Ph.D., Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, 1984
Anna Grimshaw was trained as an anthropologist at the University of Cambridge. She carried out her doctoral research with communities of Buddhist nuns in the Himalayas. For almost a decade, she worked as a public scholar outside the academy. Most notably, she served as assistant and editor to the Caribbean writer and historian C.L.R. James. Following James's death in 1989, Grimshaw returned to academic anthropology. Visual anthropology is now her primary field of inquiry.
Professor Grimshaw's research interests focus around ethnographic cinema. In particular, she is concerned with the ways in which an intellectually challenging anthropology may be pursued by means of visual techniques and technologies. She is also committed to practice-based experimental ethnography. This has involved an exploration of new forms and sites for ethnographic work (for example, documentary, gallery installation, the photographic essay) harnessed to the articulation of a critical perspective towards the conventions of academic anthropology.
Anna Grimshaw was one of the founders and editors of the innovative Prickly Pear Pamphlet series. In more recent years, she has developed a series of collaborations with visual artists, including Material Woman, a video project pursed with British artist Elspeth Owen (see elspethowen.net). The aim here has been to investigate art and anthropology as analogous practices of "making do", working with found materials.
Anna Grimshaw's books include Servants of the Buddha (1992), a remembered ethnography about her fieldwork with Buddhist nuns in Ladakh, and The Ethnographer's Eye: Ways of Seeing in Modern Anthropology (2001), which charts the shifting relationship between vision and knowledge in twentieth-century anthropology. Her Observational Cinema: Anthropology, Film and the Exploration of Social Life (coauthored with Amanda Ravetz) was published in 2009 (Indiana University Press). In 2005, also with Amanda Ravetz, she edited Visualizing Anthropology: Experiments in Image-based Practice. She is well known for her many publications associated with C.L.R. James, and edited and introduced A Majestic Innings: writings on Cricket (2006), The C.L.R. James Reader (1992), Special Delivery: letters from C.L.R. James to Constance Webb, 1938-1947 (1996) and C.L.R. James's American Civilization (1993; with Keith Hart).
Anna Grimshaw has just completed a series of films, Mr Coperthwaite: a life in the Maine Woods. Over the course of a year, the four part series (Spring in Dickinson's Reach, A Summer Task, Autumn's Work and Winter Days) explores the "handmade life" of Bill Coperthwaite. Influenced by the poetry of Emily Dickinson and by the back to the land movement of Scott and Helen Nearing, Coperthwaite lives and works in the forest. A meditation on time and process, the film series explores a little known part of American culture and the critical place of nature within it.
The first film, Spring in Dickinson's Reach, has been selected for screening by a number of international ethnographic film festivals. The complete work premiered at the Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center in 2013. Anna Grimshaw is currently working on a new film project, At Low Tide, a study of clam digging practices in eastern Main.
Anna Grimshaw teaches courses in ethnographic cinema, visual culture, experimental ethnography, and ethnographic filmmaking.