Supplementary Material

Teaching Anthropology with Primate Documentaries: Investigating Instructors’ Use of Films and Introducing the Primate Films Database

ABSTRACT Nonhuman primate appearance and behavior can be better understood through documentary footage than through verbal explanation alone. Many college instructors show primate documentary films in their courses, but little research has evaluated primate documentaries as teaching tools. We sought to determine the prevalence of documentary use in teaching and which characteristics of documentaries affect their use. An online survey queried 219 college-level anthropology instructors about their use and perceptions of primate documentary films. Most instructors (96.3 percent) showed documentaries in the classroom, incorporating new documentaries when available. Several multispecies documentaries were widely used. Documentaries rated high in usefulness for teaching purposes were seen as more entertaining and accurate, and as less anthropomorphic and misleading, with usefulness unrelated to perceptions that films were conservation oriented. Documentary selection was driven by teaching usefulness, availability, and the number of species in the film. In addition, we created the Primate Films Database, a comprehensive database of primate documentary films with reviews, runtimes, featured-species identifications, and teaching-usefulness ratings provided both by our participants and us. It is a publicly available online resource designed to raise awareness of primate documentary films as educational tools and to facilitate more widespread use of high-quality multimedia resources in anthropology classrooms. [biological anthropology, documentary film, primates, visual anthropology]


The Primate Films Database includes information about films featuring wild primates produced since the beginning of the twentieth century. The database contains entries for films (including feature films), TV specials, TV series, and single episodes of series. This database was created specifically as a resource for educators, but it may also be useful to members of the general public with an interest in primatology or nature documentaries. It could also be a valuable tool for researchers in primatology, visual anthropology, and film studies. The database will be updated as new films are released. Film ratings are provided on a scale of 1 to 5 based on how useful this film was for teaching purposes (1 = not at all useful; 3 = moderately useful; 5 = very useful).

Photograph by Bryan L. Koenig

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