James Howe Prize

2022 James Howe Prize winners:

MIT Anthropology is pleased to announce the winners of the 2022 James Howe Prize!

This year, the Anthropology Program awarded a James Howe Prize for written work as well as one for multimedia or “multimodal” ethnography. The committee offers the following assessments of each winning submission:
How does the way people classify food render it appetizing or unappetizing, edible or inedible? This is a classic anthropological question, one of the many that Professor James Howe took up in his research on among the Kuna indigenous people of Panama. In her prize-winning paper, “Bioengineered Foods: Cultural Impacts and Biases in Biotech,” Alex Poret applies the tools of symbolic anthropology to some of human history’s newest forms of food. Her sophisticated analysis shows that the cultural meaning of imitation meat and dairy products in the contemporary US takes shape across multiple regimes of value. For instance, traditional conceptions of meat products as “masculine” and vegetables as “feminine” buttress entrenched anti-vegetarian attitudes in parts of the US. Alex offers a nuanced analysis of the semiotics of meat and dairy replacements, pointing out that the fetishization of “innovation” can distract consumers from plant-based diets rooted in longstanding foodways. At a time when persuading consumers to transition toward more plant-based diets is key to fighting climate change, Alex powerfully reminds us that these innovative foods are not just a technological breakthrough but also a symbolic medium that people may adopt or reject based on what and how they signify. Alex, a member of the Class of 2022, majoring in Course 20 and minoring in STS, wrote her winning paper for Professor Amah Edoh’s class 21A.501 "Art, Craft, Science" in the fall of 2021.


Jaclyn Thi’s podcast "Cultural Citizenship and Belonging as an Asian American,” created for 21A.157 The Meaning of Life this Spring with Professors Manduhai Buyandelger and Heather Paxson, is a riveting meditation on the embodied, linguistic, and cultural complexities of Asian American being and belonging in today’s United States. Thi grounds her examination in her own biography as a Florida-raised child of Vietnamese immigrants and brings this into close dialogue with the story of a friend of hers from California who finds herself navigating through — and often code-switching between — her Vietnamese and Chinese heritage. Listening to Thi’s interview with her friend, one immediately hears an expert ethnographer in the making, as Thi creates a deep conversational rapport at the same time as deftly guiding the exchange through anthropological questions around the relation between self-identification and wider social perception. The podcast is also a model of how to use comparative ethnographic data — Thi employs 21A.157 course readings superbly — to contextualize everyday intimate and personal experiences within larger social, cultural, and political settings. Particularly compelling in the podcast are Thi’s discussions of how Asian identities in the United States may be plural, even in one person, who may move between regimes of legibility and invisibility inside and outside different communities, both inter-Asian and otherwise. A heartbreaking accounting of experiences with racism (and sexism) that Thi as well as her friend confronted in the United States — hearing about these rather than reading them gives this podcast a singular force and heft — opens up, in the end, with Thi calling for attention to a “bigger picture” that demands a bolstering of cultural citizenship, a necessary element, she argues, in securing proper democracy.

Congratulations to both awardees!

Pictured L to R: Jaclyn Thi, Alexandra Poret.



2021: Luísa Apolaya Torres, Lia Hsu-Rodriguez, and Varsha Sridhar
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.