June 1, 2011
Anthropologist Strives to Fully Engage Students
“I have always been interested in the underdog—the ‘subaltern,’” says Associate Professor Betsy Krause (anthropology), whose research has focused in one way or another on families. “I suppose it’s because both my parents came from humble backgrounds and I’ve been fascinated by our history.”
Before becoming an anthropologist, Krause worked as a daily journalist with a degree from University of Missouri-Columbia. “The shift goes back to an Amish farmer’s field and a botched story in the 1980s,” she recalls. “I had lined up all the permissions in the Amish community to do a story on a family who had suffered financially during the farm crisis. Something went awry after I stepped into the field to schedule the interview.”
Back at the house, the farmer’s wife told Krause they had changed their minds. Then the children threw rocks at her car when she pulled out. When Krause encountered the farmer in his horse-drawn buggy, he hemmed and hawed, saying something about gossip. “Years later, while taking an introductory anthropology course, I realized that I had likely violated a gender taboo related to space and who belongs where,” Krause says.
At Oregon State University, Krause earned her MA in applied anthropology and went on for the PhD at the University of Arizona. “When I was finishing the dissertation, ‘Natalism and Nationalism: The Political Economy of Love, Labor and Low Fertility in Central Italy,’ I got the offer to come to UMass. Our department is full of anthropologists who care about making their research and teaching relevant to today’s world.”
Much of Krause’s work has been in Italy. The first anthropologist to do an ethnography of very low fertility, she was interested in a huge global phenomenon of declining birthrates, especially in Europe. “Italy and Spain were the first two countries in 1992 to reach record low levels of birthrates,” Krause says. “I wanted to see how that was playing out in families, in workplaces, in the media as well as in other institutions, among experts, and among politicians.”
Krause’s Italian research has been directly applied to teaching. Faculty across the country have adopted her two books, Unraveled: A Weaver’s Tale of Life Gone Modern (2009) and A Crisis of Births: Population Politics and Family-Making in Italy (2005), into their classes. “Some global discourses related to population have, quite frankly, become quite alarmist and racist,” Krause says. “My work is an intervention against narrow Western ways of thinking that incite xenophobia. My new project in Italy has a policy component, and I am collaborating with a research institute in Prato with the hope of eventually designing a diversity management plan for the city, which has become very segregated.”
Teaching students to think critically and to write with power is important to Krause, who this year was recognized with the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences’ Outstanding Teaching Award. Krause’s colleagues note that she keeps her classes connected to the world, drawing on her ongoing research projects. Krause, they say, is dedicated to stimulating student engagement and has introduced a variety of innovations to encourage active learning. Says Professor Laurie Godfrey, “Betsy is a shining star in a department that greatly values teaching.” For example, digital stories created in Krause’s senior capstone courses—“Memory, Narrative and Community” and “Global Bodies”—demonstrate how students can explore an issue while developing technological skills.
Inspired by a formative experience as a Lilly Teaching Fellow, and committed to the idea that students deserve a chance to delve deep into a theme, Krause recently innovated a special topics undergraduate class, “Italy: Fascism to Fashion.” Just a few days into registration, the course filled up—and it was a hit. She’ll offer it again next spring.
Using her journalism background, Krause has taught anthropology’s Junior Year Writing since 2000. In it students explore and produce work in different genres: op-ed, ethnographic essay, reflective power essay, book review, and a grant in the form of a mock Fulbright proposal. The key, Krause says, is to engage students. “As a professor, you can’t simply read from yellowed lecture notes. Students change and you have to change with them.”
Krause strives to help students find strategies related to voice. “Whether projects are written essays or digital stories, I teach a variety of skills students can use beyond the classroom. I want them to have a greater understanding of how inequality and power manifest and reproduce in the world and how to write responsibly with power.” Three of her undergraduates have won awards in the best text contest from the University’s Writing Program.
Krause has also served as field supervisor for the Anthropology Department’s European Field Studies Program for graduate students. That program was recently rejuvenated with a National Science Foundation training grant by colleagues Krista Harper and Jackie Urla. Through a new partnership with the University of Barcelona, her students participated in workshops at the beginning and end of their European fieldwork. Such systematic training is essential to become competitive professional anthropologists—especially in terms of securing funding for their own research.
Though Krause’s plate is full, she is a big believer in down time. “Without it, you lose the desire to innovate,” she says. “Some of my best ideas come while walking in the woods.” Krause also loves good jazz, bluegrass and old country—“like the Carter family,” she says. “And I come from a pie-baking family. In addition, my husband and I have spent countless hours watching our children’s sporting events. A former figure skater, I ice skate with my son, love hiking, especially in the Southwest, and I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Go Pujols!”