The un-essay replaces a final paper for my Fundamentals of Anthropology class.  Some may say (and I have seen vicious comments on Twitter) that an un-essay is a missed opportunity for students to write a paper and get feedback on that paper. I absolutely agree that students need to learn how to write and how to write well. However, I also understand that they write in many classes, and that many classes squash rather than encourage creativity. Also, please keep in mind that my students have 1-2 writing prompts a week, and I read and provide feedback on each and every one.

An un-essay allows students to flex muscle they rarely get to flex, and allows them to engage with material in a way they normally wouldn’t. Furthermore, students have stated that they remember what they did far into the future, while they will forget what they wrote about in a paper the moment that paper is turned in. Finally, students actually express how proud they are of their un-essays and talk about how they show them off to friends and family.

All this is to say, don’t let negativity surrounding this kind of project get you down. This assignment has allowed me a more clear window into each of my students more than any paper ever could.

Un-Essay Guidelines – borrowed heavily from the amazing Marc Kissel

Fundamentals of Biological Anthropology Un-Essay Fall 2021

Anthropology of Sports Un-Essay Fall 2021

Examples of Student Work

Please keep in mind this is only a sample. One of my favorite un-essays came from Laura Funk who did a Barstool Anthropology video. During this she made themed mixed drinks and developed hypotheses to explain patterns we see in the hominin fossil record. It was gloriously well thought out and produced. I also had a number of students turn in infographics on the obstetric dilemma vs. the EGG hypothesis and on sexual harassment in the field of anthropology. I was beyond proud of all of my students.

Grade School Lesson Plans by Katherine Franz

John Hlavin’s Interview of Father Terry

Ancient Agriculture Wiki Page by Nick Iovino

Morgan Zepf: The ties that bind AMH & Neanderthals
Morgan Zepf: The ties that bind AMH & Neanderthals


Leah Gudex unessay
Leah Gudex body ideals through time


Madeline Andreas un-essay
Madeline Andreas needle point of key features of AMH


Glein & Gallagher Un-essay
Rachel Glein & Tara Gallagher look at use of hands in art through time (caves vs. kindergartners) and drawings of bulls through times (caves & Picasso)
Jessica O’Neill’s fabulous and thought provoking unessay on the multifaceted topic of racism in sports. Her project statement below is also worth a read.