In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Collaborative Anthropology as Classroom TeachingThe How and the Why
  • Holly Swyers (bio)

In 2013 I wrote a piece for Anthropology News advocating for collaborative anthropology as part of classroom instruction. In that piece I described my ongoing collaboration with the Lake Forest–Lake Bluff Historical Society to illustrate the use of externally generated field experiences in the classroom. I have subsequently learned about other collaborative anthropologies involving students, ranging from Charles Menzies and Caroline Butler’s collaboration with the Gitxaała Nation (Menzies and Butler 2011) to Susan Hyatt’s contribution to “Anthropologists Back to School 2013” at the aaa annual meeting in Chicago (Hyatt 2014). I have also discovered Tim Wallace’s (2011: 255) critique of the effort to combine collaboration or service learning with ethnographic training, including his claim that “service learning projects are best accomplished by students who have both prior familiarity with the setting and some basic practical experience in ethnographic field techniques.” While I appreciate Wallace’s perspective as someone who runs a field school for ethnographic methods, I cannot agree that collaboration with host communities and ethnographic field training are necessarily incompatible. I propose instead that a collaboration with a training focus is not only possible for anthropology but may be one of the most successful ways to engage undergraduates in our discipline and the questions it raises. Only with their curiosity thus whetted and a working sense of the practicalities and ethics of fieldwork can they dive more fully into ethnographic field training. In addition I propose an answer to a concern regarding “cultural tourism” or exploitation of host [End Page 21] communities expressed in critiques of service learning (e.g., Morton 1995; Menzies and Butler 2011). The ethical dimensions of applied and collaborative anthropology, I argue, are shared by native ethnographers, and using the idea of collaborative native ethnography in early anthropological training can help give our students the awareness and exposure they need to make the most of what anthropology can teach them (cf. Hurn 2012; Keene and Colligan 2004).

My objective in this article is to investigate both the how and why of creating a training collaboration, using a specific project that I and my collaborators at the Lake Forest–Lake Bluff Historical Society developed in 2009. The project in question involved the historic Mill Road Farm golf course in Lake Forest, and it engaged students in two of my courses. I have written elsewhere about the oral histories that students collected (Swyers 2013); here I focus on a survey archaeology project my students conducted. Their work, under the joint direction of the Historical Society staff and me, resulted in an award-winning exhibit (Hack 2009) that increased the visibility of the Historical Society and garnered enthusiasm for a more sustained partnership. This collaboration has enabled a training paradigm that not only gives students useful skills but also makes them more able to recognize culture as a product of interaction and history rather than something people possess, a point to which I return at the end of this essay.

The Why: Part 1

In my experience most traditional age undergraduates approach the reading of ethnography much as they approach reading fiction. This is not surprising given the writing conventions of anthropology (cf. Gupta and Ferguson 1997: 30–31) and the relative inexperience of the typical American eighteen year old. While I have tried to supplement my teaching with readings that explicitly describe the methods of collecting and analyzing data, I find reading about it does little to make clear what it is like to be engaged in active ethnographic research. I have sought to remedy this problem by including data collection and analysis of some sort in all my classes beyond my introductory course.

While I can ask students to study their own milieu and have done so, I find it difficult to get them to push past their comfort zones or to resist facile interpretations of what they observe based on their insider knowledge [End Page 22] of their social world. That I teach at a residential college with 1,600 students only exacerbates the problem; almost all students are known to one another at least by face...