Department store receipt (detail)

Project information

DART was conceived as an effort to explore the potential of digital resources for the teaching of undergraduate anthropology and to investigate digital-library technologies that can allow for the flexible delivery and customized use of these resources.

DART was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under its Digital Libraries Initiative (Grant No. 0229076) and by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) under the Digital Libraries in the Classroom Programme.


DART has sought to meet three important objectives.

The first is to promote widespread acceptance and use of digital resources in undergraduate teaching. Challenges in this regard relate to institutional culture, and the project has therefore focused on issues of training, professional development, and institutional change. At Columbia and LSE, four postdoctoral fellows, working in collaboration with senior faculty and specialists in digital libraries and learning technology, developed and used new models and resources for teaching anthropology. The project became a central part of their professional development. The aim has been to provide a new model for other young scholars in anthropology and encourage them to integrate digital tools into their teaching practice.

Secondly, the DART team tackled a particular challenge encountered by those who teach undergraduate anthropology. Modern anthropological research methods are diverse, but the discipline still relies heavily on fieldwork, which undergraduates seldom have the opportunity to undertake; most of what they learn about cultures and how to study them comes from their reading of ethnographies, which are the end result of a complex process of observation and interpretation. In their study of anthropology, students are thus distanced from the process through which anthropological knowledge was produced. To narrow that distance, DART participants designed a number of digital tools that raise issues of interpretation. The focus was on digital resources that let students experience the gradual process through which anthropologists develop their understanding during fieldwork, expose students to shifting interpretations of a single culture over time, and lead them to draw their own connections between broad themes and specific cultural practices.

The third objective of DART has been to realize the potential of a digital-library approach to the acquisition, cataloguing, organization, and storage of teaching resources and tools. The project has aimed to develop techniques that will allow for their flexible, stable, and effective dissemination, through the creation of systems of metadata tagging that will participate in multiple schemes and enable searching by multiple conceptual categories; systems for consistent citation and management of intellectual-property rights; and systems for providing appropriate access to varied communities of users and providers of content.

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DART was built around the work of four postdoctoral fellows, two working in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and two in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University. In collaboration with faculty and specialists in learning technology and digital libraries at the two institutions, they developed and used new models and resources for teaching anthropology. Participants in the project offered a wide range of pedagogical and technical expertise: substantial experience in digital-library technology, in electronic publishing, in anthropological approaches to human learning and cognition, and in the development, use, and evaluation of innovative teaching methodologies and technologies.

Main Contacts

At Columbia:

At the LSE:

Ann Miller
Project Manager
Tel: +1 212 854 1796
Fax: +1 212 854 9099

Caroline Ingram
Project Coordinator
Tel: +44 20 7107 5103
Fax: +44 20 7955 7603

Columbia Team

LSE Team

Nicholas Dirks
Vice President for Arts and Sciences and
Professor of Anthropology
Tel: +1 212 854 8296
Fax: +1 212 854 5401

Gustav Peebles
Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology
Tel: +1 212 854 5493

Rashmi Sadana
Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology
Tel: +1 212 854 4752

Anthropology Department
Fax: +1 212 854 7347

Kate Wittenberg
Director, Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia
Tel: +1 212 854 0167
Fax: +1 212 854 9099

Brian Hoffman
Information Architect, Research and Development
Academic Information Systems
Tel: +1 212 854 0295
Fax: +1 212 662 6442

David Millman
Director of Research and Development,
Academic Information Systems
Tel: +1 212 854 4284
Fax: +1 212 662 6442

Charles Stafford
Professor of Anthropology
Tel: +44 20 7955 7214

Chris Fuller
Professor of Anthropology
Tel: +44 20 7955 7213

Henrike Donner
Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology
Tel: +44 20 7955 7212

Luke Freeman
Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology
Tel: +44 20 7955 6933

Jerome Lewis
Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology
Tel: +44 20 7955 6696

Anthropology Department
Fax: +44 20 7955 7603

Steve Ryan
Director, Centre for Learning Technology
Tel: +44 20 7955 6008

Steve Bond
Learning Technologist, Centre for Learning Technology
Tel: +44 20 7107 5117

Centre for Learning Technology
Fax: +44 20 7955 6625

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Resources for Teaching

In the Department of Anthropology at LSE, two digital tools were developed for use in the course Reading Other Cultures.

The first tool is called "What's Going On?" It is designed to stimulate thinking about how to use sources of linguistic and nonlinguistic information in formulating ethnographic knowledge. Through the use of video, the tool enables students to see that understanding and analysis build up over time, that there are many ways of interpreting the same events, and that an ethnographer can easily be misled. There is no single correct interpretation of events shown in the video. Rather, students come to an increasing awareness of the variety of different possible interpretations. It is intended that students, by exploring the process of knowledge development, will find it easier to engage critically with ethnography. Additionally, the tool seeks to illustrate that within any society there are many perspectives. This will emphasize to students that ethnography is a problematic synthesis of diverse cultural practices, beliefs, and explanations into a meaningful, representative, and coherent analysis.

The second tool, the Betsileo Rice Challenge, enables students to experience for themselves the complex series of decisions made by Betsileo farmers. It gives them a sense of the repercussions of those decisions over the long and short term. For example, sending children to school has short term costs in lost labor but in the long term it may lead to knowledge of new, more productive techniques. New techniques may be attractive to living people, but they might displease the ancestors. The interface of the learning tool leads students into the ethnography; the more they read, the better they will appreciate the complexity of the decisions they are making. In the process, they will learn the overlapping nature of categories such as technology, economics, social status, and religion.

In the Department of Anthropology at Columbia, the efforts of the postdoctoral fellows focused on the development of digital tools for two courses - one of them a course devoted to a cultural/geographical area, and the other, an introduction to the concept of ethnography.

The aim of the course Introduction to South Asian History and Culture is twofold: to teach students how and why the themes of religious reform, nationalism, gender, and caste became central to modern Indian identity during British colonial rule, and to relate the issues that arose during that period to contemporary issues and events in South Asia. Students are exposed to political debates about Indian society and culture during the British colonial period through speeches, pamphlets, essays, autobiographies, and other primary texts. DART developed for the course a library of digital assets including digitized text of hard-to-access writings, maps, timelines, photo essays, audio material, and video excerpts, as well as links to South Asian media and other outlets devoted to contemporary issues and controversies. Together these materials enabled students to grasp the historical context of the course readings; explore the relationships among South Asian geography, culture, and history; to think critically about the concept and reality of everyday life in South Asia and how these form the basis of cultural analysis; and to do online research for assignments.

The Ethnographic Imagination is a course designed to introduce students to the theory and practice of ethnography - the intensive study of people's lives as shaped by social relations, cultural images, and historical forces. The course also provides an introduction to the paradigmatic shifts of twentieth-century anthropological thought and seeks to develop students' awareness of the extent to which the description of a culture is always an interpretation of that culture. DART developed for the course a resource that allowed students to explore of the strengths and weaknesses of anthropological fieldwork. Digitized fieldnotes of Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf, an ethnographer who studied the Sherpas in the 1950s, were used to create three modules. The first immerses students in Fürer-Haimendorf's methods of detailed data-gathering with regard to an aspect of the Sherpa economy and provides a basis of comparison with analytic techniques that rely less on fieldwork than on cross-cultural comparative methods. The second module presents three accounts - from initial notes through published description - of a single religious ritual as viewed by Fürer-Haimendorf, as well as another ethnographer's description of a similar ritual, allowing discovery of the problem of observer bias and its impact on interpretation. The third module is devoted to the house list, which was digitized in its entirety. The list demonstrates a classic ethnographic data-gathering technique and presented its own set of interpretive (and technical) challenges. Exploration of the modules helped students reach their own conclusions about the value of ethnography and its status as a social-scientific method.

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Digital-Library Strategies

The teaching tools and resources developed by DART were embedded within a digital learning environment for wider use. A technology framework was built in which items from a digital library of resources could be recombined and rearranged. The aim was to enable the creation of clusters of digital material from the library that varied widely in size and had different navigational and organizational structures; such clusters are therefore able to serve a variety of pedagogical, research, and reference purposes. The clusters of digital materials themselves become part of the digital library and may be reused in their entirety, or parts of them may be used within other clusters. They can become part of small teaching tools, perhaps embedded in learning management systems such as WebCT, or they can become components of complex digital publications.

There are three critical aspects of this technology framework. One is a software system in which the library of digital resources (texts, images, media) and their associated metadata are stored and managed in a distributed, networked environment. This system enforces unique labeling of library materials, tracks alternate, derivative, or updated versions of materials, and verifies linkage among cross-referenced materials. The system is optimized for performance and resides on a redundant, scalable server and network infrastructure and that is supported continuously.

The second aspect of the technology framework is the set of metadata schemes associated with the library materials. For retrieval by their own characteristics (e.g., title, author, abstract, caption), materials require cataloguing of traditional descriptive metadata. Titles and descriptions are searchable by keyword, and subject and geographic headings were assigned to allow manual searching or automated access by standard thesaurus terms covering cultural, political, and historical concepts as well as regions, specific research sites, and ethnographic categories. Structural-metadata schemes represent sequential, hierarchical, chronological, and spatial relations among materials. The capacity exists as well for rights-management and access-control metadata and, to the degree currently practical, for digital-preservation metadata. Wherever possible, best practices have been employed - such standards as Dublin Core or MARC for descriptive metadata, IMS or METS for structural metadata, and ISO 13250 Topic Maps for conceptual networks, though some semantic choices in the use of these standards have been part of the project work.

The third aspect of the technology framework is a software system for presenting materials in a web interface. The system provides the capacity for viewing, linking, searching, and generally navigating within the digital clusters created by the postdoctoral fellows and academic staff. It packages materials for export into other external systems and also provides direct access to the raw materials of the library.

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Presentations and Publicity




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Project Documents

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© Columbia University and LSE 2005
DART is being provided to you for your own use. Any copying or distribution of DART materials is prohibited.