A pedagogical interlude: teaching Archaeology of Sex and Gender

Posted on May 3, 2010

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In the most recent series of posts, I have been working step by step (week by week) through the second section of the course syllabus for the course that gave rise to Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives. As previously described, I use the groups of articles listed as material for student-led panel discussions. These are somewhat open-ended, but they take place after students have submitted one page critical summaries of the assigned articles, which are reviewed and when necessary returned to their authors for revision. So each student has to read, critically analyze and write about articles. In any week when a student is not writing about an article, he or she has the role of developing discussion questions for the article.

In other words, this course depends on a regular cycle of reading, writing, revising, responding to the writing of others, and only then, discussing assigned readings.

All of this work is meant to prepare students for work on their final project, which is initiated with the submission of a “Project Benchmark” assignment the week that we wrap up discussion of regional traditions with our consideration of Native North America. Project Benchmarks are a series of assignments that together build toward the final course project. Each is a piece of a whole, and the first benchmark builds on what students by this point have practiced multiple times: close reading of primary research articles with careful attention to methods, kinds of evidence, and questions addressed.

What changes with this new assignment is that I no longer provide the articles. Each student is asked to identify an article (book chapter or journal article) from any place in the world, from any historical period through to the recent past, that relates to the themes of the course. I have come to think this is one of the most important assignments in the course, because it gives me an opportunity to help students learn how to use research sources, such as databases and online journals. These are resources increasingly available to students, but to which they are not being systematically introduced. So, I have found, students do not understand why some things are available in Google Scholar, and others are not; what the difference is between a repository like JSTOR, where they can find whole articles, but not every article from every journal, and databases where they do not find the article, but may find records of a wider range of journals.

And here is the pedagogical point: an interdisciplinary course on sex and gender in the past is an ideal forum for this kind of training. Students may want to pursue biological, art historical, ethnographic, archaeological, or documentary historical threads. They are motivated to learn about the widest range of resources. They find things I did not know existed, and I can genuinely tell them that they have the potential of adding entirely new knowledge to the course.