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National Geographic Channel International Cancels “Nazi War Diggers”

To AAA members:
This letter was sent on March 31st, 2014, to the National Geographic Society, National Geographic Channels and National Geographic Channel International to protest a program aired in Europe (with a trailer briefly available on YouTube), by the presidents of six anthropological and archeological associations based in the United States and Europe, including the AAA. The effort was spearheaded by Jeff Altschul, President of the Society for American Archeology. The content of the letter provides, I think, sufficient information for you to understand why this program is of concern to all anthropologists. Shortly before the letter was sent, Dr. Altschul received the following statement from John Francis, Vice-President of National Geographic:

“National Geographic Channels International, in consultation with colleagues at the National Geographic Society, announced today that it will pull the series Nazi War Diggers from its schedule indefinitely while questions raised in recent days about allegations about the program can be properly reviewed. While we support the goal of the series, which is to tell the stories of long lost and forgotten soldiers, those left behind and still unaccounted for, and illuminate history working in concert with local governments and authorities, we also take seriously the questions that have been asked. National Geographic Channels is committed to engaging viewers in the exploration of the world and all of us associated with National Geographic are committed to doing our work with the highest standards. We know the same holds true for our producing partners, including our partners on this series.”

We look forward to their response to our letter, and will indicate to them our willingness to work with them to ensure their programming meets the highest professional standards.

Best,

Monica Heller
President, American Anthropological Association

 

Dig Wars – Reality TV Show Loots Historical Sites

President Leith Mullings wields her pen once again in request for preservation of historical sites against reality television shows. This year the Travel Channel has a new reality television show “Dig Wars”. President Mullings’ letter gives a detailed overview of the show and suggestions to rethink the show’s direction towards a productive and entertaining piece.

Below is the text of the letter. To read the letter itself, click here (PDF).

Dear Mr. Sharp:

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) and its 12,000 members worldwide join other professional organizations and concerned communities in urging you to withdraw or modify the new reality television show, “Dig Wars.”  This program actively encourages the needless destruction of the archaeological record. Its theme is a competition among teams with metal detectors to determine which team can locate and dig up antiquities from the ground. These are treated as “loot” (the show’s term) and assessed for their monetary value.

Reasonable viewers watching this program may be mistakenly led to believe that such behaviors are ethically acceptable.  On the contrary, the looting as portrayed on the show is deeply disturbing. The overall message is that this nation’s cultural and historical heritage is “loot” that is up for grabs for anyone with a metal detector and shovel.  This the wrong message to give the public, especially in an age when so many historical sites are disappearing.

The show focuses on taking teams of metal detector enthusiasts to known archaeological sites of historical interest (notable examples include Fort Saint Phillip, Louisiana, and Eastover Plantation, Virginia).  The historical interest of these places is important to the program and is an obvious reason for showing it on Travel Channel.  However, the program’s emphasis on digging at those archaeological sites to retrieve relics described as “treasure” is at odds with maintaining the historical integrity of these places.  Your viewers are encouraged to consider these historical sites as places to plunder, experienced through the activities of the metal-detecting teams.  It is at best a mixed message for your program to feature historical places as worthy of travel and tourism and at the same time promote their wanton irrevocable damage, robbing them of historical value.

The winning team is determined each week on the basis of the total monetary worth of their “finds,” as assessed by an appraiser at the end of the show. The value of historical relics is reduced to dollars and cents.  The Travel Channel’s message is that  any value of historical places and objects as reflecting our common heritage is negligible compared to  the money  to be made  trafficking in looted artifacts.  That disturbing message causes grave concern among the archaeologists and historians who seek to preserve and protect our historical legacy.

This is doubly unfortunate because the program has the potential to promote the historical value of these artifacts.  It could be retooled to enlighten Travel Channel audiences, explaining how the objects found by metal detecting enthusiasts can be used to interpret the historical past. For example, instead of being appraised, the objects could be assessed for how they tell a story about the past, as evaluated by local historical societies or local archaeologists.  Such stories could make for more compelling programs on these historical sites, drawing in larger and more diverse audiences.
As an example of how this could be done, last year the National Geographic Channel, working with professional archaeological associations and metal-detector enthusiasts, modified its “Diggers” program.  It now focuses on topics in American history from the point of view of two hobbyists working in coordination with local historians and archaeologists. That program became an opportunity for a multi-platform franchise that provides entertaining content for a broad TV audience and celebrates our shared history.

The AAA urges you to modify the contents of ”Dig Wars” so that it will enlighten the public, encouraging respect for cultural heritage and for the many surviving historical sites of interest that are worthy of travel and tourism. We would be happy to help you locate and work with trained archaeologists to communicate the excitement of discovery and of history in a more responsible, ethical, and engaging manner.

Sincerely,

Leith Mullings
President

New Podcast! Ordinary Anthropologists Doing Extraordinary Things – Matt Piscitelli

Listen to the new podcast in the series Ordinary Anthropologists Doing Extraordinary Things featuring AAA member, Matthew Piscitelli. Matthew has gotten creative with funding his next project.


Through my years of work as an archaeologist, I’ve always been amazed whenever I can hold something in my hand that no one has touched in the last 5,000 years.  Well, now I am asking your help to provide more such opportunities, and in the process, help preserve part of our global heritage.

I am currently applying for funding to support my archaeological dig in Peru this summer.  The results of the project will form the basis of my Ph.D. dissertation and eventually help me accomplish my goal of becoming a university professor.  I have had some success already applying to the National Geographic, my university (University of Illinois-Chicago), as well as my place of employment (The Field Museum).  I also have applications pending through the National Science Foundation and Wenner-Gren Foundation.

During this process of application, however, I had an idea that definitely falls outside of the box.  In general, scientific projects in any field are funded through the government, private organizations or through a network of wealthy donors that are somehow already connected to those scientists.  The general public hardly ever hears of these projects, let alone gets the opportunity to support these important scientific endeavors.  With the popularity of social networking, a recently developed fundraising tactic known as “crowdfunding” is beginning to be used to back small-scale inventions, innovators, entrepreneurs, etc.  So I thought, “why can’t that work for scientific projects like my own?”

I have signed up through Peerbackers, a well-known and trusted website (Google it) in order to test run this strategy.  I ask you all to check out my project, offer words of encouragement, contribute (always well-appreciated), and most importantly, spread the word.  Please Tweet, post a link to my project on Facebook, forward this post to friends and family, etc.  Don’t hesitate to respond with questions and comments.  As with any Ph.D. student, I would be more than happy to talk to you about my research!

Are you interested in sharing your extraordinary in an upcoming podcast? Click here to learn how.

The Oxford Bibliographies

Today’s guest blog post is written by AAA member, John L. Jackson, Jr. John is a Richard Perry University Professor of Communication and Anthropology and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies for the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

Oxford University Press has created a new and ambitious online project, Oxford Bibliographies, which attempts to provide scholars, students, and other interested readers with introductions to important topics and themes from many academic fields/disciplines. Anthropology’s module was launched last month, and I have agreed to help edit that particular module. Oxford was able to put together a strong editorial board for the project, which included scholars from all four of American anthropology’s major sub-fields: archaeology, linguistic anthropology, physical/biological anthropology, and cultural anthropology. These nine scholars helped to select and vet the entries on various topics (including applied anthropology, cultural evolution, public archaeology, language ideology, globalization and many more). All in all, OB’s Anthropology site contains 50 entries penned by scholars from across the country and the world, including Tobias Kelly on Legal Anthropology, Vernon J. Williams on Franz Boas, Jeremy Sabloff on public archaeology, Neni Panourgia on interpretive anthropology, Kudzo Gavua on ethnoarchaeology, John Trumper on ethnoscience, Judith Irvine on Language Ideology, and Christina Campbell on primatology (just to name a few).

Although I don’t consider anthropology’s four fields a “sacred bundle” never to be disassembled under any circumstances, I am intrigued by the idea of forcing myself to learn more about the four farthest corners of this sprawling and hubris-filled discipline that imagines itself to cut across the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. Oxford’s new initiative will allow anthropologists to think about how much we might really gain from conversations across the intradisciplinary domains that often divide us. Oxford’s intervention will help us to see how physical anthropologists and cultural anthropologists might differently approach topics. For example, we can determine what kind of reviewer an urban anthropologist working in contemporary Latin America would make for a piece on “the histories of cities” crafted by an archaeologist. Or we can ask a physical anthropologist and a cultural anthropologist to pen two different entries for, say, “race” or “gender.” I’m intrigued to see what (hopefully productive!) sparks might fly from such four-fielded contact, and I’ve already learned so much about those other anthropological spheres during the build-up to this year’s launch. Check out the new site. 50 new entries will launch every January, and current entries will be revised and updated throughout the year.

Also, please feel free to let me know if there is a topic/entry you’d like to suggest and/or author.

Bookmark Oxford Bibliographies, today: oxfordbibliographiesonline.com

New PhD Program at George Washington University

In contrast to our recent post about schools closing anthropological programs, we are pleased to find the Anthropology department at George Washington University to be flourishing to the point that they need to expand to a PhD program in Anthropology.

George Washington’s Anthropology Department was established in 1892. Faculty train students in the fields of Sociocultural Anthropology, Archaeology, Linguistic Anthropology and Biological Anthropology.

The department’s long-standing partnership with the Smithsonian and access to Washington, DC’s archival collections and influential policy-making institutions encourage intellectual creativity, effective communication and vigorous scholarship.

The department is seeking candidates with a strong background in anthropology or related disciplines. Contact Professor Richard Grinker or visit the website for more information. Applications will be accepted in the Fall of 2011.

How can archaeologists improve the prospects for a sustainable world?

The following is an extended column by Archeology Division Contributing Editor E Christian Wells. A shorter version appears in the March 2011 AN. Comments are welcome.

In this editorial, I invite readers to contribute articles to the AD column throughout 2011 that address archaeology’s role in making the world a more sustainable place and helping us understand what is and what is not sustainable.

The question posed in the title of this essay is one considered by Jerry Sabloff in his highly popular book, Archaeology Matters (Left Coast Press, 2008), which outlines some of the ways in which archaeologists are addressing contemporary global problems with historical data from pre-modern civilizations. A similar issue was raised in a recent (2010) issue of The SAA Archaeological Record (10[4]) by Mike Smith, who asks “Just how useful is archaeology for scientists and scholars in other disciplines?” Sabloff and Smith are not alone in their interrogations. Archaeologists are increasingly exploring how their research can be action oriented and integrated into other knowledge seeking enterprises.

My impression from examining some of these contributions over the past few years is that many such efforts can be characterized as various forms of outcome-driven sustainability science, in which the goal is to better understand changes—both adaptive and resilient—in the human trajectory. For archaeologists, this means applying the insights that we uncover from our shared past to engage the large questions of the human condition. And, importantly, this also means finding new and effective ways of communicating how our research is relevant to these global grand challenges.

Continue reading

Archeology Division Meeting Summary

Below is a featured post by James M Skibo of the Archeology Division. This marks his last column as the AD’s Contributing Editor for Anthropology News. We are happy he chose to share it here.

This column was put here on the blog because our regular February column was dedicated to a letter from the AD in response to the concerns about the changes by the AAA Executive Committee to the preface of the Long-Range Plan. With these words my work concludes as AD Secretary and Contributing Editor. I put the pen in the able hands of E Christian Wells. It has not only been an honor but also a lot of fun to write the column and participate in the AD Executive Committee. On my way out let me say that you are well represented by the current committee. It is a hardworking group dedicated to advancing the cause of archaeology within the AAA. 

 Cosmos Mindeleff Finally Found! (He disappeared in 1910)
William A Longacre (Riecker Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus University of Arizona)

Cosmos Mindeleff. Printed with permission of William A Longacre

After searching for over 40 years, the life of Cosmos Mindeleff, one of the pioneers of Southwestern archaeology, can now be revealed. He was the younger brother of Victor, an architect hired by the Smithsonian (BAE) to map prehistoric and modern American Indian villages of the Southwest. Cosmos assisted Victor until 1894 when he moved to New York. He married and became a foreign correspondent for NY newspapers living in Europe until 1917. He and his wife moved to Carmel, NY and he retired about 1929. He died in June, 1938. Full details about his life will be published soon.  

Highlights of the 2010 Meeting

Left to right: Michael Schiffer (Patty Jo Watson Distinguished Lecturer) and Ben Nelson (AD President). Photo courtesy James Skibo

Mike Schiffer’s Distinguished Lecture was well attended and inspired lots of discussion showing that people weren’t there for just food and drinks. William D Lipe was awarded the Alfred Vincent Kidder Award during the AAA business meeting. The Gordon R Willey Award for outstanding article in the American Anthropologist 109(1) was presented to Thomas McGovern et al. for the paper “Landscapes of Settlement in Northern Iceland.” The four recipients of Student Diversity Travel award were: Moshe Adamu (University of Florida), Adela Amaral (University of Chicago), Jessica Cerezo-Román (University of Arizona), and Sebastian Salgado-Flores (University of Texas San Antonio). 

Left to right: Bill Lipe (2010 Kidder Award Winner) and David Grove (2008 Kidder Award winner). In the early 1970s Bill and Dave were neighbors on Fuller Hollow Road while they were both on the faculty at Binghamton University. Photo courtesy James Skibo

Archaeological programming at the 2010 Annual Meeting was rich and diverse with almost 220 papers.  These include the following: 6 sponsored and co-sponsored sessions with 51 papers, 11 organized sessions with 122 papers, 7 general sessions with 46 papers, 3 poster sessions with 18 posters, 1 roundtable, and 1 heritage tour of the French Quarter.

Left to right: Thomas McGovern (Gordon R Willey Award Winner) and Rosemary Joyce (AD President Elect). Photo courtesy James Skibo

As we all know, membership has been declining for the past several years from a high of about 1400; it fell below 1000 in 2009. One of the primary goals of the Executive Committee has been to better understand the decline in membership and to implement a number of strategies to reverse the trend. To that end, Executive Committee has created a survey that canvases our members for their opinions as to what AD/AAA activities and roles they find most important, and which they find least important.  It also solicits feedback about the reasons for declining membership. As of October 2010, AD membership was at 998, up from last year, and we would like to see this number continue to increase.  Please urge colleagues to rejoin!

Moshe Adamu, Jessica Cerezo-Román and Sebastian Salgado-Flores (Travel Award Winners). Photo courtesy James Skibo

The Archeology Division is fiscally sound and our assets continue to grow.  This is largely due to the resounding success of our AP3A publication, which continues to earn more in revenues than is predicted by formula. As of the end of the fiscal 2009 fiscal year: Total revenue from dues for FY 2009 were $30,009.78; Total expenditures were only $14,055.98; Net revenues from publications was $8,064.13; Our net assets at the beginning of FY 2009 were $87,899.88, and our net assets at the end of the period were $103,853.69, an increase in our net assets of $15,953.81

 AD at the Society for American Archaeology
The AD Sponsored Session at the SAA 2011 Meeting is “Surplus: The Politics of Production and the Strategies of Everyday Life,” organized by Christopher Morehart and Kristin De Lucia.

 Feel free to comment here. Send news and notices to E Christian Wells at ecwells[at]usf.edu. 

An Extended Interview with Michael Brian Schiffer

This month’s Archeology Division column in Anthropology News features an interview by James M Skibo with Michael Brian Schiffer, Riecker Distinguished Professor at the University of Arizona. Schiffer will be the AD Distinguished Lecturer at the November AAA Annual Meeting. Get to know him a bit more by reading the extended dialogue below. Comments and questions for discussion are welcome, and can be posted below or sent to James M Skibo at jmskibo [at] ilstu.edu.

James M Skibo: In the interest of full disclosure, I note that you were the co-chair of my dissertation committee and we have published together often during the past two decades. So my first question is: what is it like to work with brilliant collaborators?

Michael Brian Schiffer: The nice thing about having you as a brilliant collaborator is that, on our joint projects, you did all the work and I got all the credit. Sweet!

JMS: A theme of this column and the entire AD is exploring the relationship between archaeology and anthropology. How does anthropology fit into this picture of what you do and who you are as a scholar? Continue reading

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