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Anthropology and the Written Word Course Yields Children’s Books

Publication Date: 10/19/2012

In fall 2011 as part of her Anthropology and the Written Word course, Dr. Susan Kus of the Anthropology and Sociology Department led her students in a discovery of the differences between societies of primary orality and those with access to written script. The end result—her students created several children’s books that had anthropologically-focused messages. The following spring, four students continued their book projects by enrolling in the course Anthropology and the Young, where they found illustrators for their books and eventually published them.

Some of the books will be distributed to community partners and schools, and other copies will be made available to the Rhodes community over Homecoming weekend. Suggested donations of $20 to benefit the Rhodes chapter of First Book are welcomed. First Book is a national nonprofit organization based out of Washington D.C. that works toward getting new “age appropriate” books into the hands of children from low-income families. Students will be on the first floor of the Barret Library during homecoming to share information about the book project and to collect donations.

Students who contributed to the project are authors Sklyer Gambert, Margaux Hoglind, Travis Lux, Rachel Strug and illustrators Sydney Howard, Sarah Pate, Lizz McDonough, and Joey Thibeault.

Kus first came up with the idea for the course while doing field work in Madagascar. Her work there led her to design the Anthropology and the Written Word class, which contains three modules, the first of which deals with oral tradition in traditional societies.

“While I was in the field, I became interested in people’s language skills in terms of these spoken, pithy statements and proverbs I was hearing,” says Kus. “I started thinking about how we should take orality into account as a big part of these societies. So that’s what the first module of the course focuses on—what are the implications of living in a primarily oral world? As humans, we all have this basic intelligence, but the way you exercise the intelligence depends on if you’re literate or oral.”

The second module focuses on how written language developed, with students individually investigating particular written scripts. In the final section of the course, students look at alternative ways of writing anthropology.

“In this part of the class, students examine how someone who comes from a primarily oral culture would record their life. In the beginning, I had students complete term papers around these themes. But then I thought—why not get these students, who now know something about orality, to write a children’s book that delivers a positive message about anthropology to children?”

With a grant from the Mellon Foundation titled “Creative Plan for Public and Digital Arts Support,” students were able to turn their book mock-ups into nearly 100 desktop-published copies. They elicited illustrations from their peers and received additional guidance from Rhodes librarian Nikki Rech.

After Homecoming Weekend, remaining books will be distributed to community partners and schools.

(information compiled by Rhodes Student Associate Lucy Kellison ’13)

Tags: Faculty, Service, Students

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