anthro in the news 8/27/17

Credit: Pixabay

when the court jester is president 

The Conversation published commentary by Anthony J Pickles, British Academy Research Fellow in the Division of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge: “Across cultures, fools, clowns, and court jesters are powerful critics of any existing order. But what happens when they take power?…A joker in charge is very difficult to challenge. Allow him to rile you up, and he wins; laugh with him, and you reinforce his nihilistic agenda. If the president’s opponents want his presidency to reinforce the US’s norms and institutions rather than destroy them, they can only respond one way: concentrate on achievable, serious goals, and refuse to get distracted by the absurd, surreal personality show with which their president is mocking them.”

monument wars are nothing new

Benedict Arnold memorial at the Saratoga National Battlefield. Arnold, who originally fought for the American Continental Army, was wounded in the foot during the Battle of Saratoga. He later defected to the British, and his name became a synonym for traitor. Credit: Wikimedia

An article in The New York Times discusses monument removal in Europe’s history and includes a comment by Ivaylo Dichev, professor of cultural anthropology at Sofia University in Bulgaria, for whom recent scenes in the United States have a clear resonance: “Eastern Europe went through a similar period in the ’90s, when a lot of Communist-era monuments were removed…”

An article in The San Diego Union Tribune quoted Seth Mallios, an archaeologist and professor at San Diego State University. He earned his doctorate at the University of Virginia and well remembers the Confederate monuments in Charlottesville: “As a kid from California, when Martin Luther King Day was called (Robert E.) Lee-(Andrew) Jackson-King Day, I…didn’t believe what was going on.”


follow the (fentanyl) money


The Lima News (Ohio) drew on commentary by
Lee Hoffer, associate professor of medical anthropology at Case Western Reserve University, in an article about the opioid epidemic in the U.S. Hoffer has examined the inner workings of drug trafficking in Denver and Cleveland: “Most people don’t go to the street and walk around looking for drugs. That’s how we typically picture this…Instead, they go to their peers and ask friends. The dealers I’ve worked with don’t push the product. They don’t go on the street to tout the product. They don’t do any of that because they don’t have to. Dealers don’t have to work hard.” Hoffer calls it a “brokering system,” with an estimated 70 percent of users getting drugs from a dealer or friend in a private setting, such as in a home.

flood risk versus ties to home   

Delaware Public Media reported on two projects involving anthropology student researchers seeking to learn why people who live in flood-prone areas stay and why others relocate. In 2008, anthropology students at Western Illinois University conducted research among people living in flood-inundated communities along the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers. The project, led by David Casagrande, on the faculty then but now associate professor and department chair at Lehigh University, was designed to provide insights to then-Governor Rod Blagojevich who sought help in responding to the flood situation. According to Casagrande, the students talked to “thousands and thousands of people” and learned about their perceptions of risk, attitudes about flood insurance, and whether they would be willing to relocate. Aaron Lampman, associate professor of anthropology and department chair at Washington College in Maryland, is leading a similar project in the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a “hot spot” for flooding in the U.S. The students, he says, “…are finding that people are aware of more flooding, stronger and more frequent storms and erosion, but they don’t seem to think that’s translating into the loss of their land or their community. Instead, they talk about trying to find federal funding for structural solutions, sea walls, groins, break waters, elevating houses…You name it. If it’s a structural solution then people are pretty interested in it…rather than thinking about relocation.”

book reviews

The Washington Post published a review by Rachel Newcomb, an anthropologist and the Diane and Michael Maher Distinguished Professor of Teaching and Learning at Rollins College, of Affluence without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen by James Suzman:  “This fascinating glimpse into a disappearing way of life leads Suzman to reflect on our world today: a world where wealth and possessions are valued above all other pursuits. Suzman’s account of the lives of Bushmen, past and present, offers plenty of fuel for thought. Their success was not based “on their ability to continuously colonize new lands, expand and grow into new spaces, or develop new technologies, but on the fact that they mastered the art of making a living where they were.” Could we, he asks, learn from their example and “be satisfied with having fewer needs more easily met”? These are provocative and timely questions.”

Dawn (Pakistan) published a review of Caravan of Martyrs: Sacrifice and Suicide Bombing in Afghanistan by David B. Edwards:  “Edwards has produced an unusual hybrid of a book. Part memoir and part anthropological treatise, it is full of colour and by no means a dry academic tome. In fact, for all his impeccable scholarly credentials, it seems similar in style and content to the kind of book produced by foreign correspondents. Having said that, Edwards makes frequent reference to his wide reading of the academic literature that informs the modern study of anthropology. It is not clear, however, that the citations add much to his analysis. Similarly, his passages on the meaning, nature and function of ‘sacrifice’ in society, whilst interesting enough, don’t seem to shed much light on the central question he is seeking to answer: what motivates suicide bombers in Afghanistan?”

the “story telling function”

Forbes carried an article about the value of anthropology’s “story telling function” in improving communication within a business and to its markets: “Over eons, our storytelling skills gave us an evolutionary advantage,” said marketing anthropologist and Wiser Insights Group Cofounder Lori Wiser…“Other species have not been able to develop this skill as well as we have. In addition, when we pass along powerful stories, we benefit in three ways: Stories save time, they make communications easier, and they help us understand and organize our lives.”

take that anthro degree and…

…become an actor and director. Nicholás Montero, a Colombian actor, is the artistic director for the Teatro Nacional in Bogotá. He aims to produce influential content that will enrich the lives of spectators. Anthropology is important for Montero, who believes that the line between it and acting is very thin: “I could never separate them. Acting is an anthropological experience.” Montero studied anthropology at the University of the Andes.

…be a doctor, writer, and speaker. Natalie Geary, a pediatrician, is owner and president of Private Pediatrics of Palm Beach, Florida. She has traveled around the world to promote children’s health and improved nutrition among youth. She was named “Humanitarian of the Year” for 2018 by the International Association of Top Professionals. Geary has a B.A. in medical anthropology from Harvard University and a Doctor of Medicine degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She completed her residency at New York University’s Bellevue Hospital Center.

the politics of archaeology

Al Jazeera reported about ongoing controversial archaeological excavations in Israeli settlement areas, some of which are funded by Christian organizations including Hobby Lobby. The article quotes Michael Press, an archaeologist and visiting scholar at the Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University who said that archaeologists who work in Israel “tend to be less interested in legal and ethical issues, more conservative politically, and more pro-Israel.” Ghattas Sayej, a Palestinian archaeologist who has worked for both the Palestinian Department of Archaeology and the Civil Administration from 1992 to 1994, said his time working with the governing body was the “worst of [my] archaeological career:” The Civil Administration’s officers work with impunity and support of the Israeli military, and international law is disregarded. It is a “destructive machine and has nothing to do with archaeology. It is a tool to the occupier and the Israeli army to achieve whatever they wish.”

turkey DNA tells a story

As reported in U.S. News, archaeologists have found a new clue into the mysterious exodus of ancient cliff-dwelling people from the Mesa Verde area of Colorado more than 700 years ago: DNA from the bones of domesticated turkeys. The DNA shows the Mesa Verde people raised turkeys that had telltale similarities to turkeys kept by ancient people in the Rio Grande Valley of northern New Mexico — and that those birds became more common in New Mexico about the same time the Mesa Verde people were leaving their cliff dwellings. Findings are published in the journal PLoS One. Scott Ortman, a University of Colorado archaeologist and a study co-author, said the findings support the explanation that many migrated to an area along the Rio Grande north of present-day Santa Fe, New Mexico: “The patterns that we found are consistent with several other studies and several other lines of evidence.” Jim Allison, an archaeologist at Brigham Young University who was not involved in the research, agreed that the findings mesh with other evidence of a southeastward migration, but said that a weakness of the study is the number of DNA samples used: “It would have been really nice to have 10 times as many.”

racial discrimination in death and burial

The Charleston Post Courier carried an article about the differential preservation of black cemeteries in the area. Michael Trinkley, director of the Chicora Foundation in Columbia and an archaeologist and preservationist, has done research on Charleston burial grounds, publishing   The Silence of the Dead: Giving Charleston Cemeteries a Voice. Trinkley scoured historical documents, maps and newspapers to identify about 100 cemetery locations and, in some cases, individual graves, and compared them with the current topography of the city. Some sites were destroyed, some disappeared under parking lots and office buildings, and others remained accessible, though often only a smattering of bone fragments were found: “A lot of these losses were in fact a result of the city of Charleston’s governance…While cemeteries were not taxed (generally), all properties were taxed for road and sidewalk improvements. So if you didn’t pay taxes, your property would be taken by the city and sold.”

biological heredity, difference, and “success”

An article in The CS Monitor reviewed views about connections between biological heredity and “success.” It quotes Tim Ingold, professor of anthropology at the University of Aberdeen: “Human beings everywhere, male and female, not only differ from one another but continually differentiate themselves during their lifetimes…People…are not ‘products’ of nature and/or nurture, let alone of ‘evolution,’ but the producers of their own lives, in the company of others.” 

in memoriam

Anthropologist Mary Slusser died at the age of 99 years. Trained as an archaeologist, Slusser later turned her interest to studying Nepali culture. According to a tribute in The Kathmandu Post, “What followed in subsequent years was a series of rigorously researched publications, first in academic journals, then in two books which have together become indispensable to studying the rich Newa culture of Kathmandu. First, in the two-volume 1982 magnum opus Nepal Mandala: A Cultural Study of the Nepal Valley, she masterfully weaved the story of the valley using the twin threads of “Hindu” and Buddhist heritage, pulling in the ancient colorful strands of the ajimas, matrikas, pitha devatas, serpents, and daemons constituting the original often aniconic, occasionally chthonic deities of Kathmandu Valley, while underlying the entire woven quilt with the deeply embedded South Asian notion of Royalty which has permeated Kathmandu culture from the Licchavis through to the Mallas and the Shahs.”

 

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