• 2016 AA Editor Search
  • Get Ready for the Annual Meeting

    From t-shirts to journals, 2014 Annual Meeting Gear Shop Now
  • Open Anthropology
  • Latest AAA Podcast

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 17,784 other followers

“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

Webinar Wednesdays: Engaging Anthropology

It’s Webinar Wednesday! Today’s webinar will be held at 2pm ET. If you haven’t registered, please do so now at the link below.

In 2014, the American Anthropological Association will host a monthly webinar series on the third Wednesday of the month on a variety of topics to engage anthropologists.

Dr. Riall NolanThe first webinar topic is professional development and career building for anthropologists outside of the academy. Dr. Riall Nolan of Purdue University will lead this first webinar and share tips on CV writing, job searching, interviewing and much more.

This webinar will be of particular interest to advanced graduate students, those who have recently earned their PhD and those seeking practicing anthropology careers.

The webinar is free; however, registration is required at: https://aaanetevents.webex.com/aaanetevents/onstage/g.php?t=a&d=663078462
Password: anthropology

Webinar Wednesdays: Engaging Anthropology

Save the date for Webinar Wednesdays!

In 2014, the American Anthropological Association will host a monthly webinar series on the third Wednesday of the month on a variety of topics to engage anthropologists.

Dr. Riall NolanThe first webinar topic is professional development and career building for anthropologists outside of the academy. Dr. Riall Nolan of Purdue University will lead this first webinar and share tips on CV writing, job searching, interviewing and much more.

This webinar will be of particular interest to advanced graduate students, those who have recently earned their PhD and those seeking practicing anthropology careers.

The webinar is free; however, registration is required at: https://aaanetevents.webex.com/aaanetevents/onstage/g.php?t=a&d=663078462
Password: anthropology

Denver Museum to Return Totems to Kenyan Museum

Have you read the article featuring AAA members, Chip Colwell-Chanhaphonh (Denver Museum of Nature and Science), Linda Giles (Illinois Wesleyan U), Stephen Nash (Denver Museum of Nature and Science) and Monica Udvardy (U Kentucky), regarding the return of the totems to the National Museums of Kenya?

Here’s an excerpt:

Now, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science says it has devised a way to return the 30 vigango it received as donations in 1990 from two Hollywood collectors, the actor Gene Hackman and the film producer Art Linson. The approach, museum officials say, balances the institution’s need to safeguard its collection and meet its fiduciary duties to benefactors and the public with the growing imperative to give sanctified objects back to tribal people.

“The process is often complicated, expensive and never straightforward,” said Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, the museum’s curator of anthropology. “But just because a museum is not legally required to return cultural property does not mean it lacks an ethical obligation to do so.”

The museum this month will deliver its 30 vigango (pronounced vee-GON-go; the singular form is kigango) to the National Museums of Kenya. Officials there will choose whether to display the objects, hunt through the nation’s hinterlands for their true owners and original sites, or allow them to decay slowly and ceremoniously, as was intended by their consecrators. Whatever they opt to do, Kenyan officials say, sovereignty over the objects should be theirs and not in the hands of foreign museums.  (The details of the transfer are still being negotiated.)

But repatriating them takes far more than addressing a parcel. No federal or international laws prevent Americans from owning the totems, while Kenyan law does not forbid their sale. And the Kenyan government says that finding which village or family consecrated a specific kigango is arduous, given that many were taken more than 30 years ago and that agricultural smallholders in Kenya are often nomadic.

Some 20 institutions in the United States own about 400 of the totems, according to Monica L. Udvardy, a professor of anthropology at the University of Kentucky and an expert on Kenyan culture who has studied and tracked vigango for 30 years. She said that Kenyans believe that vigango are invested with divine powers and should never have been removed from their sites and treated as global art commodities. Kenyan officials have made constant pleas to have the objects sent back.

Read the entire article at The New York Times.

Webinar Wednesdays: Engaging Anthropology

Save the date for Webinar Wednesdays!

In 2014, the American Anthropological Association will host a monthly webinar series on the third Wednesday of the month on a variety of topics to engage anthropologists.

Dr. Riall NolanThe first webinar topic is professional development and career building for anthropologists outside of the academy. Dr. Riall Nolan of Purdue University will lead this first webinar and share tips on CV writing, job searching, interviewing and much more.

This webinar will be of particular interest to advanced graduate students, those who have recently earned their PhD and those seeking practicing anthropology careers.

The webinar is free; however, registration is required at: https://aaanetevents.webex.com/aaanetevents/onstage/g.php?t=a&d=663078462
Password: anthropology

Rare Tlingit War Helmet Discovered at Springfield Science Museum

SPRINGFIELD, MA – Stored on a shelf for over 100 hundred years, a rare anthropological treasure was recently discovered in the Springfield Science Museum’s permanent collections. Museum Director David Stier, who has worked in museums collections for almost 30 years, describes the discovery as nothing less than “the find of a lifetime.”

The mystery began to unfold when Museum staffers began to select objects from the over 200,000 items in the Museum’s collections for a new display titled “People of the Northwest Coast.” Dr. Ellen Savulis, the Science Museum’s Curator of Anthropology, was intrigued by one of the items described in collections records as simply an “Aleutian hat.”  The object was relatively large, ornately carved, and made from a single piece of dense wood. Although Dr. Savulis’ main area of expertise is Northeastern United States archaeology, she had the foresight to question whether hats made by the Unangax, the inhabitants of the Aleutian Islands, were typically made from such dense wood. Upon further investigation, Dr. Savulis found that the only type of wooden hat made in the treeless Aleutians is the hunting hat or visor, made from a thin plank of driftwood bent into a lopsided cone.None of this information matched the object she had in front of her.

TlingitHelmet2Dr. Savulis suspected that she had a helmet of some kind, and enlisted the help of Steve Henrikson, Curator of Collections at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.  After hearing the description and an extensive viewing of artifact images, Mr. Henrikson responded enthusiastically, “This is a Tlingit war helmet, absolutely, no question!”  He went on to say that “it’s very rare – there are less than 100 Tlingit war helmets in existence that we know of. I’ve been studying them for over 20 years and I’m sure I’ve seen most of them.”

Museum records show that the artifact was accepted into collections sometime after 1899, the year that the Springfield Science Museum (formerly the Museum of Natural History) moved into its own building at the Quadrangle.  The source of the artifact was not known, and it carried the simple label “Aleutian hat.” Having limited experience with cultural materials, museum specialist Albertus Lovejoy Dakin accepted the accuracy of the object’s label and entered it as such in the collection records. Some 40 years later the artifact received a permanent museum collection number from museum director Leo D. Otis, who still had no reason to dispute the “Aleutian hat” claim. There the artifact remained in its spot in the permanent collections, carefully preserved and unheralded, waiting to be found.

According to Mr. Henrikson, we now know that the object is indeed a war helmet from the Tlingit people of southeast Alaska.  The style of the carving and decoration on the helmet (probably the emblem of a clan) dates it to the mid-19th century or earlier. With the mass importation of firearms to the region in the mid-1800’s, this sort of body armor became relegated to ceremonial uses. Today, a few helmets are still brought out at ceremonial gatherings, such as potlatches, to commemorate prominent events and honor past clan elders.  Because they are associated with combat, the helmets are not actually worn on the head during such peaceful gatherings, but are instead held in hand or perhaps held over the head of someone needing spiritual support.

Henrikson estimates that there are approximately 95 war helmets in existence today, mostly in large museum collections. Many of these were collected by Russian explorers on the battlefield following clashes with the Tlingit. The largest collection of Tlingit armor is at the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology in St. Petersburg.

Beginning as protection for Tlingit warriors in battle, war helmets today serve the Tlingit as healing reminders of their rich and ancient history.  A glimpse of this rich history can be seen starting Thursday, December 26, when the helmet will be placed on display for the first time since arriving in Springfield over a century ago.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 17,784 other followers