Critical Histories of Anthropological Theory

“The present was an egg laid by the past that had the future inside its shell.”
-Zora Neale Hurston

Greetings & welcome to ANTH 310 which I have nicknamed “Critical Histories of Anthropological Theory.”

Also, welcome to Anthropology at Humboldt State University, which resides on unceded land of the Wiyot People, which includes the Wiyot Tribe, Bear River Rancheria, and Blue Lake Rancheria. Arcata is known as Goudi’ni which means “over in the woods” or “among the redwoods.” But what good is a land acknowledgement if it is followed by inaction? Learn more with this toolkit and by watching this excellent video produced by my colleagues in the Department of Native American Studies at HSU.

I applaud your decision to advance towards your degree in these tumultuous times and I express gratitude that you have chosen this course. It actually could not be a better time to be thinking anthropologically about the world around us.

I’ve created this website for you to be able to access course material without logging into a Learning Management System (our LMS at Humboldt State is the Canvas platform). However, all assignments must be submitted to our course Canvas page (which I’ve linked in the course schedule. 

As part of my ongoing effort to increase my public scholarship, I’ve also decided not to sequester the course syllabus on Canvas so that it is accessible to the general public of self-learners.

About Your Professor

Hello, I am Dr. Gordon Lewis Ulmer, your instructor for ANTH 310. Feel free to look around my website to learn more about me, my pedagogy, and research

Students who have taken my previous courses have participated in fun, collaborative projects such as hosting an art show about anthropology in the anthropocene and producing autoethnographic vignettes and expressive works about the SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic.

I want to be upfront about my ambition for you as a student of my course. When you complete this class and have moved onward in life, I want you to reflect on this semester having felt intellectually engaged and challenged from examining the world around you through a new critical prism. I also want you to feel part of a learning community and recognize me as your accomplice to learning. Always feel encouraged to contact me with questions, comments, interesting links related to our course, or even just your unfettered excitement whenever you feel moved to reach out! To be resilient learners in these challenging times, we must reimagine the multiple contexts in which learning takes place, especially as we are tasked with new challenges foisted upon us by the SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic. This is an intellectual space where we can *and should* anthropologize these times. 

What is this Course About?

Generic Course Catalog Description: Examines the shifting paradigms driving anthropological theories and ethnographic research from the foundations of the discipline to the present. [Prereq: ANTH 104; ANTH 103(C) or ANTH105(C); ANTH 210 (C).]

Most core theory courses across social science disciplines share the same basic description as the above ANTH 310 blurb from the course catalog. Theory courses tend to be where students read classic works from their respective literary canons and learn about established ‘key’ figures and theoretical trends that dominated disciplinary attention. In this course, we will disrupt the literary canon with counter-lineages and counter-histories to situate the discipline within global power relations that were formative in its development and to unmask the social, racial, political, forces that shaped established theory. We will interrogate academic knowledge production of key concepts such as race, primitiveness, and self/other to understand how the discipline was conceived out of Eurocentricity and patriarchy and to appreciate how the field has since developed through its keystone method of critical reflexivity.

The traditional canon of anthropology is dominated by non-Indigenous, white, mostly cis male thinkers. This course design maintains that there are other ways to examine the “shifting paradigms driving anthropological theories and ethnographic research” that elevate historically marginalized voices rather than push them to the margins. Thus, this course addresses the following questions: Whose theories are privileged and marginalized in the production of anthropological knowledge? What should constitute the anthropological canon?

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will:

  • Examine the shifting paradigms in anthropology over time (Course outcome).
  • Analyze and critique various theoretical concepts, arguments, and frameworks in anthropology through a multivocality of perspectives (Course outcome).
  • Understand how theory is situated in social, racial, and political conditions that shape knowledge production and dictate who becomes part of the traditional canon (Course outcome).
  • Articulate the relevance of anthropology to present-day social issues and policy such as human rights, health, historical preservation, conservation, economic development, language use, and cultural practices (Anthropology Major learning outcome).
  • Understand the complex and interrelated processes of change (biological and cultural evolution, diffusion, colonialism, globalization) both within cultures and across cultural boundaries (Anthropology Major learning outcome).
  • HSU graduates will be able to critically evaluate issues, ideas, artifacts, and evidence to guide one’s thinking. (HSU Institutional Learning Outcome: Critical Thinking)

Unlearning Objectives

We also have a lot to unlearn. By the end of this course, students will make headway towards unlearning:

  • Eurocentric views about culture, ethnicity, race, gender, and sexuality that are rooted in Western chauvinism
  • Patriarchy and male-dominant models of human behavior and biology
  • Scientific claims of race as a biological fact, rather than as socio-political constructs with material and biological consequences
  • Biases rooted in your own identities, backgrounds, and experiences.


Textbook & Course Materials

  • Canvas (> myHumboldt> Canvas) is the main informational site for this course. There are no required books for this course— all readings are freely available on Canvas or online embedded in the course schedule. Check Canvas for assignments, readings, and schedule updates. Check out this helpful link to a Canvas setup infographic/
  • Internet: You will need a computer and access to the Internet. HSU Help Desk: 826-4357,

Course Structure & Format

This course is offered in an online format and uses Canvas for accessing course materials, assignment submissions, and online discussions. Please follow the course schedule in the last section of this document.

This is an upper division, 4-unit course, meaning that the university standard is that you will spend at least 180 hours on this course over the semester, which equates to approximately 12 hours per week. This course is organized as follows, with the goal of building theoretical knowledge and practical skills, actively participating in your own learning, and welcoming intellectually challenging material:

The format of this course is dependent upon student participation in our weekly scheduled Zoom seminars and asynchronously through on our Canvas discussion forum and “Reading Lab” Google doc.

Because many topics covered in this course are sensitive, it is important to remember to be respectful of one another in any discussion format. Students enter this class with a variety of experiences. Please do not be shy about asking for clarification or help. In fact, this class promotes social learning i.e. learning from your peers and collaboratively synthesizing course material. Let’s reimagine social learning online! Do not be afraid to offer help to your classmates, or to seek help from those around you—consider our class a “learning community” or “learning cooperative.”

Grading & Assignments

I assess student learning based on four equally-weighted categories of tasks to complete for course credit:

Grade Breakdown:     

25% – Class Participation & Attendance                                         

25% – Learning Community Contributions                                     

25% – Critical Reading Assessments                                                

25% – Biographic Sketch                                                                 

Grading Scale (no curve): A = 93% or above; A- = 92.9-90%; B+ = 89.9-87%; B = 86.9-83%; B- = 82.9-80%; C+ = 79.9-77%; C = 76.9-73%; C- = 72.9-70%; D+ = 69.9-67%; D = 66.9-60%; F = <60%. Course must be taken for a letter grade and passed with a D (60%) or higher to be used to fulfill Anthropology major/minor requirements. If taking CR/NC, the course must be passed with 70% or higher for CR, and will not count towards Anthropology major/minor requirements.

1) Class Participation and Attendance – 25%

You will be assessed based on your attendance and participation in our weekly zoom meetings and periodic Canvas Discussions. Plan to actively engage in our Zoom sessions—arrive on time and prepared, pay attention to discussions, and contribute to the social learning environment by making comments and by facilitating other students’ participation. Because it is difficult to do well in the course if sessions are missed, attendance at every class meeting is required. Late arrival and early departure are considered poor participation.

2) Learning Community Contributions – 25%

You will be assessed based on your contributions to our learning community on 5 different weekly topics worth 5 points each (25 pts total). Contribute to our Reading Lab Google document by sharing notes, critical reflections, questions for discussion, and links related to course materials. Think of this space as your unstructured space to engage the course material and one other.

3) Critical Reading Assessments – 25%

Students will complete a total of 5 critical reflections (worth 4 points each, 25 pts total), which are designed to:

  • Help you demonstrate your understanding of course material
  • Assess your understanding of specific case studies discussed in the readings and other course material
  • Evaluate your comprehension of anthropological perspectives
  • Critically reflect on unifying themes within each course section 

4) Biographic Sketch – 25%

Choose an anthropologist whose work interests you and undertake research into their life and work. Characterize their contributions to anthropological theory and history. If their work was largely ignored or marginalized because of their ethnicity, nationality, politics, gender, sexuality, or disability, provide an account and describe what the discipline lost in result of their minoritization. If they were/are particularly influential, describe the theoretical interventions they made or how they changed a particular paradigm. The final product will be linked to our discussion board in the format of a presentation via Google Slides or a video presentation.

General Class Policies

  • Prepare for Discussions: Complete the readings before attending our Zoom meetings or engaging in Canvas discussions. Make notes, jot down any questions, reflections of course topics, and be prepared to engage.
  • Missed/Make-Up/Late Work: Assignments are due as they are listed on the syllabus and Canvas schedule. Other accommodations are possible in extenuating situations – please contact the instructor if you would like to request additional accommodations for an assignment. Late work is accepted for half credit up to two weeks past the due date.
  • Be Respectful: Always feel free to ask questions, share ideas, and voice opinions. We are here to share ideas and to learn from one another, and participation is key to collaborative learning. Class discussions and polite academic debates are encouraged, but always be respectful.
  • Anti-Racist Curriculum: As your instructor, I am committed to a zero-tolerance policy on white supremacy and other hateful ideologies in our classrooms and online platforms. See the National Museum of African American History & Culture of the Smithsonian for more on antiracism.  
  • Inclusivity: Students in my courses are members of learning communities in which people of all backgrounds are welcome and can safely interrogate racism, settler-colonialism, patriarchy, and other interrelated structural violences that shape the human condition. Students in this class are encouraged to speak up and participate online. Each of us must show respect for each other because our class represents a diversity of beliefs, backgrounds, and experiences. I believe that this is what will enrich all of our experiences together. I recognize that our individual differences can deepen our understanding of one another and the world around us, rather than divide us. In this class, people of all genders and gender identities, religions, ages, sexual orientations, disabilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, beliefs, ethnicities, ancestries, and nationalities are strongly encouraged to share their rich array of perspectives and experiences. If you feel that you are in some way isolated from our classroom community or if you have a specific need, please speak with me early in the semester so that we can work together to help you become an active and engaged member of our class and community.
  • Accommodations: If you require testing or other accommodations and have documentation from the SDRC, please see the instructor ASAP at the beginning of the semester and provide reminders as relevant.
  • Incompletes: It is the responsibility of the student to arrange an “incomplete” grade if warranted. The Student must submit, in writing, a plan to complete the course if instructor agrees to an incomplete.
  • Academic Integrity: Please familiarize yourself with the University’s policies on academic misconduct (cheating, plagiarism, etc.). Ignorance of these policies or what constitutes academic misconduct is not an acceptable defense. Failure to comply will result in a grade of F (0) on the assignment or on the course, and potential HSU disciplinary actions. See HSU’s academic honesty policy here:
  • Please see your instructor ASAP if you have questions or concerns. An appointment is not needed during office hours, but I encourage you to make one to secure a specific time.
  • Academic resources: While you are always welcome to come to my office for help,I also recommend visiting the HSU Writing Studio for assistance in written assignments. You can call or go online to make an appointment: You might also consider following one of these note-taking techniques to help you with the assigned readings:

University Policies & Resources

Students are responsible for knowing information on campus policies and resources on the website below, such as: Add/Drop Policy, Resources for Students with Disabilities, Academic Honesty, Complaints, Attendance and Disruptive Behavior Policy, Code of Conduct, Financial Aid, Emergency Procedures, Academic/Career Advising, and Counseling & Psychological Services. Monday, February 8th, 2020 is the last Spring ‘21 deadline to Add/Drop classes without a serious & compelling reason.

Emergency Procedures

(If this class had been F2F, I would tell you, “Please see the emergency evacuation plan for the classroom located on the colored card by the door. Also review the Campus Emergency Procedures at the following website:”. But we are living through a global pandemic, so even emergency procedures are no longer relevant.



HSU, Fall 2021, Online

Schedule below is subject to change with fair notice

Assignments due on Thursdays before weekly Zoom meetings unless otherwise noted

Part I Decanonizing & Indigenizing Anthropology

Indigenizing the Academy

Artwork from University of Victoria webpage “Turning the wheels of change: Indigenizing the Academy

Week 1: Counter-lineages and Classics- What should constitute the disciplinary canon?



  • Zoom: Thursday, August 26, 2021
  • * Due Before August 29th: Canvas Discussion #1: Introduction Thread (Mandatory) 

+Optional material for further learning:

 Week 2 Reversing the Gaze: BIPOC Perspectives of Anthropology


  • Ntarangwi, Mwenda. 2010. “Imagining Anthropology, Encountering America” (Chapter 1), In Reversed Gaze: An African Ethnography of American Anthropology.
  • Baldy, Cutcha Risling. 2018. “Wung-xowidilik: Concerning It—What has Been Told. Anthropology and Salvage Ethnography” (Chpt 3) In We are Dancing for You: Native Feminisms and the Revitalization of Women’s Coming-of-Age Ceremonies. Seattle: University of Washington press.
  • Renaming Kroeber Hall


  • Zoom: Thursday, September 2, 2021
  • Due: Learning Community Contribution 1

+Optional material for further learning:

Mwenda Ntarangwi’s entire book is available on Proquest (log in with HSU credentials).

Week 3 Reversing the Gaze (continued)

  • Film: Anthropology on Trial (1983)
  • Whiteley, Peter M. The Native Shaping of Anthropological Inquiry (Chapter 14) In Footprints of Hopi History Hopihiniwtiput Kukveni’. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.


  • Zoom: Thursday, September 9, 2021
  • Due: Reading Assessment #1 “Reversing the Gaze”

+Optional material for further learning:

From the Margins to the Mainstream: Black and Indigenous Futures in Archaeology. Inspired by recent Black Lives Matter protests, a new webinar series explores how contemporary activism and social justice are transforming the discipline of archaeology.

Week 4 Anthropologizing the Other  


  • Ntarangwi, Mwenda. 2010. “Of Monkeys, Africans, and the Pursuit of the Other” (Chapter 3), In Reversed Gaze: An African Ethnography of American Anthropology.
  • Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1996. “Writing Against Culture” in In Richard G. Fox (ed.), Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present. School of American Research Press. pp. 137-162.
  • Who Gets to Study Whom?


  • Zoom: Thursday, September 16, 2021
  • Due: Learning Community Contribution 2 

+Optional material for further learning:


Part II: Gender, Race, & Anthropological Marginality

Ripples of Loss Terrie McCue

Artwork: “Ripples of Loss” by Ojibwa artist Terry McCue. Read more about his work here

Week 5 Women, WOC in Early Anthropology


  • How Zora Neale Hurston and Margaret Mead Revolutionized Anthropology. 2019. The Atlantic.
  • Salamone, F. (2014). His Eyes Were Watching Her: Papa Franz Boas, Zora Neale Hurston, and Anthropology. Anthropos, 109(1), 217-224.
  • Hoefel, Roaeanne. 2001. “Different by Degree” Ella Cara Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, and Franz Boas Contend with Race and Ethnicity. American Indian Quarterly, Spring 25(2):181- 202.


  • Zoom: Thursday, September 23, 2021

+Optional material for further learning:

Week 6 Gender, Feminism, & Theory


  • hooks, bell. 1991. “Theory as Liberatory Practice.” Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 4:1, 1-12.
  • Lutz, Catherine, The Gender of Theory (1995). Ruth Behar and Deborah Gordon, eds., Women Writing Culture/Culture Writing Women, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, Available at SSRN:
  • Haraway, Donna. 1988. Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies 14(3):575-599.


  • Zoom: Thursday, September 30, 2021
  • Due: Reading Assessment #2 Women, Gender, & Anthropology

+Optional material for further learning:

Week 7 Anthropology & Race, Part I



  • Zoom: Thursday, October 7, 2021
  • Due: Learning Community Contribution 3

+Optional material for further learning:


Week 8 Anthropology & Race, Part II



  • Zoom: Zoom: Thursday, October 14, 2021
  • Due: Reading Assessment #3 Anthropology & Race 

+Optional material for further learning:

Week 9 Anthropology & Race, Part III


  • Zoom: Thursday, October 21, 2021

+Optional material for further learning:

<See last week’s optional material>

Week 10 The ‘Father’ of American Anthropology



  • Zoom: Thursday, October 28, 2021
  • Reading Assessment #4 Early Anthropological Figures

+Optional material for further learning:

Part III Anthropology’s Practices: To Gaze, Define, & Exhibit

Divya Saraf unknown

Week 11 Social Constructions of Primitiveness & Early Humans



  • Zoom: Thursday, November 4, 2021
  • Due: Learning Community Contribution 4

+Optional material for further learning:

Week 12 Museums & Power



  • Zoom: Thursday, November 11, 2021

+Optional material for further learning:

Week 13 Decolonization



  • Zoom: Thursday, November 18, 2021
  • Due: Reading Assessment #5 Decolonization

+Optional material for further learning:

***FALL BREAK—No Zoom session on 11/25/21***

Week 14 From Past to Future



  • Zoom: December 2, 2021
  • Due: Learning Community Contribution 5

+Optional material for further learning:

 Week 15 Finals


  • Zoom: December 9, 2021
  • Due: December 9th, 2021 Bio Sketch

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