Visual antrhopology in practice

Visual Anthropology in Practice (Hull)
Project leader(s): Judith Okely
Institution: Hull University

This project consisted of a number of initiatives within the anthropology courses offered in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Hull. These included a dedicated new postgraduate module with 'hands-on' camera-teaching entitled 'Filming Ethnography', together with new visual components added to other first year and postgraduate courses. The practical aspects of the filming-skills module were supported by an expert film-technician and consultant from outside the University. The long-term aim of the project is for film-making skills and a critical attention to visual media to be included in the teaching of anthropological research methods for all postgraduate students. This will be a powerful way for postgraduates to make links between their own study, the lecturer’s research, and the disciplinary literature.This project developed and enhanced the use of film and visual media in the teaching and learning of social anthropology for both postgraduates and undergraduates. In particular, it established a new postgraduate module of practical training in camcorder and filming skills for anthropological fieldwork, combining this with discussion of the theoretical issues that visual media raises.
The research interests of the project co-ordinator, Professor Judith Okely, in visualism and film, together with her aim to use technology to enhance teaching and promote the discipline's development, led her to begin this project.The undergraduate component of the project was the enhancement of an existing module of twelve lectures taught as an introduction to first-years. These involved a combined visual and oral delivery. Building on the existing visual literacy of the students, the course used a variety of visual media, including photographic stills mounted for overhead projection, and short extracts of film footage. Tutorial discussions also focused on particular visual objects. Essays and readings on visual anthropology were also made integral to the course. Student feedback was positive, and as they progressed through their degree, several decided to include a visual element into their undergraduate dissertation.Debates on visuality were also included into two postgraduate research methods module taught by the co-ordinator. In a course entitled ‘Ethnographic Practice’ for all first year PhD students, video clips and photographs were brought in by students, who were then encouraged to elicit ‘insider’ perspectives on the objects under consideration.The main aspect of this project was the new practice-based postgraduate module ‘Filming Ethnography’. The project purchased cameras, film and the time of a specialist tutor in anthropological film practice. Film quality Hi-8 cameras were bought, though after some security and technical problems, the project team felt that standard camcorders would have been more appropriate for those just beginning to learn camera skills. The first course involved a mixture of PhD and Masters students. Teaching was as hands-on as possible, with students being given the chance to take their own footage, do in-camera editing, and discuss their results together. The tutor encouraged the students to focus on a ‘character’ or ‘process’. The pragmatic issues of negotiating access in filming close-ups, the role of planning and preparation, noise, and the power relationship inherent in filming were all discussed. Each student’s film was watched and discussed by the group, with comments being made by the consultant to the project, Dr. Anna Grimshaw, from the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester. Several staff colleagues also became involved in these sessions, boosting their own skills and encouraging an ever-closer link between teaching and research.
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The methods and approach of this project have been disseminated and discussed in a number of workshops. An enhanced course on visualism was also run in Copenhagen during the co-ordinator’s visiting professorship, where the department has agreed to make it a regular departmental course.
The project’s success has lead to the re-launch of an enhanced module entitled ‘Visualism and Cultures’ at Hull for both postgraduates and third years. These courses have resulted in collaboration between scholars within the department and also increased inter-disciplinary linkages within the University

The more systematic insertion of visual anthropology into a range of introductory undergraduate courses proved an exciting way for students to appreciate and learn about the long-term potential of this sub-discipline, and to begin thinking about visuality in different ways.
The success of a new module dedicated to learning video-making skills for anthropological fieldwork depended on the availability of professional tutoring and staff expertise in film-making and editing. This in turn depends on institutional support for such curricular innovations.
Anthropologists are not necessarily film-makers. Even if the finished results are not ‘Oscar-quality’, the very process of gaining familiarity with visual methods and thinking about the implications of incorporating visual media into ethnography is an invaluable addition to an anthropological training.
Enhancing the visual components of other postgraduate methods and applied research courses also effectively alerted students to debates about the visual image.
Technical provision and back-up, such as the availability of video facilities, editing suites, or security for the cameras, is key to the success of this type of hands-on teaching.
Technology and Curriculum Development:New technologies can, when used effectively, contribute to innovation and curriculum development, closely stimulating student interest. These technologies can demonstrate to students the immediacy of the research process, helping staff and students alike make the links between teaching and research.
Ensuring Technical and Administrative Support:Introducing new courses, especially those that are technology-intensive, requires the availability of appropriate equipment and organised technical support. A close working relationship with the University administration is essential to iron out the problems inherent in such course development, particularly if there are financial or staffing implications.
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The Lacuna Project at the University of Edinburgh, also funded by the National Network, is in the process of putting together a national database of video resources Haddon Ethnographic Archive is a searchable online archive of ethnographic film footage available at variety of multimedia teaching materials are available from the Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing (CSAC): University has also launched a Web Archive in Visual Anthropology, with unpublished materials from American scholars: is also an extensive US portal to visual anthropology resources at, the Institute for Scientific Film in Gottingen has an English language version of its web-site, detailing several interesting visual anthropology projects -

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