By “creative assignments,” I mean assignments that are a bit unusual in orientation, and which appear to meet the specific goals set.

Some creative assignments have already been discussed in this group on the topic “An idea for connecting students with other cultures.” But there are many other possibilities that might be worth exploring.

I’ll give an example of an assignment that I use regularly, in a variety of courses. The problem that I was trying to solve was that ethnographies tend to be general and abstract, and that students need to be alerted and reminded that, beyond the structure, meaning, process, power, identity, etc., are people, individual human beings. So I developed an assignment that I call a “socio-biography.” This is an essay about a particular culture, based on an ethnography that we have read, from the point of view of a particular individual with specific characteristics: sex, age, and social standing. The essay can be written in first or third person.

The idea is for the student to imagine, based on the ethnography, how a particular person would experience that society and culture. The experiences of the protagonist of the essay must be grounded in the material presented in the ethnography, and full citation is expected. (The “socio-biography” is described in somewhat more detail in my chapter, “Ethnography, Humanity, and Imagination: Seeing a culture and Society through the Eyes of an Individual,” in Strategies in Teaching Anthropology, 2nd edition, Patricia C. Rice and David . McCurdy, editors, Prentice Hall, 2002.)

I have given this assignment repeatedly in introductory anthropology, anthropology of the Middle East, and psychological anthropology (where it was labelled “psychosocial-biography”), among others. In most of my classes, I assign three essays, and usually the socio-biography is one of the three. In area courses, I sometimes assign two socio-biographies of the three essays. Students almost invariably say that they enjoyed doing this assignment, and I usually find the quality of the essays quite good.

This example is one of my efforts. Please share with us some of yours.

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I am going to try something new in my Middle East course next semester. This assignment is going to be research oriented, open ended, and web based. Here is my draft of the assignment:

"Draw on a dozen or so of the translations of Middle Eastern voices found at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) www.memri.org to confirm, challenge, and/or enrich Lindholm’s account in The Islamic Middle East."

MEMRI has thousands of short translations of newpaper articles and editorials, sermons, public statements, etc. from the Middle East. They classify by country, region, and topic. It's a very rich archive, with new additions daily. This assignment directs students to explore the MEMRI archives and to juxtapose what they find with the assertions in Lindolm's overview of the region, which is an assigned text.

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