The VizE Lab seeks to play a vibrant role in advancing Liberal Arts education in Princeton's research university setting. Contemporary academic research, like any number of skilled professions, demands increasingly specialized knowledge, abilities to manipulate and interpret large, complex datasets, inter-disciplinary creativity, and collaborative skills. Courses in Anthropology and other disciplines that use the VizE Lab offer students opportunities to practice this kind of work while learning about ethnographic and cultural analysis. For example, cohorts of students may collaborate on collecting digital data, producing visualizations, doing field-based ethnography, and storytelling with digital media. The Lab also advises students in their independent work for research groups and thesis projects. By embedding such activities within their anthropological work, students learn to engage with the disciplinary knowledges and practices of a Liberal Arts curriculum, while developing the dexterity for a variety professional futures in the 21st century.
Culture, Media, and Data
Students in this course chart media and data as agents of social inequality and cultural ideology, and learn how people subvert them. We excavate the assumptions that frame representations of reality and difference in documentary film, track the global circulation of mass media, see indigenous filmmakers as cultural activists, and explore the datafication of organic life and analogue culture. To make the most of our online setting this semester, we adopt tools of media-making and data visualization to probe our objects of study from the inside. From there, we learn to critique them as human constructions and to produce new counter narratives and images. Offered on-line fall 2020.
Instructor: Jeffrey Himpele
This seminar takes up anthropology’s ambivalent relationship with visuality, and the issues raised by representing culture in film. What does culture look like through an anthropological lens? And what is the capacity of film for conveying culture across boundaries? To pursue these two big questions, we screen ethnographic and documentary films that enact a wide range of cinematic possibilities, from a range of realist styles to experimental and impressionistic works. We consider them in light of critical readings that reveal and unpack the premises, physicality and social relationships films can embody. Seminar participants use the tools for editing documentary films to take them apart and understand them from the inside — and to confront first-hand the dilemmas and possibilities of cross-cultural filmmaking.
Using software tools for video editing, students are deconstructing films we screen and using the original film material to produce either a video essay to present their analyses of the films, or they will re-edit new versions of the original films as a demonstration of concepts and practices discussed in the seminar. Offered spring 2018, spring 2020.
Instructor: Jeffrey Himpele
Visible Evidence: Documentary Film and Data Visualization
In our mediated and datafied world, how can we enhance ethnography by using documentary film to create compelling representations of lived experiences and data visualization to reveal and make sense of large-scale complexities? To pursue this question, students learn basic methods of filmmaking and data visualization in a workshop setting. As they learn to skulpt video, audio, big data, and geo-spatial data into visible evidence, students compare how the materiality and modes of production of these media can shape expressions of ethnographic knowledge.
This year's course revolves around a spring break trip to Princeton's Mpala Wildlife Research and Conservation Center in Kenya, where students will explore multi-species ethnography through these visual media. Previously offered fall 2018, spring 2019, spring 2020.
Instructor: Jeffrey Himpele
ANT 309A/STC 310A,
ANT 309B/STC 310B
Forensic Anthropology and Epigenetics in Urban America
By uniquely blending the sub-disciplines of social and biological anthropology, this course offers students a hands-on opportunity to identify the complexly intertwined physiological and social factors that shape human variation and well-being in an urban setting. Students will learn the fundamental techniques of analysis that biological anthropologists apply to forensic cases by working with the vast real-world data set that is at the center of the Lab's Visualizing Philadelphia project, which traces the physiological growth and intellectual development of thousands of Philadelphia-area individuals over several decades. At the same time, students will dig into into a number of collected big data sets that index a wide variety of social and environmental factors that have shaped life experiences in the region over decades. They will work in the VizE Lab with the tools of data visualization to discern patterns within these diverse sources, and moreover, to chart their own models of the complex interplay of social, environmental, and nutritional factors in human development and variation. Offered fall 2019, fall 2017.
Instructors: Jeffrey Himpele, Janet Monge
This course has been supported by funding from the 250th Anniversary Fund for Innovation in Undergraduate Education (Office of the Dean of the College), the Council on Science and Technology, and the Digital Humanities Center.
Anthropology of Media
This course introduces the media as an anthropological arena by exploring how media texts and technologies are embedded in social forces and cultural values. We will reveal the assumptions about reality that frame representations of cultural difference and social inequality in documentary films, track the global circulation of mass media, and examine how indigenous societies have taken up media-making as a means of cultural production and politics. By studying media from anthropology's comparative and ethnographic perspectives, students will learn to identify and describe the diverse and dynamic relationships between media and social life.
Coursework includes hands-on media projects in which students will dive deeply into media texts using video editing and data visualization software. Students will also create alternative film versions of films to reveal the concrete dilemmas of representation and to experiment with the anthropological concepts that emerge during the course. Visualization and mapping software designed for non-specialists will also be used to map the social embeddedness of media texts and technologies in relation to their ethnographic and historical contexts. Offered spring 2017.
Instructor: Jeffrey Himpele
ANT 403 / AAS 403 / GHP 403
Race and Medicine
Why do certain populations have longer life expectancies? Is it behavior, genes, structural inequalities? And why should the government care? This course unpacks taken-for-granted concepts like race, evidence-based medicine, and even the public health focus on equalizing life expectancies. From questions of racism in the clinic to citizenship and the Affordable Care Act, Race and Medicine takes students on a journey of rethinking what constitutes social justice in health care.
Students will conduct first-hand ethnographic and historical research on a large growth and development dataset of bone growth and socioeconomic records collected for decades in the Philadelphia area. Their research will contribute to a project to visualize the relationships among environmental data, urban development and the social assumptions embedded in the data itself. Offered spring 2017.
Instructor: Carolyn M. Rouse
Faculty who are interested in bringing student groups to the VizE Lab for discussions about creating visual works related to ethnography should email Jeffrey Himpele. He is also available to individually consult faculty on using audio-visual media for teaching ethnographic production and analysis.
Faculty members who are interested in using a wide range of media tools and classroom technologies for teaching in other disciplinary contexts are encouraged to contact the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning.