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Anthropological Love Letters for Savage Minds

 It all started with a Valentine’s Day love letter proposal by Rex, blogger for Savage Minds. He challenged his readers to write a love letter to the discipline of Anthropology during the week of Valentine’s Day.

During this week, Rex suggested that the guys at the blog Neuroanthropology round up the collection of love letters. Maybe during their Wednesday round-up?

One particular love letter caught my attention due to the spirited adventure that begins this anthropologist’s journey to field work. Barbara King accepted Rex’s challenge by posting her love letter on her blog, Friday Animal Blog. Barbara’s adventure begins:
Twenty-six years ago, I arrived in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, a doctoral candidate in Anthropology and as green as green could be. Oh, I knew my way around a testable hypothesis, and I had NSF funds banked towards my research. But I’d never been much of an outdoorsy type—had never even camped out—and there I was, tracking baboons day after day, through the bush, to record the behaviors of infants in two groups as they learned what items to eat from a smorgasbord of choices and how to process them skillfully. 

At the outset, I had to concentrate fiercely to distinguish one monkey from another, one type of grass species from another, one flowering plant from another. Because of this, some non-baboon events happening around me never made it past peripheral vision into the brain’s proper notice. 

I wondered one day why the Baboon Project’s Kenyan assistant, Raphael Mututua, was waving at me from across a wide open area, where he too was collecting data. I waved back, only to learn later that he’d been trying to alert me to the fact that a rhinoceros was lumbering right towards me. The poorly-sighted rhino veered out of my path by random luck, but I soon enough suffered other blunders involving near-misses with lions and mamba snakes.

Barbara continues her love letter with recollection of the people she interacted with in Kenya and the types of experiences that lead down the path of a crude metaphor for doing anthropology. For when Barbara practices anthropology, it always starts with agitated questions. No matter how modest my contribution, as I work, I feel connected to anthropologists past and present, people who, in Papua New Guinea or Paris, in Berlin or Boston, trained themselves to see the rhino lumbering in their path. To capture from our peripheral vision something strange and exciting about human meaning-making or its evolution, to move it front and center into our minds and join those minds up with others, is a challenge and a joy.

For Barbara’s complete love letter, visit Friday Animal Blog. But before you head over there, drop us a comment about why you love Anthropology or if you’ve accepted Rex’s challenge add the link.


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