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Omnibus Funding Bill Is Good News For Anthropology

On Friday of last week, President Obama gave his signature to the  Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, which provides fiscal year 2014 appropriations for the projects and activities of the federal government. While the bill was signed more than three months into the fiscal year, it is the first time in several years that Congress has competed work on appropriations legislation, and not resorted to keeping the government running through a series of long term “continuing resolutions.”

The agreement sets an overall discretionary spending cap over over $1.01 trillion and the measure is especially kind, given the current funding and fiscal climates, to the interests of anthropologists and others who seek research funding from the federal government. For example, overall funding for both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), actually increased, respectively, by over four and three percent. These two funding agencies, according to AAA research, are actually responsible for most of the Federal funding allocated to anthropologists.

The NSF received over $7 billion in the omnibus bill,  and the so-called “policy riders” that have, in the past, restricted political science funding at the agency have been eliminated, and draft legislative language that would have threatened peer review were not included in the final legislative package. The NIH, by far the larger agency, received almost $30 billion in funding, with the expectation, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee that the monies would go to support “as many scientifically meritorious new and competing research grants as possible, at a reasonable award level.”

The protection of social and behavioral science funding and  the elimination of policy riders mark a huge legislative victory for the AAA and the coalitions that  we work with. AAA staff devoted a lot of time and resources on Capitol Hill over the past several months not only meeting with personal office staff, but with staff from the authorizing and appropriation committees as well. There was a lot of talk in Congress both last session and in the current legislative session last year and this year about potential cuts for social and behavioral science funding, and our lobbying efforts has a lot to do with changing conversations about the importance of funding this portfolio of research.

If you would like more information about either AAA lobbying efforts or the omnibus appropriations legislation, please contact Damon Dozier, Director of Public Affairs at ddozier@aaanet.org.

“Back to School” Field Trip to the Chicago Field Museum

Today’s guest blog post is by Kamela Heyward-Rotimi. Kamela Heyward-Rotimi is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for African and African American Research at Duke University.  She is a visiting research scholar in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, and is an adjunct affiliate in the Department of Anthropology at University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  Her research interests include race, gender, science, digital media, and education.  She is presently working on a manuscript that looks at the impact of Internet Fraud, also known as “419” or “Yahoo-Yahoo”, in the lives of everyday Nigerian communities.

Anthropologists are reconstituting ways to communicate anthropology with communities that host our meetings. At the 112th AAA Annual Meeting, anthropologists did just that in the Anthropologists Back to School initiative.

The past two AAA annual meeting themes addressed the imagined place of anthropology and the place of anthropology in our communities in the 21st century.  In line with this reflexive inquiry of contemporary anthropology, anthropologist and public intellectual Johnnetta Betsch Cole challenged her anthropology colleagues to reach out to the youngest members of the host cities of our AAA meetings.  The program chairs for the 2013 AAA meetings, Alaka Wali and Dana-Ain Davis, responded to the challenge and invited anthropologists to participate in the Anthropologist Back to School initiative in Chicago.

Dr. Cole’s invitation to partner with her in the Anthropologists Back to School initiative brought earlier lessons of “giving back” to communities, and engaged anthropology full circle for me.   My initial consideration of what is public anthropology would occurred after Dr. Cole’s inaugural address to the student body as the President of Spelman College.  In that speech she stressed that we budding professionals and scholars had a responsibility to our West End neighbors.  She challenged each of us to get involved with community service in the West End area, the area that both the Spelman community and the West End communities shared.   Community involvement was not a new concept for me but one I largely associated with civic and grassroots organizations, not higher institutions or anthropology.  The possibility of an anthropology advocating for community development challenged my previous understandings of anthropology as an immutable discipline.  I questioned how to pair my activism with my new found interest in anthropology; I never stopped asking where a “community involved” anthropology fits within the definition of anthropology.

In many ways, questioning the positionality of anthropology in society benefits from the legacy of anthropologists across subfields who have questioned anthropology’s role in addressing societal problems (Blakey 1998; Borofsky 2005; Cole 2009; Gwaltney 1980; Harrison 1991; Mead 2004; Sanday 1976).  It is increasingly clear, both in our research and everyday lives, that current understandings of society and anthropology require anthropologists’ active contribution.  The rapid exchange of information on digitized forums and open content online encyclopedias which shape peoples’ interpretation of everyday life highlight an opportunity and responsibility for anthropologists to be a part of these conversations in multiple mediums.  The conversations at the Anthropologist Back to School initiative presented a public space to engage in conversations about anthropology with young community members.

The Anthropologist Back to School initiative involved anthropologists representing all subfields engaging with students of all ages in and around exhibits at Loyola University, The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Latino Cultural Center and The Field Museum.

At the Field Museum site I found it meaningful to talk with young students about what it means to be an anthropologist, anthropological concepts, world cultures, and how to critically digest images in popular culture.  It was especially significant to share this time with colleagues who were also engaged in sharing their narratives of anthropology, and to anxiously admit that we hoped our presentations were relevant to these very young communities of primary and secondary school learners.

At the Field Museum, anthropologists engaged with local students in connection with various presentations they had prepared on a range of topics:  racial categories and diversity, ethnographic practices and fieldwork and interviewing techniques, vernacular and contemporary African culture; African innovation through the ages; Ghanaian culture, Adinkra symbols and ideographs; and African cities.  I discovered, as did my colleagues, that it was great fun talking with groups of cross learners.

I joined Dr. Cole in the Africa exhibit for our presentation, “Africa Connected,” where we discussed African stereotypes vs. contemporary African life and digitally connected African communities.  Dr. Cole began our presentation with a critical discussion of current perceptions of Africa based on tropes of a primitive and Dark Continent. I then shared contemporary images of West Africans digitally connected through social media and various new media technologies.  Our goal was to initiate a dialogue about Africa for young learners who are far too often instructed from curricula that codifies Africa and nations of the South as subpar civilizations.  An example of this kind of instruction was shared with me by a parent whose teen age son attends a magnet high school in southeast Chicago. This student’s ninth grade history teacher said the following to his class: “Colonialists brought a gift to West Africa, the gift of reading and writing.”  Many of our discussions with student groups ranging from 5th grade through 10th grade reflected this troubling popular misunderstanding of the history of colonialism in Africa and first world/third world dichotomies that are traded as fact. It was encouraging to see that students who may well have been exposed to distorted and factually incorrect information about African people and cultures were willing to listen to ethnographic and anthropological data depicting a more complex African existence.

One of the most memorable moments for Dr. Cole and me was our conversation with a 5th grade class and their teacher Ms. West*.  The students of this 5th grade class expressed informed perspectives about the diverse and dynamic realities on the African continent. The students’ responses caused me to revise the unofficial script I found myself following when talking with previous classes.  When we asked children from other visiting classes their impressions of Africa they generally listed diversity of animals, poverty, and ‘primitive societies.’  However, when the students of Ms. West’s class were asked the question, “What do you know about Africa?” A little girl responded with little hesitation: “It is an interesting place with smart people.” Her comment was immediately followed by a fellow classmate’s observation, “And, West Africans are using the Internet.”  Because their responses differed greatly from the responses given by fellow students also educated in Chicago area schools, I assumed that Ms. West’s class was sharing information they gained outside of the classroom.  Which prompted me to break with the script and ask, “Where did you learn all of these things?”  The students unanimously replied, “Ms. West is teaching us about Africa.”  Following our presentation, I asked Ms. West to briefly speak with Dr. Cole and myself. We first commended her for presenting a perspective of Africa seldom presented at the primary level in American Public school curricula.  She said, “This perspective you all and the other anthropologists presented about Africa is not in the units I am told to cover in my class. So, I referred to sources outside of the mandated Common Core Curriculum to find information that talks about positive views of Africa.  This is a part of my lessons on world history.”  Finally, she added that she would like to incorporate these kinds of analyses in her lesson plans.  After sharing with her some websites with images of contemporary Africa, Ms. West said she was inspired to widen her search for more complex stories of other countries.

Those conversations with the students, their teachers and side debriefs with participating colleagues reinforced the importance of a responsible anthropology that gives back and assumes an active role in understandings of culture writ large and in the margins.  The Anthropologists Back to School initiative allows me to extend my community engagement to the host cities of the AAA meetings.  Coincidently, in the past year some of my own community involvement included work with students from pre-K through college both at home and abroad.  In Nigeria I spoke with recently graduated secondary school students about anthropology and demystifying notions of democratic wealth of all American citizens.  In Durham, NC I conducted an interactive presentation for pre-K through high school aged students that addressed the presence of cultural symbols in our everyday lives.  And, on my way to the 111th AAA meetings in San Francisco and during a visit to my childhood home, Los Angeles, I was invited to speak to the young women of the Women’s Leadership Project, a feminist service learning program based at two LAUSD high schools in South Los Angeles.  My topic affirmed questions I asked of anthropology as an undergraduate; I discussed the perfect fit of anthropology for women of color who are community advocates.  I look forward to the continuation of the Anthropologists Back to School initiative and opportunities for anthropologists to engage with local communities during our AAA meetings in Washington, D.C..

*pseudonym

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RACE poster RACE: Are We So Different? posters now available on the AAA Online Store. Order your poster today at the special AAA member price of $4.99.

Liebow Signs Letter to Support Title VIII

AAA Executive Director, Dr. Ed Liebow, signs collaborative letter to U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, in support of restoring funding to the Title VIII program. Most research on Eastern Europe and Eurasia in the last 30 years was funded by Title VIII, which supported programs through SSRC, ACLS, IREX, Woodrow Wilson Center, the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, and some universities.

For the region of Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, the Department of State has for thirty years trained future leaders and scholars through the Research and Training for Eastern Europe and the New Independent States of the Former Soviet Union Act (PL 90-164, Title VIII). Title VIII has played a significant part in the education of many prominent American policymakers and specialists in the region, including former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice, and US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. We are writing to you today to urge you to restore funding for the Title VIII program and to include funding for the Title VIII program as part of your fiscal year 2015 budget request.

The funding over the years supported many social scientists, historians and language programs.

At stake are programs that support policy-relevant research, advanced language training, and a specialized information clearing house and reference service related to countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus, Russia and Eastern Europe. A remarkably high percentage of US university faculty who teach about Eastern Europe and Eurasia, State Department specialists on the region, and think tank analysts who advice policymakers have conducted their field work and research obtained advanced language proficiency thanks to programs funded by Title VIII.

To read the entire letter, click here.

Save the Date – National Humanities Alliance Humanities Advocacy Day

NHA - Humanities Day - 2014The National Humanities Alliance will hold its 2014 Annual Meeting and Humanities Advocacy Day March 10-11 in Washington, D.C. 

 This unique event provides opportunities for participants to:

  • connect with a growing network of humanities leaders from around the country; 
  • communicate the value of humanities research, education, programming, and preservation to Members of Congress; 
  • explore national humanities policy; and 
  • become year-round advocates for the humanities. 

Sessions and events will be held at George Washington University and on Capitol Hill.

Registration

Registration and meeting information is available here.  

  • Early registration:           $75      Deadline: December 31
  • Advance registration:      $90      Deadline: January 31
  • Regular registration:       $100     Deadline: March 1

Hotel Accommodations

A block of hotel rooms has been reserved at the Capitol Hill Hotel at a discounted rate of $229/night for March 8-11.  To make a reservation, call 800-619-9468 or 202-543-2941 and ask for the National Humanities Alliance block rate, using the group code NHA0314.  Availability is limited and hotel reservations must be made no later than February 6, 2014.

AAA Encourages U.S. House Representative to Terminate Human Terrain System

In a letter, AAA’s new President, Dr. Monica Heller encourages and supports the efforts by U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter to terminate the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS). AAA has been a long-time opponent to HTS. The program embeds social scientists with combat units.

We are especially encouraged to see it more widely acknowledged by Members of Congress that the HTS Program’s shortcomings are not simply ones of poor execution, but of misguided mission, inappropriate staffing, and lack of recognized need. It is impossible to do high-quality, professionally responsible social science research at gunpoint, and reports submitted to the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) suggest that the program does not make a significant contribution to the counterinsurgency effort.

As the AAA has pointed out for several years, military leaders ought to have been the first to acknowledge that you cannot expect people to tell complete strangers anything resembling the “truth” in times of conflict. And social scientists have a professional responsibility to point this out. Social scientists also have the professional responsibility to do no harm to the persons and communities involved in their studies, and to give informed consent, without coercion, to those who participate in their studies. The circumstances under which the HTS Program operates compromise the quality and integrity of the research it purports to carry out, and work at cross-purposes with the overall mission to reduce armed conflict.

The AAA, with more than 12,000 members, is dedicated to advancing knowledge of the human condition, and to applying this knowledge to tackling the world’s most pressing problems. We feel a responsibility to help improve US government policies through fact-finding, dialogue, and deliberation. More important than the legion of problems HTS has encountered in its planning and execution, it is fundamentally flawed. It is well past time that the HTS program be de-authorized, and we applaud your efforts to end this unproductive, irresponsible activity.

Read the letter and learn more about AAA’s efforts opposing the program.

#AAA 2013 – Public Education Initiative on Migration and Displacement

The AAA’s new Public Education Initiative, focused on Migration and Displacement, seeks to bring an anthropological perspective to bear on important discussions occurring within and beyond the academy. As we begin to work on this national project, we are bringing together anthropologists to discuss key aspects of the theme. During this year’s annual conference, two roundtables will focus their attention on migration; those present will help to shed light on issues that merit serious attention. We ask you to participate in these roundtable events…help us as we begin to structure the content and general direction of what promises to be another important national project.
Friday Nov 22, 12:15-1:30pm (Chicago Hilton, Williford A): Society for Linguistic Anthropology Presidential Conversation on “Language and Mobility: Rethinking the Populations, Practices, and Places of ‘Migration.'”
panelists include Hilary Dick, Adrienne Shiu-Ming Lo, Jonathan Rosa, Alejandro Paz, Rosina Marquez Reiter, Monica Heller, Bonnie McElhinny, Shalini Shankar, Jan Blommaert, Susan Gal.
Saturday Nov.23, 12:15-1:30pm (Chicago Hilton, Astoria Room): PEI Special Events Panel on Anthropology and Migration
panelists include Leo Chavez, Anna Rios, Daina Sanchez, Pat Zavella, Lynn Stephen, Jonathan Xavier Inda.
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