Campus & Community

‘Sensory Ethnography’

2 min read

Art and anthropology combine in new Harvard lab for grad students

From the mountainous terrain of Nepal to a riverside in Manchuria to a tiny truck-stop town in Nebraska, Harvard University graduate students have spent the past year recording indigenous and emerging cultures around the world, and producing compelling works of art that push the study of anthropology beyond the written report.

As part of a new yearlong course titled “Sensory Ethnography” – the first graduate-level course to be offered at Harvard in filmmaking and art practice – these students have developed new visual languages and styles, documenting and interpreting the daily lives of people from around the world in uniquely gripping ways, employing media ranging from digital video to photography, soundscape, and installation art.

Films from the course ‘Sensory Ethnography’ will be screened on Feb. 1 at 6 p.m. at the Harvard Film Archive, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, 24 Quincy St.

Video | More multimedia

As taught by Lucien Taylor, assistant professor of visual and environmental studies and of anthropology and director of the Media Anthropology Laboratory, “Sensory Ethnography” is a collaboration between the departments of Anthropology and Visual and Environmental Studies. The course began last spring semester as students with varying degrees of artistic experience and ethnographic training met to learn video and audio production techniques, as well as to experience and discuss existing work in nonfiction media.

During the first semester, students watched and critiqued a variety of different films and videos to get a feel for visual and aural aesthetics while reading texts on ethnographic history, criticism, and theory.

The second half of the course is devoted to postproduction, and the transformation of the raw footage recorded over the summer into a cohesive work.

The films will be viewed Feb. 1 at the Harvard Film Archive.