ANTH 369 A: Special Problems In Anthropology

Meeting Time: 
MW 10:30am - 12:20pm
BMM 112
Peter V. Lape
Peter V. Lape

Syllabus Description:

Welcome to

"Trash, Shit, Dirt"
ANTH/ARCHY 369, Winter 2016
Monday and Wednesday 10:30 AM -12:20 PM

What is this class about?
How do we develop a sense of disgust? What is the life cycle of cultural objects? How do people “clean up”? Where does your trash go? What can shit tell us about human history? What is considered “dirty” in different cultural contexts and different historical moments?

We'll try to answer these questions and more in this brand new, never tested class, an anthropologically and archaeologically centered exploration of the diversity of human practices of defining and handling dirty stuff. We will explore how the UW handles its “trash” and “shit”, Seattle’s history of dumps and junk yards, how people in other parts of the world and at other times in history have managed trash and sewerage. We will make trips to some trashy and shitty places, consider intestinal parasites and the information embedded in them, and explore the amazing, hidden universe of waste.

Where do we meet?
We meet in the Burke Museum Classroom. The easiest way to reach the classroom is by entering the Burke Museum from the staff entrance at the loading dock area on the west side of the building. The classroom is immediately on your left as you enter. You do not need to check in with the desk staff there (but you can say hi). The less easy but more fun route is to enter the main door on the east side (flash your UW ID at the friendly staff inside the door, the Burke is always FREE for all UW students), and check out the exhibits on your way downstairs to the classroom.

Meet your instructor, Peter Lape:
I am an archaeologist and museum curator. My job is to carefully dig up people's trash, analyze it, and then store it in beautiful, museum-quality containers forever. These days I mostly dig up trash from 3,000-4,000 year old sites in the islands of eastern Indonesia, but I also find it fascinating how contemporary people in these islands deal with trash and shit. When I was a kid, one of my favorite Saturday activities was to take our household trash to the dump with my dad (we lived in the country and didn't have trash pickup). Car junkyards and building salvage warehouses are current favorite haunts of mine. I am going to drag you to some of those, as well as other local places where our city deals with trash, sewerage and recycling.

How to contact me outside of class meeting times:
It is best to email me (, rather than use the Canvas message system. Please start your email with "Hi Dr. Lape" or "Dear Dr. Lape", use a helpful subject heading, and put your name at the bottom. Also, please be nice, spell things correctly, and use complete sentences. I will answer your email as soon as I can, but I also have an actual life outside of work and try limit email writing to normal business hours. 

What can you learn in this class?

  • I hope you will figure out the strange and wonderful ways anthropologists and archaeologists see the world around them,
  • use that perspective to delve into the ways humans interact with and think about material objects, particularly how we "dispose" of the ones we consider "dirty,"
  • and apply your new anthropological and archaeological understanding of trash, shit and dirt to real global problems.

What are the assignments and how are grades calculated?
This is a discussion-oriented course with minimal instructor lectures. For this to work, we all need to do the assigned reading on time and be prepared to participate in enthusiastic talking and questioning when we meet as a group.

I find grading to be a deeply unpleasant task, and I wish we could all just enjoy our time together learning new things. But UW doesn't work that way, so here is how I will figure out what grade to give you at the end of the quarter (more details can be found in the Assignments Overview).

  • 20% class participation, peer review and in-class activities
  • 20% reading and field trip response assignments
  • 40% garbology sort project and short papers
  • 20% final paper

What are the rules, regulations and instructor's pet peeves?

  • Late submissions will not be accepted unless you make alternate arrangements prior to the due date. Get those assignments in on time or accept the consequences.
  • Please notify me in advance if you have to miss a class meeting, a quick email before class is sufficient. I will miss you.
  • Please do not email me asking for a summary of a class you missed (that is what your fellow students are for).
  • Electronic devices (laptops, tablets, phones, etc.) may not be used in class without my permission. I'm as addicted to them as you are. Think of our 4 hours a week together as group therapy.
  • I welcome ongoing feedback about the class. Please feel free to send me suggestions for improvement at any time during the quarter.
  • You are expected to produce your own work in this class. Plagiarism or any other form of cheating will not be tolerated. There won't really be any good opportunities to cheat, actually. All students are expected to uphold the University of Washington standard of student conduct.
  • The Disabled Student Services (DSS) Office coordinates academic accommodations for enrolled students, University staff, and academic personnel with documented disabilities. 

Catalog Description: 
Delineation and analysis of a specific problem or related problems in sociocultural anthropology.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
October 5, 2016 - 9:50pm