Teaching with the Collection
Each spring, Assistant Professor of Anthropology Amy Margaris teaches Anthropology 456: Seminar in Culture Contact and Colonialism. This junior/senior seminar explores the dynamics of culture contact from a variety of theoretical perspectives important in anthropology today. It especially highlights the uses of archaeology and the material record, often as they complement ethnohistoric data. The OCEC digital collection, with its high quality object images and growing body of associated photographic and written archival records, will be a rich resource for seminar students as they complete semester-long research for the course.
Previous student research projects for the class have examined physical evidence of religious syncretism, clashing gender ideals in colonial contexts, and the role of trade and exchange in shaping intercultural interactions. With the release of the OCEC digital collection, students now have the opportunity to focus research topics similar to these on a particular set of objects that are tied uniquely to Oberlin, or on objects collected by Oberlin-affiliated missionaries or teachers. “Going local” can help ground seemingly high-minded theory, and excite students to explore how large-scale colonial processes were also undertaken and experienced at more intimate scales: by an individual missionary, for example, or within a particular indigenous community. This use of the OCEC digital collection in the classroom promises to strengthen students’ abilities to work with primary materials, while they perform original research that both highlights and contributes to greater bodies of anthropological theory.
The roughly 1600 ethnographic objects comprising this database represent cultures of Africa, Asia, the Pacific and North America. They were collected during the late 19th and early 20th centuries primarily by alumni of Oberlin College who served as missionaries and teachers abroad. The objects, which their collectors perceived largely as souvenirs, mementos, and trophies of conversion, were donated to the former Oberlin College Museum.
Unlike systematic natural history collections created at the same period, documentation and contextual information provided by collectors of ethnological material is often uneven. Nonetheless, a major goal of the Oberlin College Ethnographic Collection Project has been to preserve high-quality digital images of each object in the collection, along with all associated information from the official Accession Book of the Museum.
We invite you to browse the database, a resource for students and professionals with interests ranging from anthropology, art, and religion to history and museology/museum studies.
A grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the Five Colleges of Ohio for the integration of digital collections into the liberal arts curriculum supports the translation of a previous version of the database into a CONTENTdm format as well as the creation of a web interface to guide its use by students and scholars.
Project Co-Directors: Linda Grimm, Emerita Associate Professor, and Amy V. Margaris, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Oberlin College. Library staff members who provided vital assistance include Alan Boyd, Associate Director of Libraries, Cecilia Robinson, Electronic and Continuing Resources Assistant; Ken Grossi, Oberlin College Archivist, Megan Mitchell, Reference and Instruction Librarian, Xi Chen, East Asian and Web Development Librarian; Geneva Dampare (OC '12) served as the research associate for this phase of the project. Students of Museum Anthropology provided the original stimulus for this effort and worked under the direction of Linda Grimm for three years to catalogue and photograph each of the roughly 1600 items in the collection. Albert Borroni, Director of OCTET, provided invaluable assistance through the development of our initial customized content management system, as well as equipment and technical support with the photography. The Department of Anthropology and the Office of Sponsored Programs provided funding for research assistants.