Dr. Leslie Main Johnson recently launched a new anthropology course, Anthropology 335 ? Ecological Anthropology, and was kind enough to answer some questions about it for The Voice Magazine.
For starters, what is your role with Athabasca University, and the course?
I’m a professor of sociocultural anthropology and teach undergraduate and graduate courses. I’ve been at AU since 2000, and have written several anthropology courses or made major revisions over that time. This course is Anth 335, a brand new course in Ecological Anthropology. I am the course author, and am excited to see this course added to our program. I am also the tutor.
When was ANTH 335 created?
The course just opened in March 2016. It was written over the previous several years, interrupted at times by my research leave and writing projects.
What does the course cover? Could you summarize some of the major ideas or topics discussed?
The course deals broadly with human societies and cultures and their relationships to the environment. It takes an ecological approach to looking at the environmental relationships of people, place and ways of making a living. It is concerned with the diverse ways that human groups live in and make a living in their home lands. It is also concerned with global connection and environmental change. The end of the course queries aspects of sustainability in the face of many kinds of global change: changing climates, changing demographics, flows of materials and people as unprecedented numbers of people are moving in response to conflict or to environmental stresses.
What can students expect, in terms of course structure? Can you talk briefly about the assignments and exam?
The course is comprised of 10 modules which are topical. Assignments include: keyword definitions; a case study report; a midterm exam (combining multiple choice, short answer and essay questions covering the first half of the course); a short research paper; and a final exam, of similar format to the midterm, combining multiple choice, short answer and essay questions, and largely focused on the second half of the course, with some integrative questions that pertain to the whole course.
What about course materials? Are there hardcopy books, etexts, online readings, or a combination?
The course materials include an extensive on-line study guide (hopefully readable!) with illustrations largely from my own image collection; a couple of hard copy texts; some print reprints and some on-line articles. There are also some video links embedded in the course (particularly dealing with food sovereignty and the Via Campesina).
About how many students take this course, on average? Is there anything about this course that students tend to find particularly challenging?
As this is a brand new course, I can’t really answer these questions yet! I hope the content and assignments are accessible and do-able.
Why do you feel that this course is valuable for students? Are there parts they find particularly challenging? Why should they choose to enrol?
I think that anyone who wants to understand the relations of humans and the environment across diverse cultures will find this course exciting and eye-opening. Questions of the sustainability of our environments and ways of life are implicit in the course. Of course, besides offering insights into some of the great challenges of our times, I also think that the material is fascinating!
The reading is of variable level; some students may find some articles a bit dense, while other material is very approachable. There are some writing assignments, but they are not too lengthy or too challenging.
Students who take this class will come out with a grounding in ecology as well as cultural anthropology, and be well positioned to make informed judgements about environmental, cultural and economic choices that we face in society as we look for human and sustainable ways of life.
Is there anything students need to know if they’re thinking of taking this course?
Students should have Anthropology 275 (cultural anthropology) or equivalent to take the course, or will need to get professor approval if they do not have that formal background. At present this course is not open for challenge. The course is second or third year level.
Bethany Tynes completed her MA in Integrated Studies through AU, and is a Canadian politics junkie.