The Newsletter 96 Autumn 2023

On Place-Based Teaching and Learning

In the Academic Year 2019-2020, I taught General Anthropology (Anth-1101) to first year students. My colleagues and I, as part of Humanities Across Borders programme and in conversation with Dr Aarti Kawlra, re-looked and re-examined the course outline of General Anthropology in 2018-2019 to make it more connected with the world. Our idea has been to combine the classroom and fieldwork to show how the concepts of general anthropology that the students learn in the class can be connected with the world around them using code words. As extensions of the fieldwork, the students analyse the learnings from the fieldwork with what they learn in the classroom and the theoretical concepts.

With the intention of revising the course of General Anthropology (Anth-1101), I adopted the HAB approach to explore everyday practices, poems, corpuses, and oral histories using U-Pein Bridge situated on Taungthaman Inn as a site of meaning and knowledge.

In the middle of February 2020, the students visited U-Pein Bridge, situated near Taungthaman village by taxi. Their objective was to find out whatever they could – stories, experiences, lores, etc., related with the word concept of their choice.

When I asked the students to list terms connected with intangible and tangible heritage in anthropology, they identified: belief, norms, oral history, relationships, values, practice, symbols, etc.

During the discussion time in the class, a student, Aye Phyu Cynn Thant, described the way they connected code/concept words with the community thus:

When we arrived at the U-Pein Bridge, our group noticed a range of things that we identified under tangible culture. They are U Pein Bridge, different kinds of crops like sunflowers, beans, corn, boats, and stalls of shops, dirty water, fortune tellers, teak poles used to build U Pein Bridge and visitors.

Conversely, we also learned what intangible culture is after we interviewed the informants. Some of the significant intangible cultures that we observed were visible through the voices of the community members, the bells hanging on the ropes outside the huts, 1 In Upper Myanmar, as part of the novitiation ceremony, the parents of children who will change novicehood rent bullock carts with decorated cows with hanging bells to pick novices up to go around the village and then to pay respect to the pagoda and finally to worship the guardian spirit (Nat).  beliefs, worship and behaviour of the informants.

Two additional concepts were added – historical space and livelihood. Given the departure from traditional way of teaching, this experiential exploration of anthropological terms, helped the students to practically connect with what they had learned in the classroom. When I used to teach these concepts, the students had not internalised them. But this time, there was a difference and it was evident in the notes that they collected from the community living near the U-Pein bridge.


Zin Mar Latt, University of Mandalay, Myanmar