Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Instructor: Karen Faulk, Department of History
Course: Dilemmas and Controversies in Anthropology
Assessment: Worksheet to guide students’ observation and analysis of Polar World


I was interested in getting students out of the classroom and into some of the actual spaces where the broader public interacts with knowledge produced by and through the practice of anthropological research. My goal was to prompt students to think deeply and analytically about the nature and implications of cultural representations in the public sphere (focusing on the Carnegie Museum exhibit, Polar World) and to assess their ability to apply the theories and perspectives from the course.


In preparation for their visit to the Carnegie Museum, students were assigned readings about the politics of museum anthropology and the representation of cultures through material artifacts. They were then asked to complete the worksheet during and following their visit to the Polar World exhibit, and to come prepared to discuss it in the following class. The worksheet asked students to describe the exhibit, analyze the choices the curators made in organizing and presenting it, reflect on how the curators attended to some of the ethical concerns that arise in transmitting anthropological knowledge to a wider audience, and to consider alternative representations.


The students not only seemed to enjoy the assignment, but they also came back with responses that far exceeded my expectations. I think having a structure for viewing the exhibit helped them to think about cultural representations more analytically.


The only thing I wasn’t fully happy with about the assignment was that students did not sufficiently incorporate insights from the readings into their analysis of the exhibit. Consequently, next time I think I would take a day in class to discuss the readings before students go to the museum and make it more explicit that they should bring the readings into their analysis.

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