Ross School - Senior Projects 2010

Student: Elizabeth Heppenheimer

Mentor: James Earle


Title: Cannibalism: it is ignorant to phrase it like that


For my Senior Project, I decided to explore something unconventional. I began with an in-depth study of various forms of cannibalism in different cultures, with a particular focus on the role that cannibalism plays in American Culture. After months of research, I culminated my study by writing a dialogue between five starving people trying to decide how to survive. Each character represents different cannibalistic theme that I encountered in my research.


Artist Statement


PowerPoint Presentation


At the end of junior year, when I had less than a week to come up with a senior project, I decided I wanted to pursue something that was of a particular interest to me and would ultimately help me in the future. However, seeing as I have no idea what IÕm going to be doing in the future, I wanted to make sure my project would afford me the opportunity to acquire various skills that I will need in college and even beyond that. So, I decided on a combination of research and writing within the field of cannibalism.

My interest in cannibalism began last March when I spent M-term in Papua New Guinea. There, I visited the skull caves, which as the name suggests, are giant caves filled with hundreds of skulls. The skulls are all that remain of the victims of the indigenous cannibals of Papua New Guinea. The skulls were hidden in caves around the turn of the century when cannibalism was outlawed. They have recently been discovered and have become huge tourist attractions. When I first saw the caves, I thought, it was really cool, and it immediately became something I want to know more about. So, when it came time to hand in a proposal, the idea seemed only natural.

After a long brainstorming process over what to do for a final product, I finally decided on a creative writing project. The goals of my project were to explore different themes within the field of cannibalism, itÕs role throughout history and itÕs role in American Pop-culture. And to express those themes using characters in some kind of short story.

 I started my research by looking at general themes. I read various ethnographies and personal encounters with cannibalistic tribes. I found that anthropologist have classified cannibalism into three different subgroups. Endo cannibalism, the consumption of a person from oneÕs own community, exocannibalism, the consumption of oneÕs enemies, and survival cannibalism, the consumption of someone for nutritional purposes.

When I felt I had an understanding of general themes, I was able to use my knowledge to analyze different examples of cannibalism in American Pop culture. I read all the Hannibal Lecter novels, watched all the movies. I explored his character, and decided which form of cannibalism he practiced and what the rationale was. I did the same for a bunch of different vampires novels, movies and Tv shows. I also read and analyzed historical works including MontaigneÕs essay ÒOf CannibalsÓ. 

Research was a critical part of my project. I had to encompass a wide range of resources and I constantly had to make connections and recognize reoccurring themes.  I had to look at novels that were probably never meant to be analyzed in an academic manner and draw my own conclusions from them.

Once I had a clear idea of what information I wanted to include in my story, I had to decide what genre I wanted emulate. It took awhile, but I finally decided that a dialogue would be the best way to express the themes and history within the field. I then spent about two weeks reading various different examples of dialectic writing I took detailed notes on how the conversations were structured and I noticed how dialogues differ from narratives.

The final step I took to prepare for writing was to come up with characters and a general plot outline. I narrowed down the themes I wanted to express and ended up with five characters. I included a character for each form of cannibalism. An endocannibal who wants to eat her friends. An exo cannibal, who was based off of the older, quirky, Hannibal Lecter character, and a survival cannibal who wants to eat the fattest people. I also included a counter part for the endocannibal and a vampire character who has an interest in drinking blood. After I had the character ideas, I brainstormed about how to put them all together in one setting. The situation I came up with was inspired by the movie Alive, which is the true story of a soccer whose plane crashes in the Andes in the mid 1970s. The survivors reluctantly have to resort to cannibalism. There is a scene in the film where the survivors briefly mention why they think they should eat a certain person first. The idea isnÕt really followed up in the film, but I though it would be a perfect way to express the different themes within the field. So, I placed my characters in an ambiguous survival situation, where they have no food and need to resort to an act of cannibalism. I decided to have my characters engage in a conversation where they have to decide who to eat and why. Each character has a particular person in mind and a particular reason for choosing that person. Also I felt that through this situation, I would be able to bring up important historical information, including the origin of the term cannibal and some famous acts of cannibalism.

 My writing process basically consisted of forming arguments for each character about who to eat and why and to included other relevant historical information within the arguments.

Overall I had a lot of fun with this project. It was never something that I had to force myself to work on, and although I donÕt think writing cannibalistic dialogues is really a career, I will definitely be able to use the research, critical thinking and writing skills I acquired through this project, no matter what I end up doing.

Works Consulted

Alive. Dir. Frank Marshall. Paramount Pictures, 1993. DVD.

"All about Cannibalism: The Ancient Taboo in Modern Times, by Rachael Bell - Crime Library on" Not Reality. Actuality. Web. 02 Dec. 2009. <

"American Experience | The Donner Party | Film & More." PBS. Web. 01 Dec. 2009. <>.

Ball, Alan. True Blood: Strange Love. HBO. 7 Sept. 2008. Television.

"Bay of Pigs survivor: We became cannibals." Latin American Studies. Web. 02 Dec. 2009. <>.

Blakemore, Colin, and Shelia Jannet. "Eucharist." The Oxford Companion to the Body. Oxford University Press. 2001. HighBeam Research. 4 Jan. 2010 < >.

Cannibalism Secrets Revealed. The History Channel, 2007. DVD.

De Montaigne, Michel. The Complete Essays. London, England: Penguin Books, 1993. Print.

Feldman, George Franklin. Cannibalism, Headhunting and Human Sacrifice in North America: A History Forgotten. Chambersburg, PA: Alan C. Hood & Co., 2008. Print.

Goldman, Laurence R. The Anthropology of Cannibalism. New York: Bergin & Garvey Paperback, 1999. Print.

Hannibal. Dir. Ridley Scott. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2001. DVD.

Hannibal Rising. Dir. Peter Webber. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2007. DVD

Harris, Thomas. Hannibal. New York: Delacorte, 1999. Print.

Harris, Thomas. Hannibal Rising. New York: Bantam Dell, 2006. Print.

Harris, Thomas. Red Dragon. New York: Berkley Books, 1981. Print.

Harris, Thomas. The Silence of the Lambs. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1988. Print.

Holdman, Bryan M., and Barbie Kligman. The Vampire Diaries: Friday Night Bites. The CW. 24 Sept. 2009. Television.

Interview With The Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles. Dir. Neil Jordan. Geffen Pictures, 1994. DVD.

Jowett, Benjamin, trans. The Dialogues of Plato. Vol. 2. New York: MacMillian, 1892. Print.

 Kottak, Conrad Phillip. Mirror For Humanity: a Concise Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. New York: Overture, 1996. Print.

Lane, George. "Mongol Empire: Traditional Mongol Cuisine." Daily Life in the Mongol Empire. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2006. Daily Life Online. ABC-CLIO. 1 Dec 2009. <

Martingale, Moira. Cannibal Killers: The History of Impossible Murders. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1999. Print.

Mead, Richelle. Vampire Academy. New York: Razorbill, 2007. Print.

Meyer, Stephenie. Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1). Boston: Little, Brown Young Readers, 2006. Print.

"A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift." Emotional Literacy Education and Self-Knowledge. Web. 05 Jan. 2010. <

Plec, Julie, and Sean Reycraft. The Vampire Diaries: You're Undead to Me. The CW. 8 Oct. 2009. Television.

Ravenous. Dir. Antonia Bird. By Ted Griffin. ETIC Films, 1999. DVD.

Read, Piers Paul. Alive! The Story of the Andes Survivors. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1974. Print.

Red Dragon. Dir. Brett Ratner. Dino De Laurentiis Company, 2002. DVD.

Rubin, Miri. Corpus Christi The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture. New York: Cambridge UP, 1992. Print.

Sanday, Peggy Reeves. Divine Hunger: Cannibalism as a Cultural System. New York: Cambridge UP, 1986. Print.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. No Exit, and Three Other Plays. New York: Vintage International, 1989. Print.

Shaw, George Bernard. Man And Superman. New York: Echo Library, 2006. Print.

Shearer, Benjamin F., Ellen Baier, Wende Vyborney Feller, PhD, Agnes Hooper Gottlieb, Pamela Lee Gray and William P. Toth. "United States: Literature." Culture and Customs of the United States. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press, 2007. Daily Life Online. ABC-CLIO. 1 Dec 2009.


The Silence of the Lambs. Dir. Jonathan Demme. Orion Pictures Corporation, 1991. DVD.

Soylent Green. Dir. Richard Fleischer. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1973. DVD.

Stewart, George R. Ordeal by Hunger: The Story of the Donner Party. Cambridge, Mass: The Riberside, 1936. Print.

Warterworth, J., ed. "The Council of Trent: The Thirteenth Session." History Department, Hanover College. 1995. Web. 06 Dec. 2009. <>.

Williamson, Kevin, and Julie Plec. The Vampire Diaries: Night of the Comet. The CW. 17 Sept. 2009. Television.

Williamson, Kevin. The Vampire Diaries: Family Ties. The CW. 01 Oct. 2009. Television.

Williamson, Kevin. The Vampire Diaries: Pilot. The CW. 10 Sept. 2009. Television.

Community Member (Details)

Sally Booth PhD.- Associate Director of the Ross Institute Academy