.  But that isn’t why the course is going to be truly awesome.  The reason for this is that not only are we going to learn about the technology that is being used in Museums in the digital era, we are actually going to be using some of it to aid a new museum in Guatemala at the Kaminaljuyu archaeology site.

One of these amazing new technologies is 3-dimensional printing.  For those of you who are extremely fond of sci-fi, this is sorta like a replicator you see on those shows about the future.  You can use a scanner on an object, say an original ceramic vessel from pre-classical Maya, and in less than a day, the printer “prints” a replica version out of a resin powder.  It is accurate within half the width of a human hair (.5 microns) .  If you are interested in seeing this technology in action, go to youtube.com and search for 3D printing and you will find a video that demonstrates this process. It is nothing short of amazing to me.

So, instead of doing the original setup of the group projects, the Professor (who I adore thus far) has decided we are going to help out this fledgling museum by creating replicas of artifacts that are held by the National Museum in Guatemala for display.  Many of the artifacts held by the National Museum that pertain to the Kaminaljuyu site have been previously scanned, so it is simply a matter of imputing the data into the computer and printing the replicas.  In addition to these replicas, we are also going to be using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to correct maps done by the Carnegie foundation in the 60s with correct GPS locations of burial mounds and other items of interest to the archaeologists, as well as building a website to provide access to the data that has been collected by the team at Kaminaljuyu.  There was some discussion about also creating new posters and signage for the site itself that contains updated information.

In all the time I’ve been an Anthropology student, this is the first time I’ve actually gotten the opportunity to do something that will have a direct effect on a site and the way that the information obtained is being presented to the public.  As the professor pointed out yesterday, this is something we can put on our resume, and we will definitely get media attention later in the year when we deliver the replicas to the Museum head herself during her visit to USF.  Too bad for the students who dropped – they are going to miss out on some really cool technology.

This semester is off to a great start. Lets hope it stays that way!

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