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£1.2 million joint US/UK grant strengthens alliance between LSE and Columbia University

The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Columbia University have been awarded a grant of around £1.2 million by The NSF (the US National Science Foundation) and JISC (the UK's Joint Information Systems Committee) for a joint project on the use of digital resources in the teaching and learning of social and cultural anthropology.

The project is entitled Teaching and Learning Anthropology: using scalable digital library platforms and innovations in approaches to content. It will be based in both the Columbia and LSE Departments of Anthropology but will draw heavily on a wide range of specialist expertise within both institutions. LSE's Centre for Learning Technology and the LSE library will be actively engaged in the collaborative research project, as well as Columbia's learning technology units as well.

LSE and Columbia have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop collaborative activities, including new joint master's programmes in public policy and earth sciences/environmental studies; a joint research centre; and at least five research projects. This grant is a significant step in progressing this alliance initiative and increased collaboration between the two universities.

Dr Charles Stafford, Reader in Anthropology at LSE, said: 'Digital resources have the potential to reshape the teaching and learning of academic subjects but for complex reasons their impact is sometimes less than might be expected. Our exciting collaborative project aims to examine this problem in some detail, in the context of undergraduate anthropology teaching.'

Professor Nicholas Dirks, Anthropology at Columbia, said: 'I am thrilled at the prospect of our collaboration with our valued anthropological colleagues at LSE. We hope to find innovative ways to use digital technology to advance our teaching programme in a number of areas in which we have especially close links with the LSE, including the study of South and East Asia, kinship and gender, and anthropological theories and methods. This project comes at a critical point in the rebuilding of anthropology at Columbia, and we look forward to other kinds of collaboration with the LSE as well.'

Much of the initial research for the project will focus on the development of a series of digital tools, methods, and approaches with the potential to change the teaching and learning of anthropology. One specific problem undergraduate programs in anthropology encounter is that undergraduate students have not conducted fieldwork and therefore have little sense of the process through which anthropological knowledge is actually produced. This project attempts to address this through innovative ideas and practical plans for dealing with this problem, in part using emerging technologies.

Once the researchers have developed a series of teaching methods and tools, they will then embed them in a digital learning environment for wider use. This environment will be a highly stable, flexible, and scalable digital library infrastructure, and it will allow for customized use across a wide range of academic fields (especially in the humanities and social sciences).

Over the course of the project, research fellows will be directly involved in exchanges between the two institutions - having periods of residence at both Columbia and LSE - and they will play a key role in the project's dissemination activities. It is hoped that the lessons of the project will be relevant for teaching in a range of disciplines beyond anthropology.


Steve Ryan, LSE, Centre for Learning Technology, 020 7955 6008
Kate Wittenberg, Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia (EPIC) + 001 212 854 0167
Judith Higgin, LSE Press Office, 020 7955 7582 or email: j.a.higgin@lse.ac.uk
| Eileen Murphy, Columbia University Press Office, +001 212 854 2391

Notes for Editors:

  • The co-investigators who submitted the bid are Dr Charles Stafford (LSE Anthropology), Professor Nicholas Dirks (Columbia Anthropology), Steve Ryan (LSE Centre for Learning Technology), Kate Wittenberg (Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia), and David Millman (Columbia Academic Information Systems).
  • LSE's Anthropology department was the only anthropology department in the UK to be awarded the top 5*A ranking in the most recent Research Assessment Exercise in 2001 (based on the submission by 100 per cent of its academic staff). Anthropology has been taught at LSE since 1904. Many of the leading anthropological figures have been associated with LSE as students and/or teachers, including Raymond Firth, Edmund Leach, Maurice Bloch, and Bronislaw Malinowski.
  • The Columbia University department is the founding department of Anthropology in the United States. Established by Franz Boas between 1896 and 1901, the department has been home to generations of anthropologists and a major center for training and research for over a century. Ruth Benedict, Edward Sapir, William Duncan Strong, Margaret Mead, Zora Neal Hurston, and Harry Shapiro have been just some of the important anthropologists who studied and taught at Columbia. In recent years, the Columbia department has once again regained its prominence, establishing new models for anthropology through its international and interdisciplinary commitments, while continuing the Boasian tradition of addressing contemporary cultural and political concerns.

5 February 2003