Lecture Prep

Before I began the initial prep work for the first course I was going to teach on my own I don’t think I quite realized exactly how much time I was going to spend on each 1.5 hour lecture. I had written papers and presentations to take up anywhere from 10-30 minutes before, but I quickly realized that once you pass the half-hour mark you’re in all new territory.

The courses I’m teaching this semester aren’t your traditional classes, and those in attendance aren’t your typical students. I’m an OLLI Scholar, with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) was founded in 2000 by the Bernard Osher Foundation as a way to provide continuing education for senior citizens. The UMass Boston’s OLLI program is integrated with the UMB Gerontology Institute, and is one of 122 OLLI programs at universities and colleges across the US. The Scholar program is a competitive teaching opportunity, where graduate students from UMass Boston propose courses, go through an interview process and, if selected, teach a 5-6 week course to OLLI Members.

The first course I proposed for OLLI was “Myth, Magic and Material Culture of New England”, which focused on the archaeology of ritual and magic, with a specific focus on archaeological sites and artifacts from historical New England. I’m teaching this course again in the Spring 2019 semester, and I was actually just informed the other day that the course is full and the waitlist has about 30 people on it!

The second course I’m teaching this semester is called “Becoming Human”, set up like a ‘greatest hits’ of sorts, covering different aspects of hominin evolution and essential debates in paleolithic archaeology. My undergraduate background is in biological anthropology and paleoarchaeology, so I wanted to get back to my roots for a bit with this course.

The way I’ve designed these courses is also an attempt to save myself some research and prep if/when I actually get to teach an undergrad course of my own on these topics. After creating these two courses I have around 7.5-9 hours of content for the classes, which can easily be split up into smaller 10-15 week courses, 30-45 minute standalone lectures, public presentations, etc. The topics are ones I’m very interested in continuing to teach, so I’ve been trying to keep a high standard for myself, whether i’m lecturing to retirees, undergrads, or kindergartners.

I wasn’t required to make a syllabus for the courses, but I did, and I wanted to share the week-by-week topics for each course here so you can get an idea of how I broke it up. This isn’t the entire syllabus, of course, but a general outline.

Myth, Magic and Material Culture in New England

  • WEEK 1: Introduction
    • Introduction to the historical archaeology of New England, course aims, and the archaeology of ritual and magic
  • WEEK 2: Ritual and Magic In New England
    • Discussion of the basic belief systems and means of magical expressions within the Indigenous, African, and European communities of historical New England
  • WEEK 3: The Material Culture of Magic
    • Identification of artifacts and other material remains associated with magic, ritual, and religion
  • WEEK 4: Pseudoarchaeology
    • Discussion of misidentification and misattribution in archaeology and “pseudoarchaeology”, and the broader inclusion of folklore, mythology and oral traditions in academic study
  • WEEK 5: Witchcraft and Legends of New England
    • Examination of the infamous 1692-1693 witch trials, the many varieties and expressions of witchcraft, and legendary creatures and supernatural occurrences throughout New England history
  • WEEK 6: Case Studies & Conclusions
    • Discussion of specific sites of ritual and magic, and the conclusions we can draw from this course and further archaeological study.
Šalitrena pećina, one of the sites I’m going to talk about in my second course.
I excavated here in 2015.

Becoming Human

  • WEEK 1: Humanity
    • Introduction to biological anthropology and paleoarchaeology, discussion of what we mean when we say “human”, hominin evolution overview
  • WEEK 2: Mastery
    • Human use of controlled fire, early artwork, domestication — sites include Wonderwerk, Altamira, Tell Halula
  • WEEK 3: Variation
    • A look at dwarfism, speciation, Neandertalization in the hominin record – sites include Flores, Denisova, Mala Balanica
  • WEEK 4: Continuity
    • Continuous occupation, long lasting lithic industries, and controversial claims – sites include Ksar Akil, Salitrena Pecina, Roche de Solutré, Clovis, Pedra Furada
  • WEEK 5: Altruism
    • Caring for the aged and sick, burial practices, what do we mean when we say “humanity” – sites include Shanidar, Windover, Man Bac, Riparo de Romito

I’m still in the process of refining and completing my lectures for the Becoming Human course, and I’ll be finishing those up within the next 2 months, before the classes begin in late April. I’m really enjoying the lecture prep for this course because not only is it letting me get caught up again on the recent debates in paleolithic archaeology, but it also lets me take a brain break from my current focus on historical archaeology. That helps me avoid oversaturation and research fatigue, while still feeling productive.



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