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Sustainability Featured in April AN

The April Anthropology News In Focus series on sustainability is now posted on our Current Featured News page, free to the public throughout the month, then available (along with the rest of April AN) via AnthroSource. This month’s In Focus essays are by Merrill Singer; Svea Closser; Patricia M Clay and Julia Olson; Ben McMahan and David Seibert; Christopher T Morehart; Stacey Lynn Camp, Josh Allen, Elaine Bayly, Jamie Capawana, Sara Galbraith, Shea Henry, Meaghan Jones, Kyle Parker-McGlynn, Mary Petrich-Guy, Heather Sargent and Rachel Stokeld; Jodi Guyot; and Karla Davis-Salazar and E Christian Wells; and Claire Menck. Also featured is an In Focus photo essay by Claire Menck. The contributors explore sustainability as a framework for research as well as a field of study in itself.

Additional photos from this series are available on Flickr.

Vermont Folklife Center Announces Cultural Sustainability Institute

Anthropology News staff was working on the sustainability issue (coming in April) when we received the following press release from the Vermont Folklife Center (VFC) about their new Cultural Sustainability Institute. Rory Turner, Academic Director of Goucher College’s Master of the Arts in the Cultural Sustainability Program, expressed strong support for this new program. “We are thrilled to see the VFC launch this exciting initiative,” he said. “Teaching the methods of engaged research and partnership strengthens the capacity of communities to make choices about culture in positive ways, and the folks at VFC do it right.” 

The Vermont Folklife Center is excited to announce our new educational initiative, the Cultural Sustainability Institute. We are launching the Cultural Sustainability Institute this spring with a workshop series that explores the concept of cultural sustainability, and provides participants practical training in ethnography and oral history, the use of audio, video and photography documentation in cultural sustainability projects, and the creation of community cultural inventories.  These workshops are open to the general public, students, educators, scholars, staff of non-profit organizations, policy makers, and others interested in better understanding their communities and the larger world around us. The first workshop, “An Introduction to Cultural Sustainability,” will be held on Friday April 8, 2011 from 10:00am-3:00pm. The workshop series runs through November 2011.

In recent years scholars such as folklorist Rory Turner of Goucher College and ethnomusicologist Jeff Titon of Brown University have begun to draw connections between concepts of sustainability and the intellectual perspectives and approaches of folklorists, ethnomusicologists and anthropologists. Cultural sustainability merges ideas of sustainability that have arisen in environmental conservation and community and economic development with anthropological notions of culture. Cultural sustainability provides a framework though which people can explore those cultural practices that they and their communities most value, and to develop strategies to enrich and renew these practices into the future.

“While cultural sustainability is a relatively new concept, the ideas that underpin it have been central to the work of the Vermont Folklife Center for 27 years,” said Vermont Folklife Center Executive Director, Brent Björkman. “Since 1984 we have been working to promote the understanding of those things that make Vermont a distinct place—from town meeting and church suppers to deer hunting and farmers markets—the cultural practices that germinate and thrive here. Our work is grounded in the exploration of everyday life: the way people live today, and the way people use the past to inform actions in the present and make decisions about the future.”

For more information on the Cultural Sustainability Institute, including detailed descriptions of workshops, please visit online at: www.vermontfolklifecenter.org/education/cultural-sustainability.

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.

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