Thursday, July 31, 2008

Views of Earth from the Space Shuttle

While not necessarily Japan-specific, the flash video at the url below is quite interesting and beautiful. Among other things it shows night views of the earth and we can see which countries light themselves up more than others (doesn't Japan seem the be the brightest country?), not unlike the picture from a post from May, 2007. You might want to check out other art works from You will of course see blatant biases in the web page. Still, there is a lot of visually interesting stuff to see. (This posting comes from a message on the EASIANTH listserv.)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

MIT Instructional Video: "Doing Anthropology"

What is anthropology? What do anthropologists do? The usual answer of course is that anthropology is the study of humans and anything that is connected with humans is fair game for anthropological research. Anthropology is intentionally broad and holistic. But perhaps it is too broad and holistic to the point where people really don't understand what the discipline is. Friends I have known for 10 years here in Japan still don't really seem to understand exactly what it is I am doing. Anthropology is obscure and the methods seem strange and odd. They understand that I am doing research, but how can my participation in a deaf group's drinking party be considered research?

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Video production has developed a new short video called "Doing Anthropology" that endeavors to explain to the general public what cultural anthropology is and what cultural anthropologists do. You can view the video below.

Link to MIT Tech TV web page:

The video does a good job of explaining fieldwork and participant observation. But the odd thing about the video is that all of the anthropologists are working on projects within the United States and two out of the three are conducting research entirely in English. I am not criticizing their projects at all - all three are interesting and important. But anthropology has traditionally entailed cross cultural research. An anthropologist goes to a different country and has to deal with a new culture, learn a new language(s) and figure out how to make their research goals and methods work in a different cultural setting. These are the most challenging aspects, and perhaps the most confusing to the general public, about the nature of anthropological research. These aspects are unfortunately missing from the video. The anthropological method can and should be done in the anthropologist's own country/culture/community. I think the video can serve as a good starting point, but the cross-cultural experiences inherent to anthropology need to be addressed if people really want to understand exactly what it is we anthropologists do.

I plan on using this video in my classes this semester to see if it helps students new to anthropology understand what it is. What do you think of the video?