Dr. Brent Metz

Department of Anthropology
Professor, Associate Chair and Curriculum Coordinator, Anthropology
Primary office:
Fraser Hall, room 609


After graduating magna cum laude in the Western Michigan University Honors College, I received strong theoretical training in the doctoral program in anthropology at the University of Michigan from 1986-89. I supported myself economically via graduate assistantships and working summers as an outreach worker and caseworker for the Michigan Migrant Legal Assistance Project (MMLAP). After three years and 49 graduate credits at U-M, I transferred to SUNY-Albany to receive training and mentoring specific to Mesoamerica. Three more years of assistantships, summer employment at MMLAP, and several internal grants financed my doctoral education at SUNY, which included 22 months of research in remote Ch’orti’-speaking hamlets in the mountains of eastern Guatemala. This research involved various aspects of activist anthropology. When I arrived to the area in 1990, a environmental degradation, changing rainfall patterns, a long history of ethnic discrimination, development paternalism and ineffectiveness, and national marginality had pressed all but a few Ch’orti’ activists to publicly deny their ethnic heritage. Representatives of the western Guatemalan Maya Movement arrived while I was there and began transforming the regional ethno-psychology dramatically. Long-repressed thorny topics such as ethnicity, gender, rural-urban animosity, and modernization vs. traditional subsistence culture were openly debated, and participants strived to learn more about their history. Once apathetic, cynical, self-deprecating, and fatalistic, many participants were now motivated, inspired, and proud. Ch’orti’ Maya Survival (2006) documents the long history of Ch’orti’ cultural transformation and identity dissolution, followed by the ethnodevelopment of the Movement, with all its promises and contradictions.

Within days after the approval of my doctoral dissertation in 1995, I began my first contracted full-time lectureship, and for the next six years I was fortunate to gain two full-time one-year positions at Western Michigan and Central Connecticut State, a two-year position at Grinnell College, and a renewable non-tenure position at Temple University. I turned down tenure-track positions at Seton Hall and Monmouth because they were incompatible with my personal life at the time. In 2000 I moved to Lawrence, Kansas, and began a position as Associate Director of the Center of Latin American Studies in 2001, which I held until 2005, when I transitioned to a tenure-track appointment in KU Anthropology. I received tenure in 2011.


Ph.D., Anthropology, SUNY-Albany

M.A., Anthropology, University of Michigan

B.A., Spanish and Anthropology, Western Michigan University Honors College


Since earning my PhD in 1995, I have designed and taught 22 different courses at five institutions, including 2 online courses. In my anthropology position at KU, I have taught Indigenous Traditions of Latin America, Mexamerica, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Masculinity in Cross-cultural Perspective, Contemporary Central America & Mexico, The Teaching of Anthropology, Indigenous Development in Latin America, Varieties of Human Experience, Multidisciplinary Field School in Collaboration with the Ch'orti' Maya, and Succeeding in Anthropology. Most have been joint undergraduate/graduate courses.

A principal tenet of my teaching philosophy is that students should learn how to connect the dots between a course’s subject matter and their everyday decisions; otherwise, they will not only forget the material as soon as they walk out the door but they will be uninformed citizens. I remind them that courses with global content are offered here because the U.S. is a global power and has a sense of global accountability, such that students here have inordinate responsibility to understand others on the planet. To enhance my strategies for getting students to make course material a part of their lives, I attended a CTE Best Practices Institute in 2005.

Since then, I constantly test students’ abilities to interpret current events and challenge erroneous media representations. I announce relevant campus and community events, and feel it my duty to attend them myself. For Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, I offered students an extra credit point for every Global Awareness Program (GAP) “extracurricular activity” point earned, which put them in the habit of seeing campus events as opportunities. My most popular courses are Indigenous Traditions of Latin America and Mexamerica. The goals of the former are for students to become engaged experts in the struggles of Latin America’s indigenous peoples. I cover the historical, environmental, and cultural diversity throughout Latin America before exploring the complex issues of indigenous rights. I introduce each section with the major questions to be answered, and if the section culminates in a take-home paper, I give them the assignment at the start to guide them in their readings and notes. I also provide questions for each reading on Blackboard as springboards for discussion. My classes generally have a question-and-answer format covering the main points of the readings and videos and how they relate to the students’ lives. I periodically experiment with new techniques to enhance engagement, such as in-class debates, the submission of “truth statements” or key quotes from readings for discussion, and calling forward a small group for questions and answers. If the enrollment is low, I grade on daily participation. For larger classes I might give pop quizzes, which have served as an impetus for greater student engagement and higher grades. Exams and take-home papers are designed not to test students’ ability to apply concepts, not simply memorize them. For example, I might ask them to compare and contrast the utility of two or more approaches. Finally, I have students compose their term papers in a grant proposal format, in which they propose to either investigate an issue as it relates to course themes or carry out an applied project. Graduate students submit longer research projects as well as critique supplemental readings.

In Mexamerica, the goal is for students to become specialists on how Mexican and U.S. popular culture, politics, economics, and identity are dialectically intertwined. Topics include the Mexican-American War, US investment in Mexico, migration, maquiladoras, national debt, tourism, movies, music, NAFTA, and the drug/weapons trade. Students’ consciousnesses are raised as to how their everyday decisions affect others. Besides the various approaches mentioned in the preceding paragraph, I instituted a service-learning component, in which students are required to donate twelve hours to the Lawrence Hispanic Center or other local organization serving recent Mexican immigrants. Activities have included a survey of local Latino needs, the creation of a community service video documentary, translation for health clinics, and one-on-one English-Spanish language partnerships.

Since 2011 I have lead multidisciplinary groups of undergraduate and graduate students on applied field courses in Honduras and Guatemala among my main research population, the Ch'orti' Maya. Their projects have included doing tourism analysis, researching for and designing ethnic activism webpages, organizing cultural fairs, and collecting data for rural water systems.

I am far from perfect as a teacher but strive for constant improvement for the sake of the students. I pay close attention to evaluations and my TA's advice, taking heed that I need to aim my lectures more towards the general student population rather than the upper echelon. I have much to learn from some of my award-winning colleagues, and I would like to take more advantage of the CTE.

Regarding advising, I was Undergraduate Coordinator in Anthropology for 3 years and served on the Undergraduate Committee in Anthropology for 9 years. I also served on the Undergraduate Committee in Latin American & Caribbean Studies for 3.5 years. In Anthropology, I led efforts to institutionalize a capstone and 1-credit online career course for the major, among other initiatives. My effort has been especially focused on getting students to think of their larger careers and personal enrichment rather than just the minimum to complete the major or minor. As the Anthropology student club advisor in 3 different years, I organized a Career Night for majors and prospective majors. I regularly urge students to pursue study abroad, internships, and perform service learning. I have also regularly participated in Honors Program recruitment functions.

Graduate students sometimes feel underserved and disrespected, and I make it a point to treat them as incipient professionals and convey the importance of their potential contributions to anthropology and society in general. As with the undergrads, I expect the most out of them. I remind them constantly that graduate school is their opportunity to build a foundation for their careers and become experts in their specialties. In other words, taking the route of least resistance will not serve them in a tough job market. I have also done my best to give them practical experience, and with university grant or assistantship funds I have employed five of them on my research projects. One area in which I have been improving is attending more to promising graduate students rather letting my time be monopolized by low-performing ones. Since arriving at KU, I have served on 78 graduate committees, including chairing 18.

Teaching Interests

  • Latin America
  • Central America
  • Mexico
  • Indigenous
  • Development
  • Teaching of anthropology
  • Masculinity
  • Applied field school
  • Service learning
  • Ethnography


My primary research focus since 1990 has been the changing quality of life and the politics of identity among impoverished Ch'orti'-Maya subsistence farmers in eastern Guatemala and western Honduras, and mestizos in the former Ch’orti’-speaking area of northwestern El Salvador. I am currently writing a book on the contradictory approaches – particularly deconstructionist vs. activist – to indigenous recognition, for which I use my research in the former Ch’orti’-speaking region as a point of departure. The digital version of the book will include video pop-ups, dozens of digital maps, photos, and audio recordings. My latest research has emphasized applied anthropology. I have led three multidisciplinary field schools among the Ch'orti's of Honduras and Guatemala (2011, 2013, 2016), helped co-found the Engineers Without Borders – Sunflower Professional Chapter (2011) to implement sustainable development among the Ch'orti's, and have served on the Board of Directors for the Lawrence Centro Hispano (2006-12), for which my students have performed service learning since 2007.

I am interested in development in the broadest sense in terms of quality of life, including identity, consciousness raising, technology, health, and political participation. I have also undertaken ethnographic research among Mexican-American migrant farmworkers in Michigan, on religious festivals in Seville, Spain, and of agrochemical practices among Costa Rican coffee farmers.

Research Interests

  • Indigeneity, development, indigenous reformulation, culture and power, collective memory, ethnographic representation, masculinity
  • Ch&rsquo
  • Orti&rsquo
  • Maya, Mesoamerica, Central America, Mexico, Latin America


Service, like teaching, is a realm for which faculty must be responsible but receive relatively little training. I lean strongly on my elders' experience for my own training in service. I also believe that integrating service, teaching, and research is possible in many cases if one involves one's students in service learning, particularly on behalf of the community at large. I have served on 3 external boards of directors, the KU Senate, 4 committees in Latin American Studies, as Undergraduate Coordinator in Anthropology, and currently the interim Director of Latin American Studies, among other responsibilities.

Selected Publications

Gentry, J. & Metz, B. E. (2017). Adjusting Photovoice for Marginalized Indigenous Women: Eliciting Ch’orti’ Maya Women’s Perspectives on Health in Guatemala. Human Organization, 76(3), 251-63.

Metz, B. (2016). An Ambivalent Nation: Chortís in Eastern Guatemala and Western Honduras. In B. Tatar & J. Moreno Tejada (Eds.), Modern Wilderness: Mobility, Friction, and Frontiers in Asia and the Americas from 1800. New York: Routledge.

Metz, B. (2016). The Challenge of Framing Migration for the Public. Practicing Anthropology, 38(1), 48-50. Society for Applied Anthropology.

Metz, B. E., & Francesch, A. (2015). Llamas de inseguridad en el oriente de Guatemala: Megaproyectos y la quema de la municipalidad de Jocotán [The Flames of Insecurity in Eastern Guatemala: Megaprojects and the Burning of Jocotán’s City Hall]. In A. Cumes, S. Bastos, & J. López (Eds.), Dinosaurio reloaded: Violencias actuales en Guatemala (pp. 247-69). FLACSO (Facultad Latinoamericano de Ciencas Sociales) & Universidad de Córdoba.

Gentry, J. & Metz, B. (2013). Community-Based Participatory Approaches for Addressing the Social, Environmental, and Cultural Challenges of Development. In World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2013 (pp. 1441-1453). DOI:10.1061/9780784412947.142

Metz, B. E., & Webb, M. (2013). Historical Sediments of Competing Gender Models in Indigenous Guatemala. In J. Gelfer (Ed.), Masculinities in a Global Era. Springer Press.

Metz, B. E. (2012). [Review of the book Becoming Mapuche: Person and Ritual in Indigenous Chile, Magnus Course. University of Illinois Press, Champaign, 2011]. American Ethnologist , 39(4), 863-4.

Metz, B. E., McAnany, P. A., & Parks, S. (2012). Commentary on 'Casualties of Heritage Distancing: Children, Ch’orti’ Indigeneity, and the Copán Archaeoscape'. Current Anthropology, 53(1), 80-107.

Metz, B. E. (2012). El laberinto de la indigenidad: Cómo se determina quién es indígena maya ch’orti’ en Guatemala, Honduras y El Salvador. Reflexiones, 91(1), 221-234.

Metz, B. E. (2010). Honduran Chortís and the Inherent Tension of Generalized Indigeneity. Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, 15(2), 289-316.

Metz, B. E., Mariano, L. & García, J. L. (2010). The Violence after La Violencia in the Ch’orti’ Region of Eastern Guatemala. Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, 15(1), 16-41.

Metz, B. E. (2009). Las ‘ruinas’ olvidadas en el área ch’orti’: Apuntes para una historia de la violencia en el oriente de Guatemala. In J. López García, S. Bastos, & M. Camus (Eds.), Guatemala: Violencias Desbordadas (pp. 65-92). Córdoba, Spain: FLASCO (Facultad Latinoamericano de Ciencas Sociales) and Universidad de Córdoba.

Metz, B. E. (2009). Searching for Ch’orti’ Maya Indigenousness in Contemporary Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. In B. E. Metz, C. L. McNeil, & K. M. Hull (Eds.), The Ch’orti’ Maya Area, Past and Present (pp. 161-73). University Press of Florida.

Metz, B. E. (2009). The ‘Ch’orti’ Area’. In B. E. Metz, C. L. McNeil, & K. M. Hull (Eds.), The Ch’orti’ Maya Area, Past and Present (pp. 1-14). University Press of Florida.

Metz, B. E., McNeil, C. L., & Hull, K. M. (Eds.). (2009). The Ch’orti’ Maya Area, Past and Present. University Press of Florida.

Metz, B. E. (2008). Postcard from Guatemala., 49(1), 28-29.

Metz, B. E. (2007). De la cosmovision a la herencia: La mayanizacion y los bases cambiantes de la etnia en el area ch’orti’ [From Cosmovisión to Ancestry: Mayanization and the Changing Bases of Ethnicity in the Ch’orti’ Area]. In S. Bastos & A. Cumes (Eds.), Mayanización y vida cotidiana: La ideología y el discurso cultural en la sociedad guatemalteca [Mayanization and Daily Life: Ideology and Cultural Discourse in Guatemalan Society]. Volumen 2: Estudios de caso (pp. 445-467). Guatemala: FLASCO.

Metz, B. (2007). ¿Quiénes son los ch’orti’s? Una exploración de los márgenes de la identidad maya [Who Are the Ch'orti's? An Exploration of the Margins of Maya Identity]. In Memorias del III Congreso Internacional sobre el Pop Wuj (pp. 84-104).

Metz, B. E. (2006). Ch'orti'-Maya Survival in Eastern Guatemala: Indigeneity in Transition, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 346.

Metz, B. E. (2004). [Review of the book The Rigoberta Menchú Controversy, Arturo Arias, ed. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2001]. American Ethnologist, 31(2), 2006-7.

Metz, B. E. (2003). Expresion de cambio cultural: Conversos invisibles al protestantismo entre mayas del altiplano occidental [An Expression of Cultural Change: Invisible Converts to Protestantism among Highland Mayas]. In L. Goldin (Ed.), Procesos Globales en el Campo de Guatemala. Opciones Economicas y Transformaciones Ideologicas [Global Processes in Rural Guatemala: Economic Options and Ideological Transformations] (pp. 61-85). Guatemala: FLASCO.

Metz, B. E. (2002). [Review of the book Mayan People within and beyond Boundaries: Social Categories and Lived Identity in Yucatán, by Peter Hervik. Harwood Academic Publications, Amsterdam, 1999]. Anthropological Forum, 10(1), 77+.

Metz, B. E., & López, J. (2002). Primero Dios: Etnografía y cambio social entre los mayas ch’orti’s del oriente de Guatemala [God Willing: Ethnography and Social Change among the Ch’orti’ Maya of Eastern Guatemala], Guatemala: FLASCO, Plumsock, Oxfam, COMACH. & Horizont 3000. 279.

Metz, B. E. (2001). Grounding the Culture Concept, or Pulling the Rug Out from under Students. In P. C. Rice & D. W. McCurdy (Eds.), Strategies in Teaching Anthropology (2nd ed.) (pp. 181-185). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Metz, B. E. (2001). Representación colaborativa: Un gringo en el movimiento maya-ch’orti [Collaborative Representation: A Gringo in the Ch’orti’ Maya Movement]. In P. Pitarch & J. López (Eds.), Los Derechos humanos en el Área Maya: Política, Representaciones y Moralidad [Human Rights in the Maya Region: Politics, Representation, and Morality] (pp. 311-340). Madrid: Sociedad Española de Estudios Mayas.

Metz, B. E. (2001). The Politics of Guatemalan 'Overpopulation' Through the Ch'orti' Case. In J. M. Weeks (Ed.), The Past and Present Maya: Essays in Honor of Robert M. Carmack (pp. 141-154). Lancaster, CA: Labyrinthos.

Metz, B. E. (2001). Politics, Population, and Family Planning in Guatemala: Ch’orti’ Maya Experiences. Human Organization, 60(3), 259-274.

Metz, B. E. (2001). Mayas of the East: Identity, Security, and Cultural Activism among the Ch´orti´s., 22(1).

Metz, B. E., & Laslett, M. (2001). Ch’orti’ Mayas carrying sacks of coffee to be weighed on a plantation. A Bitter Taste: Struggling for a Just Minimum NACLA Report on the Americas, 34(6), 8-11.

Metz, B. E. (1998). Without Nation, Without Community: The Growth of Maya Nationalism among Ch’orti’s of Eastern Guatemala. Journal of Anthropological Research, 54(3), 325-349.

Metz, B. E., & Goldin, L. (1997). Invisible Converts to Protestantism in Highland Guatemala. In G. Cook (Ed.), Crosscurrents in Indigenous Spirituality: Interface of Maya, Catholic and Protestant Worldviews (pp. 61-80). Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Metz, B. E., & Goldin, L. (1991). An Expression of Cultural Change: Invisible Converts to Protestantism among the Highland Guatemalan Mayas. Ethnology, 30(4), 325-338.

Metz, B. E. (1990). The Dynamics of Culture and Law: Anglo Domination of Mexican Migrants in Michigan. Michigan Sociological Review, 4, 33-45.

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