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Course Syllabus, Fall 2014

Anthropology 3060, Seminar: Cultural Narratives

Dr. Bonnie Clark

"The universe is made of stories, not atoms." Muriel Rukeyser

Class: Tuesday and Thursday, 10 – 11:50 pm, Sturm 258

Office Hours: Tuesdays 1-4 pm, Sturm Hall 142, other times available by appointment
Phone: (303) 871-2875 Email:

Course Description: Human beings are natural story-tellers. Whether reciting oral traditions or
recounting personal experience, people everywhere use narratives as a way to express and to
understand themselves. This course approaches cultural narratives from two angles. First, it
explores the ways that anthropologists elicit, study, and create narratives, whether through
ethnographic observation, conducting an interview, gathering folklore, or archaeological
interpretation. Second, the class investigates narratives that, although produced by non-
anthropologists, engage with anthropological issues such as tradition, religion, and identity. The
narratives will include short stories, plays, poetry and film. These two approaches will be
framed by theoretically informed readings about narrativity, both from the social sciences and the
humanities. The class will involve intensive reading and writing, and it will make use of both
discussion and workshop formats. Each student in the course will complete a research and
writing project on cultural narrative.

Texts: There are four required, and one recommended book for this class, all of which are
available at the DU bookstore in Driscoll. There are a number of additional readings which are
available on-line through the course website and in hard copy in the Anthropology Department
office, Sturm 146.

Alexie, Sherman
1993 The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. New York: Grove Press.

Basso, Keith
1996 Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache.
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Turner, Sugar and Tracy Bachrach Ehlers

2002 Sugar’s Life in the Hood: The Story of a Former Welfare Mother. Austin: University of
Texas Press.

Wolf, Marjory
1992 A Thrice-Told Tale: Feminism, Postmodernism, and Ethnographic Responsibility.
Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Not required, but we will read over 100 pages of this book and you might want to buy it:
Glassie, Henrie
1995 Passing the Time in Ballymenone. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Course Requirements: This class has two major requirements: class participation and research.
Each member of the class needs to be prepared to contribute to in-class analysis of the course
readings. For the days devoted to discussion, students need to come to class with a well-
composed discussion topic. Discussion topics about either reading content or the methods
employed by the author are encouraged. Students also need to be engaged in small group and
workshop exercises. Secondly, the class will involve original research, which will result in the
creation of a cultural narrative.

Your grades will be based on your class participation, research, and written work. The major
written work will be the write-up of your research project, however, there will also be a smaller
assignment, a project on narrative interviewing. The grades will be weighted as follows:
Narrative interview project 30%
Class Participation 30%
Research Project: 40%

Course Organization: The course is generally organized so that one day of each week is
devoted to in-class discussion of readings and the other will involve workshops, films, or small
group work. Discussion days (for which you will need to have a discussion topic prepared) are
marked with a *. The outline of topics below includes the readings you will be expected to be
familiar with that day.

Date Topic Reading Due in Class

Sept 9 Introduction to the class
Sept 11 Narrative Interview Flick 2006
Sept 16* Narrative Theory Ochs and Capps 1996, Bruner 1991,
McGuire 1990
Sept 18* Ethnographic Narratives Wolf 1992, Osella and Osella 2006
Sept 23* Health, Personal Narratives, “Keeping a Breast” (Video),
and Performativity Goodwin 2004
Sept 25 Health narratives workshop Langellier and Peterson 2004, Means
2014, DasGupta and Charon 2004
Sept 30* Life History as Ethnography Turner & Ehlers 2002
Oct 2 Narrative Interview workshop Working copy of interview
Oct 7* Folklore and narrative Glassie 1982 Draft research proposal
Oct 9 Workshop: Glassie & Interview project
paper proposals
Oct 14* Storytelling and Place Basso 1996 Final research proposal
Oct 21* Archaeology and narrative Joyce 2002, Spector 1991,
Archaeologists as Storytellers
Oct 23 Workshop: Archaeological
Oct 28* Poetry & Fiction Anatharam, Dillard 1982
Oct 30 Poetry workshop with Lawson Inada TBD
Nov 4* Fiction as cultural text Alexie 1993
Nov 6 Translating narrative: Alexie 1999
Smoke Signals
Nov 11 Oral Presentations
& 13
Nov 18 Final Project Due by 4 pm

Course Assignments

Narrative interview project: During the first few weeks of the class, each student will be
required to conduct a narrative interview. Students will interview their informant for around 20-
30 minutes, with the goal of eliciting from them at least one important story about their life. This
interview will be workshopped in class with both faculty and fellow students. Students will then
be required to write a 4-6 page paper detailing their process and talking about some of their
results. See the last page of the syllabus for more detail.

Research Project: Your research assignment for this class is to create a cultural narrative. You
can approach this as an anthropologist, meaning you are creating a narrative about culture. Such
a project might build on your narrative interview project, be an analysis of other interview data,
be a popular version of an archaeological site report, a compilation of folklore, etc. Your other
option is to construct a creative narrative that speaks to anthropological themes. This narrative
needs to be written about a culture with which you are very familiar, rather than a complete
fiction. Within this scope a wide variety of narrative options are open to you: you could create a
short film, compose a song, or write a creative piece (short story/poem/essay). The final result of
your project will be an oral presentation and a 10-15 page write-up (the form of this will depend
on your narrative, something we can work out on an individual basis). A more detailed handout
on this project will be given out mid-quarter.

Bibliography of Additional Readings (arranged in order by date assigned)

Flick, Uwe
2006 Narratives. In An Introduction to Qualitative Research, Third Edition. Pp. 172-188.
London: Sage Publications.

Ochs, Elinor and Lisa Capps
1996 Narrating the Self. Annual Review of Anthropology 25:19-43.

Bruner, Jerome
1991 The Narrative Construction of Reality. Critical Inquiry 18(1):1-21.

McGuire, Michael
1990 The Rhetoric of Narrative: A Hermeneutic, Critical Theory. In Narrative Thought and
Narrative Language, Bruce K. Britton and Anthony D. Pellegrini, eds. Pp. 219-236.
Hove, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Caroline Osella and Filippo Osella
2006 Once upon a Time in the West? Stories of Migration and Modernity from Kerala, South
India. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 12(3):569-58

Video of play, Keeping a Breast:

Part 1:
Part 2:

Goodwin, Janna
2004 The Productive Postshow: Facilitating, Understanding and Optimizing Personal Narratives
in Audience Talk Following a Personal Narrative Performance. Theatre Topics, 14(1):317-

Langellier, Kristin and Eric Peterson
2004 Breast Cancer Storytelling: The Limits of Narrative Closure in Survivor Discourse. In
Storytelling in Daily Life: Performing Narrative, pp: 189-218. Temple University Press,

Means, Casey
2014 My First Patient. The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine (Fall 2014) Accessible at:

DasGupta, Sayantani and Rita Charon

2004 Personal Illness Narratives: Using Reflective Writing to Teach Empathy. Academic
Medicine 79(4):351–356
Glassie, Henrie
1982 Passing the Time in Ballymenone. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Preface, pp.
xiii-xx and Chapters 1-3, pp. 11-108

Joyce, Rosemary
2002 The Languages of Archaeology. Introduction, pp 1-3, Chapter 1, pp 4-17, Chapter 5, pp
100-132. Blackwell, Oxford. See also:

Spector, Janet D.
1991 What this Awl Means: Toward a Feminist Anthropology. In Engendering Archaeology:
Women and Prehistory, Joan M. Gero and Margaret W. Conkey, eds. Pp. 388-406.
Oxford: Blackwell.

Four selections from Archaeologists as Storytellers, a special issue of Historical Archaeology

edited by Adrian and Mary Praetzellis (1998)

Praetzellis, Adrian
1998 Introduction: Why Every Archaeologist Should Tell Stories Once in a While. Historical
Archaeology 32(1):1-3.

De Cunzo, Lu Ann
1998 A Future after Freedom. Historical Archaeology 32(1):42-54

Yamin, Rebecca
1998 Lurid Tales and Homely Stories of New York’s Notorious Five Points. Historical
Archaeology 32(1):74-85.

Deetz, James
1998 Discussion: Archaeologists as Storytellers. Historical Archaeology 32(1):94-96

Anantharam, Anita
2009 Engendering the Nation: Women, Islam, and Poetry in Pakistan. Journal of International
Women's Studies, 11(1), 208-224.

Dillard, Annie
1982 Living by Fiction. Chapter 10, “About Symbol, and with a Diatribe against Purity,” Pp.
163-172. New York: Harper & Row.

Alexie, Sherman
1999 Smoke Signals: A Screenplay. Introduction, pp.vii–ix. New York: Hyperion Press.

Midterm Project: Narrative Interview

First Phase due October 2
Write-up due October 9

The goal of this project is for students to become engaged in the act of eliciting and
retelling other people’s stories. It is also designed to introduce you to one anthropological field
method, the narrative interview. These are typically an open-ended interview during which you
will guide the informant to present their own oral narrative. The first half of the Narrative
chapter from Flick’s book on qualitative methods provides background on this particular type of
interviewing. An example of an anthropological text that makes extensive use of life history
narrative is your course text, Sugar’s Life in the Hood. That book emerged from an engagement
of telling and listening. The process involves two distinct parties: the storyteller and the listener.
As Tracy Ehlers states in her introduction to Sugar, “The listener (or interlocutor) has multiple
roles in the process. She organizes and guides the interviews, records and transcribes the
narrative, and then edits the text, making a life story into a book” (2002:17).

Your first step in the process will be to collect a set of interview data. Your informant
should be someone who you can interview before the end of September. Easily accessible
informants may include faculty, neighbors, relatives, or public officials. Students will interview
their informant for at least 20 to 30 minutes, with the goal of eliciting from them an important
story about their life. Of course, how you get to an “important story” is a good deal of the
challenge of the project. If at all possible, students will record the interview. Free voice
recording apps are available for most smart phones or digital recorders can be checked out from
either the Anthropology Department or the library. Your interview will need to be completed
before October 2.

Your next step will be to workshop your project in class on October 2. You need to
come to class with the recording of your interview, any notes you took, and questions for

Using the feedback you receive at the workshop and any follow-up with your professors,
each student will prepare a project write-up to be turned in on October 9. The write-up should
be at least 4-6 pages in length. Your paper also needs an appendix of at least one page of
transcription from your interview. Your paper should address the following, if briefly:
1. A brief description of your informant(s) including how you came to choose them
2. A discussion of the interview process, including both what worked and what didn’t
3. A brief discussion of the results. Were you able to elicit a narrative? Would it potentially
be useful as anthropological data?
4. Address how the example of a completed life history, Sugar’s Life in the Hood, informed
your work
5. A critique of the method: Was it a fruitful one for someone in search of cultural
narratives? What might you do it differently next time?

The narrative interview project is intended to serve as your midterm. However, students
have the option of building on the interview to create their final class project. Students interested
in doing so should meet with the instructor prior to drafting their final project proposal.