TUTORIAL: Primitive Skills in the Modern World

Fall 2003

Prof. John Whittaker


Class: T Th   8:00-10 :00  Goodnow 206  


Office: Goodnow 207    Extension 3447


Office Hours: MWF 8:30-10:00.


Modern popular culture is seeing a revival of interest in primitive skills: traditional technologies such as flintknapping, archery, weaving and basketry, fire-making, and tracking. We will combine practical experience to learn a couple of simple pre-industrial technologies with reading and writing to explore questions raised by the term “primitive skills.”  What is our notion of primitive, and why does “the primitive” appeal to people today?  What is skill? How are skills learned and differently valued in the context of our culture?


One purpose of the tutorial is of course to help you learn skills: the scholarly skills of finding information, reading critically, writing clearly, and discussing logically. As much as possible, class sessions will focus on discussion of readings, activities, and the written assignments rather than lecture. Accordingly, it is your responsibility to come to class, and to come prepared: do assigned reading and writing before the class for which it is listed, think about it, and arrive with ideas to talk about.


Grading will be based on six short written assignments, an oral presentation, and class participation.


Seton, Earnest Thompson


1962 (1903)  Two Little Savages.  New York: Dover Publications Inc.


Blankenship, Bart, and Robin Blankenship


1996 Earth Knack: Stone Age Skills for the 21st Century. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith.


McPhee, John


1982 Survival of the Bark Canoe. New York: Noonday Press.


1    Sunday 8/24   1:00-3:00


            Who are we, what are we doing?


            Sign up for advising


            Assign I: Essay on an artifact


(Monday 8/25 and Tues 8/26)


            Individual advising meetings


            4:00-5:00 Introduction to Atlatls)


            Tuesday  - communal dinner 5:30 at 1517 Elm St


Thurs 8/28


            What is skill? What is primitive? How archaeologists look at technology.

            Discuss beginning of Blankenship, Chadwick article

            DUE: Assignment I


            READ: begin Blankenship


            READ: Chadwick, John 1987 Linear B and Related Scripts. Berkeley: University                                  of  California Press. (Chapter 7: The Phaistos Disk).


2  Tues 9/2


            Technology and meaning.


            Assignment I returned for rewrite.


            Writing handouts


            READ: Allen, Frederick  1995 Woolly Mammoth. Invention and Technology                            11(1):4-5.

            READ:  Wohleber, Curt 2003  Duct Tape. Invention and Technology 19(1):12-13.

            READ: Gibson, Thomas D. 1996 Capping the Bottle. Invention and Technology                                    11(4): 64.

            READ: Matthei, Harry  1997 The Tin Garage. Invention and Technology 13(1):                                    64.


Thurs 9/4      

            DUE: Assignment I rewritten


            Film: Eskimo or other


            READ: Erikson, Kai 1989 On Sociological Prose. Yale Review 78:25-38.

            READ:  “Oops, About Writing an Effective Letter to an Employer”


3  Tues 9/9


            Technology and Skill: Discuss film.


            Discuss Assignment I.


            READ: Whittaker, John  2002 Coaching the Atlatl: How a Spearthrower Throws                                  a  Spear. Grinnell College web page. URL                                                                                http://web.grinnell.edu/anthropology/Faculty/johnw.html (visited                                                 8/10/2003).



Thurs 9/11


            Atlatl Practice (meet at the Atlatl Range)


FRIDAY  12 leave for Cahokia after classes (4:30)


SATURDAY 13 atlatl event at Cahokia


SUNDAY 14 return from Cahokia


4  Tues 9/16


            Discuss Cahokia trip


            Academic Honesty exercises


            Handout on citations


            Assign II: The anthropological witness: description and interpretation of  events

            READ: Johnson, Nicholas  2002  Facing the Raging Cow. Scarlet and Black, May                    3, 2002: 12.

            READ: Geni, Joe  2002 Men’s Tennis Moves on to MWC Tourney. Scarlet and                                   Black, May 3, 2002: 11.

            READ: Gmelch, George 1971  Baseball Magic. In Conformity and Conflict.                              James Spradley and David MacCurdy eds. Pp. 346-352. Boston: Little,                                   Brown, and Company.



Thurs 9/18     (JW leave for Ft O after class)


            Finish Academic Honesty


            Discuss Johnson, Geni articles


5  Tues 9/23


            Finish and discuss Blankenship (select some skill to learn)


            DUE: Assignment II



Thurs  9/25      

            Discuss Assignment II.


            Fire making.


            READ: Blankenship pp12-31


            READ: Baugh, Dick 1999 The Miracle of Fire by Friction. In Primitive                                      Technology: A Book of Earth Skills. David Wescott, ed. Pp. 32-33. Salt                                   Lake City: Gibbs Smith Publisher.

            READ: Warren, Robert Penn  1989 On Reading Fiction. In New and Selected                                     Essays. New York: Random House.

            READ: Begin Seton, Two Little Savages


6  Tues 9/30


            Skill, technology, and symbolism – discuss symbols



            READ: London, Jack. 1953  To Build a Fire. In Best Short Stories of Jack                                           London. Garden City: Garden City Books.


Thurs 10/2


            Discuss Two Little Savages

            Assign III: Literary analysis, a character in Two Little Savages

7  Tues 10/7


            DUE: Assignment III due


            Finish discussion of Two Little Savages




Thurs 10/9


            Field Trip: Nettle harvest and other gathering


8  Tues 10/14


            Discuss Assignment III




            READ: Blankenship 32-65


Thurs 10/16




            READ: Blankenship pp. 126-139


            READ: Whittaker, J. n.d. Why My Office Stinks.  Unpublished ms.


FALL BREAK  10/18-10/26


9  Tues 10/28


            LIBRARY: Intro to web and related resources with Jenn Green

            Assign IV: Article abstracts    

            READ: Heizer, Robert F.  1970  The Anthropology of Prehistoric Great Basin                          Human Coprolites. In Science in Archaeology, 3rd edition. D.Brothwell and                              E.Higgs eds. pp. 244‑250. New York: Praeger Publishers.

            READ: Madsen, David  1989  A Grasshopper in Every Pot. Natural History                                         7():22‑24.



Thurs 10/30


            DUE: Assignment IV


            Discuss Madsen, Heizer articles, abstracts, food


10 Tues 11/4


            Flintknapping, demonstration


            READ: Blankenship 66-89


            READ: Whittaker, J. Flintknapping: Making and Understanding Stone Tools.                             Austin: University of Texas Press. (Pages 127-166)



Thurs 11/6




11 Tues 11/11


            Discuss knapping, learning


            READ:  Assign V: Review a Web Site



Thurs 11/13      

            DUE: Assignment V


            Discuss webs, internets, society

12 Tues 11/18      

            Discuss Assignment V

            READ: McPhee, Survival of the Bark Canoe,  pp.1-42

            Assign VI: Learn, demonstrate, and describe a primitive skill


Thurs 11/20 NO CLASS AAA meeting


13 Tues 11/25


            READ: McPhee pp. 43-83






14 Tues 12/2


            READ: McPhee pp. 84- end




Thurs 12/4


            Oral Reports


15 Tues 12/9  


            Oral Reports






            Oral Reports


            Assignment VI due