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MA Portfolio

The capstone of the MA program is a portfolio. It provides students with an opportunity to develop, connect, and present their interests and to demonstrate their familiarity with key ideas and issues in anthropology today. The portfolio will be evaluated at the beginning of the final semester. It consists of two pieces of work and a commentary, submitted as a complete dossier in spring of the second year. The two pieces will be developed in consultation with faculty during the final year of the MA, informally during office hours and formally with two assigned advisors, as well as through student workshops. The commentary is produced independently.

Contents of MA Portfolio 

A. Students should choose two of the following three options (in addition to the commentary).

      1. Revised term paper
        A paper of 2500-3000 words, not including notes and bibliography that can be based on a term paper from the student’s first year (from any course). Students cannot simply resubmit a term paper. They are expected to rework submitted work significantly and should pay attention to the word count, which is considerably less than most term papers. Imagine you are presenting the most interesting aspect of a larger body of work at a conference, which would also force you to select and distill the content. Write for a general reader in your field, not for a specialist. Show the breadth of your knowledge.A paper of 2500-3000 words, not including notes and bibliography. It can be based on a term paper from the student’s first year (from any course). But students cannot simply resubmit a term paper. They are expected to rework it significantly. Please pay attention to the word count, which is significantly less than most term papers. Imagine you were presenting the most interesting aspect of a larger body of work at a conference, which would also force you to select and distill the content. Write for a general reader in your field, not for a specialist. Show the breadth of your knowledge.
      2. Original writing
        An original piece of writing of 2500-3000 words. This could be based on fieldwork notes from the summer or previous research, or could be a new essay not previously submitted for faculty review.
      3. Non-textual work
        A non-textual piece (artwork, film, design work, etc.) in place of a written work, with approval from faculty. Any such work should be accompanied by a brief text that situates this piece in the context of broader conversations and similar material in the field of interest and that shows the lines of research (texts/projects/spaces/events/etc.) pursued to produce the work. This text would be in addition to the commentary. If you opt for a film or podcast, please produce it in the same spirit as the written piece: edit and condense the content. Try to keep it in the range of 10 to 40 minutes.

Note: Use the two pieces to demonstrate your versatility. For example, you can address distinct anthropological problems or controversies, write different kinds of papers (ethnographic, conceptual, methodological), or use different modalities to capture different epistemological, affective, and/or aesthetic dimensions of your subjects, etc.

B. Commentary: A textual commentary of 2000-3000 words, which should address, contextualize, and tie together the two pieces of work chosen from the options above. The commentary should explain how the submitted works relate to broader theories and current debates in anthropology. If one of the included pieces is based on work from a non-anthropology course, this should include an explanation of how this work bridges anthropology and that field or discipline. As with the whole portfolio, you decide how to use this piece of writing for your purposes. For example:

      • you could write it as one would the editorial of a special issue or an edited volume that ties together the two pieces you wrote
      • you could make the case for the disciplinary relevance of your contributions, if it might not be obvious
      • you could sketch a theoretical framework that ties together two more substantive pieces
      • you could also write a response to faculty feedback, maybe explaining why you chose to ignore certain suggestions (as is customary in any peer-review process)
      • you could write a personal essay about the development of your portfolio project.

Note: This element will be developed without input from the faculty, and will be read only upon final assessment.

When writing the commentary piece, please consider the following questions:

      • What is the problem you are addressing in the portfolio and why is it worth posing?
      • Where does it articulate with anthropology or social theory more broadly?
      • How does the specificity of your method or form – writing, video, etc. – help you conceptualize and communicate your project?

Point person

The point person for the Academic Year 2023-2024 is Lawrence Hirschfeld.


  • Beginning of First Year:
      • Student orientation meeting provides outline of portfolio model.
      • Start thinking about your interest in anthropology and possible portfolio topics. Do not hesitate to sign up for office hours and talk to different faculty in the department about your interests. After all, the development of the portfolio also serves as an opportunity for students and faculty to exchange ideas and get to know each other.
  • Spring Semester, First Year:
      • Think more seriously about how you imagine your portfolio. Try out your ideas on faculty during office hours. In case you plan to do any fieldwork over the summer, you need to start organizing it ahead of time.
  • Summer after First Year:
      • Plan elements of the portfolio (for example, review work from first year, do fieldwork, etc.). It is important that you return from the break with a clear idea of what you would like your portfolio to include: you will need to hit the ground running!
  • Fall Semester, Second Year:
      • First week of Fall Semester: Student workshop for second-year MA students on portfolio. >> TBD
      • Second week: Meet with your MA faculty advisor to seek approval of the proposal outlining contents of portfolio, including 2 abstracts of 200-250 words of the envisaged portfolio pieces (no longer than 1 page). >> Schedule appointments no later than 8 September, 2023
      • Third week: Submit 2 abstracts of portfolio pieces to the portfolio point person. These abstracts will be used to pair you with two “portfolio commentators” who will provide feedback. >> Deadline to submit abstracts: 15 September, 2023
      • Mid-October: Submit the drafts of the two pieces to the portfolio commentators. >> Deadline to submit drafts: 13 October, 2023. We encourage you to schedule meetings to discuss their feedback by the third week of October.
      • Suggested: Attend student workshop on MA Capstone Commentary>> TBD
      • Suggested: Take portfolio work to the Graduate Writing Center
  • Winter Break, Second Year:
      • December to January: Revise portfolio pieces based on faculty feedback and independently write and revise the Commentary.
  • Spring Semester, Second Year
      • First week in February: Final MA Portfolio due. >> By 4 February, 2024
      • Portfolios are graded on a pass/fail basis. The results will be sent to students by email. Faculty will decide if they provide feedback in oral or written form.

Advising and Feedback
As noted above, students must submit a proposal to their faculty advisor at the beginning of the fall semester of the second year. This proposal (no more than one page, single-spaced) should include an abstract of the overall portfolio, working titles of the two pieces, and the names of two portfolio commentators with whom they hope to work. Portfolio commentators can only be full-time Anthropology Department faculty. Affiliated faculty of the Anthropology Department or faculty external to the department cannot serve as portfolio commentators. When portfolio commentators have been assigned (not necessarily the ones requested), students are required to meet with these faculty members to obtain feedback on drafts of the two pieces. Faculty will only read and comment on one draft. Students are responsible for arranging these meetings. The commentary is to be written independently, without feedback from faculty.

Students must send the complete portfolio as MS Word documents to the Department Secretary in the first week of February. File names must include the student’s last name. Late submissions will be downgraded.


MA Portfolios will be graded as pass/fail based on their performance in four areas: disciplinary and transdisciplinary knowledge (how well the student relates their work to broader debates in anthropology and the human sciences at large); evidence (how well the student supports their arguments with empirical observations, textual references, interview material, etc.); expression (how well the argument is articulated in writing, image, or another chosen format), and conceptualization (how well the student forms ideas in the media of their choice). Two faculty (one portfolio commentator, one person not formally involved in the advising) will read each final portfolio and must agree on the grade given. Particular attention will be paid to the commentary during the grading process. If a student receives a failing grade, they may work with their faculty advisor to set a deadline for revisions. Ideally, meetings with faculty within the fall semester will provide indication of whether a student is in danger of failing prior to the final portfolio submission. After grading, faculty will decide if they provide feedback in oral or written form.