Dr. Jan Newberry, a University of Lethbridge anthropology professor, is passionate about teaching anthropology and having that recognized by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) is a special honour.
“Teaching is where I really feel like my career comes together, my research and the interaction with students. It’s where I feel the most satisfied and complete in what I am doing. To have that acknowledged is tremendous,” says Newberry.
She will receive the AAA/Oxford University Press Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching of Anthropology award at the AAA annual meeting from Dec. 3 to Dec. 7 in Washington, D.C. The award recognizes teachers who have contributed to the field of anthropology and encouraged others to study it.
Newberry is a cultural anthropologist who conducts fieldwork in Java, Indonesia. She has studied the politics and economics of women’s work and her current focus is on early childhood education and how that has changed as a result of globalization.
Before coming to the U of L in 2001, Newberry taught at Bryn Mawr, a women’s liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. Every year, her enthusiasm for anthropology has spread to her students, many of whom still keep in touch.
Their comments in support of Newberry’s nomination for the award describe her as a wonderful mentor, an incredible professor, and a gifted and exceptional teacher who is dedicated, kind, generous, brilliant, inspiring, creative and genuine.
Those adjectives hit the mark because, for Newberry, anthropology is a field alive with ever-changing opportunities.
“One of the things I tell my students is that anthropology is about human liberation,” she says. “Learning about other societies helps you understand your own and it helps you understand the possibilities of humanity.”
Throughout her career as a university teacher, Newberry has engaged students with new ideas that stimulate discussion and get them thinking about what it means to be human.
“That’s something I’m always endeavouring to teach in my class. I use specifics to get at what are, ultimately, these ethical and philosophical questions,” she says. “When a student says ‘You made me think’ then I’m just blown away.”
Newberry has always been committed to helping students gain real world experience. At Bryn Mawr, Newberry started Praxis, a community-based program that integrates theory and practice through community service learning. She also designed a liberal education pilot course at the U of L called Mapping Self, Career, Campus, Community. The first-year course, created when Newberry served as Board of Governors Teaching Chair and in response to a recruitment and retention project, helps engage students in their post-secondary careers.
“Teaching is how I change the world,” she says.
In addition to her duties as a professor, Newberry is also co-director, along with history professor Dr. Kristine Alexander, of the Institute for Child and Youth Studies (I-CYS), a multi-disciplinary research institute formed to build understanding of the young.
The institute has brought together researchers from neuroscience, literary studies, education and psychology, in addition to anthropology and history, to help answer the question of what it means to be a child.
One of the motivations for the institute came from a student who was taking classes from both Newberry and Dr. Louise Barrett, a U of L evolutionary psychologist who studies vervet monkeys. The student was interested in the human practice of ‘wearing babies’ or carrying infants in slings.
“Louise and I worked together with this student and we weren’t even sure we could talk to each other,” Newberry says. “We discovered, through the work on the child, that we did have much that we could say and our different perspectives were really interesting and productive. Any problem, in this case the problem of humans understood through the young, can be understood from multiple perspectives.”
For example, an evolutionary psychologist might look at the commonalities in baby carrying between humans and primates while a cultural anthropologist might look at how wearing babies is shaped by local practices, such as beliefs about when a baby should be encouraged to walk. A neuroscientist and a health practitioner might be interested in the effect the practice has on the developing brain. And a historian might consider changes in such practices across time.
I-CYS members are working to develop an undergraduate major in child and youth studies because of its broad appeal to students across faculty, disciplinary and divisional boundaries.