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Loans and Books: Two Brief Observations Made During the Student Debt Revolt

Many excellent graduate students with whom I have the honor of working receive only modest or no assistantship or fellowship aid. Historically, many have supported themselves in part during graduate school with government-backed student loans. This has always been a source of anxiety for me, but matters grew worse for U.S. students earlier this year when the major federal loan program changed its structure so that graduate students receiving such loans must begin paying them back immediately rather than after graduation. For students studying in the world in which I work, such a scenario is hardly possible. Even students with assistantships are just above the poverty line.

Meanwhile, more and more excellent scholarly resources ideal for the training of these students are being produced. But they are on the market at a price that no starving graduate student can afford and at which most professors would feel guilty assigning them. This reoccurring thought returned to me when I noted the publication of a very impressive looking ethnobiology textbook. It was also on my mind when I spoke last week to an editor of what promises to be the absolutely essential handbook for folklore studies. That volume will be rich beyond measure, but at 680 pages and 29 cents per page how will any of us afford to purchase it? If my library can afford it, I plan to sit and read it cover to cover in the stacks. Excellent scholars are producing excellent work, but the business model fails us, or at least our students.

A glimmer of hope came during the #AFS11 meetings. A group of folklorists have begun discussions aimed at creating an free and open access textbook for undergraduate folklore studies. One possible publication platform being discussed is connexions centered at Rice University. Hopefully folklore studies can become a leading field in the cultivation of Open Educational Resources. I cannot see how we can continue down the path that we are heading.

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  1. Clark Sage #

    As a graduate student finishing my coursework and about to begin my fieldwork, exploring ethnobiology, I eagerly anticipated the August release of the latest Ethnobiology (Anderson) text since last winter when I first saw it announced. But, as Jason notes the original $90+ price tag delayed my purchase. I tried interlibrary loan – but only the Library of Congress and a library in Hong Kong held it in their collections. I requested its purchase through our campus library – but because the book’s summary describes it as a “textbook” the request was denied. By September, it was driving me crazy and I bought it. I have read it cover to cover and can only say I wish I had had this four years ago. While this most definitely could and should be used as a textbook for an ethnobiology or environmental anthropology course, it is a must read for anyone interested in the field. The authors address the range of topics and methodologies in a way that is concise, accessible and enjoyable. This book is going with me as I head into the field this weekend and stands alongside Bernard’s, Research Methods in Anthropology, on my bookshelf. Get it. Read it.

    October 19, 2011

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