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Cultures and Contexts: Indigenous Australia Fall 2020
CORE-UA-0536 Professor Myers
Essay Topics – First Paper, Due Monday Oct. 5
Choose one question from the list below, and write a 4-5-page double space paper. Focus your answers on two to three central issues raised by the prompt, and reference the readings with appropriate citations. You need to support your arguments with reference to specific materials in the readings or lectures. Please identify your choice of question/prompt (1-4) in your heading, along with your recitation section number and your name.
Your papers should be submitted electronically to your recitation section NYU Classes by 10 a.m. on Monday, October 5.
1. The very early explorer to Australia, William Dampier, described Aboriginal people as the “miserablest people on earth” – a description to which Capt. James Cook seems to be responding in the excerpt from his journal. Others have imagined Indigenous life to be what the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes described for pre-state societies as a “war of all against all.” Based on the readings (Stanner, Rose, Myers) and the films “They Have Come to Stay,” “Babakiueria”), how do you respond to such representations? How have Aboriginal people responded, Were their lives “a war of all against all”? If not, why not? Be specific about the institutions, customs and beliefs that relate to these representations.
2. Anthropologists (and theologians) have shown that cultures provide people with basic orientations to the world, with ways of defining their lives and their positions in the universe. We have read several anthropologists and others who wrote about the basic concepts of an Aboriginal world-view. In your essays please compare and contrast the way in which Stanner and Myers discuss “The Dreaming.” Consider the following:
How do they present this fundamental concept and its relationship to human life?
What existential questions does it answer?
What are the daily realities of the Dreaming?
How do the authors’ representations of this institution speak to Western perception of Aboriginal people and their culture?
3. T.G.H. Strehlow once described the traditional system of the Arrernte people and their totemic geography as “a land-based form of religion.” This suggests that “The Dreaming” is more than a philosophy of life and has an important practical dimension. Discuss this proposition with respect to the materials you have read for this class, especially about “The Dreaming,” place, and kinship. In which writings is there evidence for such a proposition, what is that evidence, and how, then, can one understand the significance of The Dreaming?
4. Many outside observers have insisted that Aboriginal people – especially those who are involved with the classical traditions of Indigenous culture — are incapable of living with change or of engaging with change. On the basis of the readings (Stanner, Myers, Rose, Bell) and films (“Remembering Yayayi”), what positions do there seem to be about this question? What implications do the conceptions involved in The Dreaming have for Aboriginal peoples’ responses to change? Working with specific examples, consider:
How do the readings present change in Indigenous Australians lives?
How do you understand the relationship between Aboriginal conceptions of “The Dreaming” and ideas of “history” as a way of understanding time and change?
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