Student Fieldwork in Anthropology

Legacy Grants to Comprehensive Account of 33 Years of Student Fieldwork in Anthropology

“The purpose of anthropology is to make the exotic familiar and the familiar exotic.” This quotation by anthropologists George and Louise Spindler opens Close Up and Far Away: A Database of Student Fieldwork, Research, and Internship Projects in Anthropology,

Ithaca College, 1973-2006. The compiler and author of this extensive compendium, anthropology professor Joel Savishinsky, Charles A. Dana Professor in the Social Sciences, completed this project with the support of the first “legacy grant” from the Office of the Provost. This new program of reduced teaching loads was designed to support faculty, nearing the end of their own careers, as they pursue special projects intended to benefit their department, their school, or the institution as a whole. Savishinsky explained: “I had the good fortune to join the department at its birth, and, now that I am approaching my own retirement, I was able to take on a kind of mini life review, to look back over a third of a century of my time at IC, two generations of students and faculty, to take stock of what we created.”

But there was a practical motivation in undertaking this review as well. Since the earliest days, the anthropology department encouraged, indeed required, its students to plunge directly into the field to gain hands-on experience in the discipline; however, as Savishinsky explains: “I had the realization that [although] our department had done pioneering work at the College in creating programs in experiential learning, we’d never kept systematic records of what we or our students had accomplished.” So Savishinsky spent the 2006-7 academic year delving into old files and institutional databases, contacting former students, and exhorting his colleagues to do the same. The result of this work is a database that reports on the experiences of 346 students who carried out 438 projects in 22 states and 54 foreign countries and territories on issues and topics from all of anthropology’s branches.

Ithaca College anthropology faculty have mentored hundreds of projects in the local area, in settings as diverse as public schools, nursing homes, organic farms, and medical clinics. The faculty have also run field schools in the Bahamas, Hawaii, Alaska, Nicaragua, Panama, and upstate New York. Some students have gone on to graduate work, while others have taken positions in fields such as education, social work, and public service.

Savishinsky undertook the project in part to see if the department had “fulfilled a promise we’d made in our earliest mission statements,” a promise not only to educate their students but to “provide them with opportunities to do original scientific and applied work and to prepare them to be engaged citizens of a global community.” The database bears out Savishinsky’s conviction that the department has kept its promise, and this is an enduring legacy to leave for future generations of IC anthropology students and faculty.

The executive summary of Close Up and Far Away can be found here; the entire document is also available to download.