James Howe Prize

2021 James Howe Prize winners:

MIT Anthropology is pleased to announce the winners of the 2021 James Howe Prize!

This year, for the first time, the Anthropology Program is offering a James Howe Prize for written work as well as one for multimedia or “multimodal” ethnography.  


In the written paper category, we have two prize winners. These papers bring together in-depth ethnographic analysis with beautifully crafted narratives that elucidate important social phenomena: how technology mediates intergenerational family ties, and food and racial justice. The pieces operate at different scales -- the family unit and the Navajo Nation, respectively – and they also draw upon different materials - in one case, interviews conducted within the intimate spaces of family life for an academic assignment, and, in the other, interviews and participatory mapping work done in a non-familiar setting as part of a summer-long internship. As such, the two papers demonstrate the wide range of possibilities afforded by ethnographic methods and their ability to offer crucial insight into both the affective ties and social patterns of everyday life.

MIT Anthropology is pleased to announce the first of the two paper category winners is Luísa Apolaya Torres. She wrote "Music, Technology, and Intergenerational Sharing", which includes a playlist, for 21A.504 Cultures of Computing. In "Music, Technology, and Intergenerational Sharing,” Luísa asks how sharing music across generations--and specifically the technologies that mediate this sharing--shape intergenerational relationships in immigrant families. The paper integrates the playlist the author created for her grandmother to offer readers multi-sensory engagement with [the author]'s argument that music sharing technologies such as Spotify open up possibilities for fostering ties among family members across generations and geographical locations, even as they also run the risk of alienating those family members to whom (owing to age, ability, or other factors) the technology's user experience is not tailored. The writing is evocative and personal, drawing the reader into the family space Luísa interrogates.

The other winner in the paper category is Lia Hsu-Rodriguez, for "Convenience, Culture and COPE: Food Justice and Sovereignty on Navajo Nation" in 21A.155 Food, Culture and Politics. In "Convenience, Culture, and COPE: Food Justice and Sovereignty on Navajo Nation,” Lia examines food access, providing a historically-grounded critical analysis of the structural factors that have led to the Navajo Nation's current classification as a food desert. Lia deftly blends her own mapping of food sources on the reservation with statistics generated by government agencies, research institutes, and nonprofits as well as scholarship on food justice and Navajo history to explain how the Navajo Nation's status as a food desert "can be traced to historic, colonialist violence against the Diné starting at the Long Walk." Analyzing the activities of the organization with which they carried out the internship and on which this research was based, Lia argues for food access interventions that both address underlying structural issues, and are also historically and culturally grounded.

MIT Anthropology is also pleased to announce the winner for the first multimodal ethnography prize is Varsha Sridhar for a photographic essay created for 21A.157 The Meaning of Life: “A Photographic Exploration of Belonging Through New Orleans Street Art.” This photo essay offers a beautifully constructed “walking ethnography” of New Orleans street art located in three neighborhoods. It argues that “the city itself is a canvas” for Black New Orleanians who use street art as a way to assert presence and demonstrate belonging in a post-Hurricane Katrina era of increasing gentrification and displacement. This photo essay combines what some anthropologists refer to as “the arts of noticing” with aesthetically striking photographs of street art. Varsha wraps text around the photographs, interweaving insightful analysis drawn from the words of artists and residents along with that of the author. The piece demonstrates the ability of “multimodal” ethnography to generate a heightened sensory attunement to the spaces, meanings, and power hierarchies, including racism, of everyday life. 

Congratulations to all three awardees!

Image of 16 people smiling and clapping in celebration in 4 rows

Image Description: Zoom Celebration of winners Screen Capture with 16 people, four across in 4 rows. Photo Credit: Amberly Stewart

Top Row, Left to Right: Amah Edoh, Amberly Steward, Héctor Beltrán, Carolyn Carlson. Second Row, Left to Right: Amy Moran-Thomas, Lauren Bonilla, Kate Gormley, Graham Jones. Third Row, Left to Right: Chris Walley, Stefan Helmreich, Bettina Stoetzer, Heather Paxson. Bottom Row, Left to Right: Timothy Loh, Varsha R. Sridhar, Luísa F. Apolaya Torres, Lia Hsu-Rodriguez.



2020: Elena Andree and Marissa McPhillips
2019: Maryam Pervaiz and Leanne Wang
2018: Jackie Liu and Gabriella Zak
2017: Ankita Reddy and Haley Strouf
2016: Paige Omura
2015: Andrei Kilshin and Peter Haine
2014: Sofia Essayan-Perez
2013: Iris Sheu


MIT Anthropology announces the 2021 James Howe Prize


Deadline: Sunday April 25th 11:59pm, 2021 (announcement updated April 14)


We seek submissions from current MIT undergraduate students on any topic submitted for coursework in MIT Anthropology. Submissions will be evaluated on their originality, scholarly content, and the effectiveness of their writing or presentation. A faculty committee will judge entries. Students should submit work to jhprize@mit.edu.

This year, up to two winners will each receive a $300 award: one for a written paper, and one for work in some other medium. Winners will be announced on or before May 5, 2021, and will be featured on the MIT Anthropology website.

About the James Howe Prize:

The annual James Howe Prize honors the contributions of Professor of Anthropology James Howe, who retired in 2012. Howe’s scholarship has focused on the history and political struggles of the indigenous Kuna population in Panama. He has also promoted human rights throughout his distinguished career. A renowned photographer and political activist, Howe has undertaken ethnographic work to support the rights of the Kuna people. He is also a longstanding board member of Cultural Survival—an organization that provides support to and advocates on behalf of the linguistic, cultural, and property rights of indigenous populations around the world.


Guidelines for Submission:

Students may submit multiple entries. The topic is open.

Since remote teaching started in Spring 2020, some instructors have substituted other media projects for term papers. To reflect the diversity of formats in which students have explored Anthropology topics, this year we are accepting Howe Prize submissions in the form of podcasts, short videos, websites, photo stories, and other media, in addition to papers.

Eligible papers must have been written for MIT Anthropology classes or as part of an undergraduate anthropology thesis (i.e., a thesis chapter). They may be revisions of essays written and graded for MIT Anthropology subjects. They should be at least 10 double-spaced pages in length but must not exceed 25 pages.

Other media works should be of comparable size and scope. If in doubt, go ahead and submit!

Works that have been previously published are not eligible.

Submissions must include a title, as well as a consistent and thorough citation style and bibliography. The student’s name should not appear anywhere on the paper or in the media file.


Each entry should be submitted with a cover sheet that includes:

  • Student name:
  • Submission title:
  • Anthropology subject for which the submission was produced:
  • Major:
  • Expected year of graduation:
  • Email address:
  • Phone number:
  • Student ID number:

Please submit entries and cover sheets to: jhprize@mit.edu.

Please address questions to jhprize@mit.edu.