Thursday Chats

The “Thursday Chats” offer opportunities to greet old friends and make new ones, as well as to hear a colleague present on a topic of anthropological interest, followed by an open Q&A session.  See the NEWS page for the schedule through the first part of this year. A zoom invitation will be sent out on the Community Platform about 7-10 days prior to the date of each upcoming chat.

YouTube video links: click on the URL or arrow in the middle of the screen

The following list includes the titles, speakers, and video links to the ASA Thursday Chat series of presentations since their beginning in 2021. We hope that you will find these talks interesting, informative, and provocative.


Focusing New Light on the Yanomami as a Microcosm of Anthropology

October 9, 2023

Leslie Sponsel

The Yanomami of the Amazon in Brazil and Venezuela are one of the most famous, fascinating, studied, misrepresented, exploited, and endangered Indigenous people in the world. The Yanomami are reflected in various ways and degrees in many of the theoretical approaches and issues in the history of anthropology since the 1960s. They are a microcosm of anthropology. Moreover, they have suffered horrifically from devastating alien invasions of their traditional territory, most of all waves of illegal gold miners in the 1980s, and again in recent years. Every aspect of their population, culture, and ecology has been impacted, and for many communities in devastating ways. Building on his recent book, The Yanomami in the Amazon: Toward an Ethical Anthropology beyond Othering, Les Sponsel will discuss in historical perspective the research and controversies and scandals surrounding the Yanomami and as well as a few of the more than one hundred anthropologists who have had the unique privilege of living and studying with them. Sponsel will home in on professional ethics and human rights, as well as the changing political ecology of the Yanomami and of anthropology. The talk will also inform the Yanomami case as a component of the “human nature industry” which erroneously and dangerously celebrates the ubiquity of warfare through ideologically driven Hobbesian pseudoscience.

Dr. Leslie E. Sponsel is Professor Emeritus at the University of Hawai’I. He earned his B.A. in Geology from Indiana University (1965), and the M.A. (1973) and Ph.D. (1981) in Biological Anthropology from Cornell University. Over the last four decades he taught at seven universities in four countries, including two as a Fulbright Fellow (Venezuela and Thailand). In 1981, he was hired to develop and direct the Ecological Anthropology Program at the University of Hawai`i. His courses include Ecological Anthropology, Environmental Anthropology, Primate Behavioral Ecology, Spiritual Ecology, Sacred Places, Anthropology of Buddhism, Ethics in Anthropology, and Anthropology of War and Peace. Although retired since August 2010, usually he teaches one course each semester and devotes the remainder of his time to research and publications. From 1974 to 1981, Sponsel conducted several trips to the Venezuelan Amazon to research biological and cultural aspects of human ecology with the Yanomami and other Indigenous societies. Almost yearly since 1986 Sponsel visits Thailand to research aspects of Buddhist ecology and environmentalism together with his wife, Dr. Poranee Natadecha-Sponsel. In recent years, their research has focused on sacred caves in northern Thailand. Sponsel’s extensive publications include numerous journal articles, book chapters, encyclopedia articles, four monographs, three edited books, and two co-edited books. He also publishes in other fields to better integrate his work with different subjects and broaden his audiences. He is one of the pioneers in developing the interdisciplinary subjects of spiritual ecology, nonkilling anthropology, and ethnoprimatology.


The Accidental Anthropologist: How Fifteen Minutes on a Spring Morning Changed My Life

September 14, 2023

Riall W. Nolan

A casual question from my advisor in the Spring of my senior year set me off on a trajectory I would never have imagined. I’d like to chat about how and why I “came to” anthropology, and what I’ve tried to do with it over the years. During my career, I learned a bit about the institutions we’ve created (as Mary Douglas pointed out to us) to do our thinking for us, and how they act to both enable and impede our efforts to address global challenges. I’ll finish the talk by discussing some of our efforts to create a professional arm for our discipline, why that’s increasingly important, and how senior anthropologists should support these efforts.

Riall W. Nolan is Professor Emeritus at Purdue University. He has a doctorate in social anthropology from the University of Sussex. About his career, he writes: “In 1965, the Peace Corps sent me to Senegal, and my life changed forever. I spent the next twenty years living and working overseas, teaching, researching and managing international development projects. I lived for years in widely diverse places – Papua New Guinea, Senegal, Tunisia, and Sri Lanka. When I decided to come back to the US in the mid-80s, I managed international programs at several large US universities, where my goal was to get as many young Americans out of town as possible. This took up another twenty years of my life. In 2010, I finally rejoined the faculty full-time. A few years later, I began to split my time between my US university and the University of Cambridge in the UK. At Cambridge, I taught people how to incorporate anthropology into development work. In the US, I worked with students to help prepare them for non-academic careers. Anthropology has enormous potential to help us change how we relate to the world and the people in it. I have always worked, inside and outside the university, to help younger anthropologists realize this potential. It is a slow and sometimes frustrating process, but very worthwhile. I’m still at it.”


The Accidents That Made for a Career and a Life of Wonder and Awe

Preview attachment Sid Greenfield ASA Thursday Chat May 2023.mp4

May 4, 2023

Sid Greenfield

This chat summarizes the series of fortunate accidents that led the son of two High School dropouts, who almost became one himself, to get a PhD in anthropology. This, and a tenured position at a young age, led to a research career that took him from studying the family in Barbados to Brazil, where his research into patronage overlapped with Political Science. He did history when he went to Portugal to unravel the origins of plantations and plantation slavery. Returning to Brazil, he delved into medicine when he entered the enchanted world of healing in Northeast Brazil where beings we place in another plane of reality return to our world through mediums to perform milagres (“miracles”) such as surgeries in which they cut into patients with anything from a surgical scalpel to a rusty knife to an electric saw without anesthesia or antisepsis. The patients feel no pain, do not develop infections, and recover. Finally, as age and infirmity took hold, in collaboration with colleagues, he is helping improve the mental health of women in a favela (slum) in Fortaleza and working with local people to raise their own food.


The Lifespan of Ethnographic Reports: The Predicament of Returns to the Field

Moshe Shokeid ASA Thursday Chat March 2023.mp4 – Google Drive

March 16, 2023

Moshe Shokeid

Only a minority among our colleagues enjoy the opportunity to revisit their earlier fieldwork sites, reviewing their initial observations and research conclusions. This paper presents my experience witnessing the dramatic social transformations that have taken place owing to internal and external processes, in three fieldwork sites over twenty to thirty years. The subjects of these ethnographic monographs : Moroccan Jewish immigrants in an Israeli farming community; Israeli emigrants in the Borough of Queens; the gay and lesbian synagogue in New York City. These evolutionary changes, unconceivable during the studied period but inevitable aftereffects of most ethnographic projects, present a reality that anthropologists rarely consider in their work and teaching.  


Theory as Ethics

Carole McGranahan Theory as Ethics ASA Thursday Chat 02_16_23.mp4 – Google Drive

February 16, 2023

Carole McGranahan

To theorize is to make an argument, to make sense of the world, to name and create. It is to stake a claim in and about the world. This can be an ethical act. However, it has not always been one. Thinking of theory as ethics, rather than solely as intellectual practice, requires a rethinking of the purpose and not just the content of theory. This is not a prescription for theory, but an acknowledgment of a shift underway across the disciplines. In anthropology, one key move is our recognition of ethnography as theory as well as method. As we reassess theory as a form of ethnographic knowledge, how and when do ethics enter the conversation? What are our responsibilities to speak not only truth to power, but also ethics to theory? In this talk, I explore these questions through (1) my own three decades of research with the Tibetan exile diaspora, and (2) current theoretical trends in anthropology.

Carole McGranahan is Professor in and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado. She holds a PhD in Anthropology and History from the University of Michigan (2001). Dr. McGranahan is a scholar of contemporary Tibet and the USA and conducts research with the Tibetan exile community in both South Asia and North America. She is author of Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War (Duke University Press, 2010), co-editor of Imperial Formations (with Ann Stoler and Peter Perdue, SAR Press, 2007) and Ethnographies of U.S. Empire (with John Collins, Duke University Press, 2018), and editor of Writing Anthropology: Essays on Craft and Commitment (Duke University Press, 2020). She is currently finishing a book on Theoretical Storytelling.


Harvard in the Highlands of Chiapas: From Land Rover interviews to aerial photography (1956-1965)

Harvard Chiapas Project Thursday Chat by Matt Watson.mp4 – Google Drive

January 26, 2023

Matthew C. Watson

Between 1957 and 1980, 142 students conducted ethnography in Mexico through the Harvard Chiapas Project. One-third of them became professional anthropologists. Project alumni include scholars of Mesoamerica as well as experts on regions around the world, where they extended methods developed to study Zinacantán, a Chiapas municipality of 8,000 residents, to cultural study writ large. They have built high-impact research centers and trained generations of anthropologists in methods learned in the Chiapas highlands. The Chiapas Project’s impact on the humanities and social sciences is immeasurable. Yet this major project and field school has figured only peripherally in histories of anthropology. This talk develops current efforts to rewrite anthropology’s history by tracing the pedagogical, technological, and experiential conditions of ethnographic training and fieldwork. I center two technological conditions of fieldwork in Chiapas from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s: the use of a Land-Rover as a vehicle enabling and framing ethnographic interviews; and the novel incorporation of aerial photography as a workaround for generating ethnographic data under conditions of compromised rapport.

Matthew C. Watson is an associate professor of anthropology at Mount Holyoke College. His work on the history of anthropology has focused centrally on twentieth-century Maya studies as a site of popular science with deep political and economic consequences in Mexico and Central America. His book, Afterlives of Affect: Science, Religion, and an Edgewalker’s Spirit (Duke University Press, 2020) evokes how surrealist artist and art historian Linda Schele imbued a space of banal historical research, Maya hieroglyphic decipherment, with an aura of joyous revelation. His recent work turns to the history of midcentury ethnography in highland Chiapas, centering techniques and technologies of ethnographic fieldwork and pedagogy developed through the Harvard Chiapas Project (1957-1980).


ASA at the AAAs of the Future

ASA Thursday Chat 12_8_22 ASA at the AAAs of the Future.mp4 – Google Drive

December 8, 2022

Welcome from Maria Cattell. 

There were both good things and difficulties with the 2022 meeting.  In the Thursday chat we want to hear your ideas about how we on the ASA Board can make improvements for future years. Several board members will help to guide the discussion and keep us on track. Among them are: Jim Weil, Rick Feinberg, Jay Schensul, Tim Wallace, Devva Kasnitz and myself.  Again, this Thursday we hope to explore ideas to make the meetings more interesting, fun and rich for ASA members. The discussion also will help President-Elect Jay Schensul as she prepares the ASA programming for Toronto’s 2023 AAA meetings.


How My Anthropological Research in Polynesia Morphed into Community Engagement

[link coming soon]

October 13, 2022

Rick Feinberg

Since my doctoral fieldwork in 1972 – 73, I have been connected to Anuta, a remote Polynesian community in the Solomon Islands. Over that time I’ve studied topics that range from language and kinship to navigation and voyaging. I’ll discuss how I became connected to Anuta (following a suggestion by Raymond Firth), how the topics I’ve explored are tied together, and my development of a lasting personal connection to the island and its people. That connection has led to my son being installed as a ‘chief’ and my establishment of a small fund to aid young Anutans who must travel overseas to continue their education beyond sixth grade. Administration of the fund, in turn, has led to a surprising-often exasperating; sometimes amusing-set of further adventures.

The two accompanying photos show: (1) me in 1972 attempting to call the administrative center on a short-wave radio powered by a hand-crank generator, and (2) Mark Rongokavea in 2020, dressed in cap and gown, upon graduation from medical school in Fiji with assistance from the Anuta Scholarship Fund.

Richard (Rick) Feinberg grew up in Queens, New York, attended the University of California, Berkeley, and earned graduate degrees from the University of Chicago. He completed his doctorate in 1974 and was a faculty member at Kent State University until retirement in 2018. He served for two decades on Kent State’s faculty senate, including one year as chair. He has conducted research on remote Polynesian islands of the western Pacific, with the Navajo of the southwestern US, and in a semi- rural community near his Ohio home. He currently is president on the Kent State University Retirees’ Association. He serves on the executive boards of the Fulbright Association’s Northeast Ohio chapter and of Folknet, an organization promoting traditional Americana music. In 2019, he was Fulbright distinguished chair of anthropology at Palacký University, Olomouc, in the Czech Republic. Last year, he joined the Association of Senior Anthropologists’ executive board.


The Carbon Footprint of Billionaires

September 8, 2022

Rick Wilk

Economic and social inequality are fundamental issues for anthropology. The earth’s atmosphere is a common-pool resource which belongs to all the planet’s inhabitants, but we do not all make equal contributions to the causes of greenhouse gas emissions, nor will we all share the consequences. The rich as individuals, and rich countries more generally, are responsible for a lot more carbon emissions, and their wealth allows them to evade much of their impact. In this talk we will discuss the carbon footprints of prominent billionaires and discuss some of the ways their profligate use of common resources could be curbed.

Richard Wilk is Distinguished Professor and Provost’s Professor Emeritus at Indiana University where he co-founded a PhD program in the anthropology of food, and the Indiana University Food Institute. He has lived and worked in Belize for over than 40 years, and more recently in Singapore. Trained as an economic and ecological anthropologist, his research has covered many different aspects of global consumer culture. The author of many books and papers, his most recent books include two co-edited collections one with Emma McDonell titled Critical Approaches to Super Foods (Bloomsbury Academic 2020) and the other Seafood: Ocean to Plate (Routledge, 2018), co-authored with Shingo Hamada.


Anthropology’s Role in Educating Physicians:  Facilitating Sustained Anthropological Engagement in Medical Schools

April 21, 2022

Dennis Wiedman and Iveris Martinez

Anthropologists have been employed in medical schools since the 1890s. Dennis Wiedman will discuss how and why our roles changed since then and have become more mainstreamed in medical schools and curriculums today. Wiedman discusses how his vision of a new type of medical school with a focus on community-care led to the founding of the Florida International University Wertheim College of Medicine, where anthropologist Iveris Martinez established the Society and Medicine curriculum.  They discuss topics such as, how anthropology programs can better prepare students for medical school roles; translating anthropological theory, methods, and knowledge to clinical case studies; addressing health disparities and sociocultural determinants of health; navigating the culture of medicine and the culture of anthropology; status gaps and maintaining an anthropology identity. This ASA presentation aims to stimulate our senior anthropologist colleagues to reflect and discuss these applied and practicing aspects of anthropology.

Dennis Wiedman is Professor of Anthropology, Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies, Florida International University (FIU), Miami, Florida. He is the Founding Director of the FIU Global Indigenous Forum whose mission it is to bring the Indigenous voice to FIU, South Florida, and the World.  His research interests include Native North Americans, global Indigenous health and wellbeing. He specializes in social and cultural factors for the global pandemic of Type II diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome. During more than a decade in the FIU Provost Office he was the University SACS Accreditation Officer and first Director of Program Review. He has served on the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) in the practicing/professional seat and is a Past-President of the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology (NAPA).

Iveris Martinez is Professor of the Archstone Foundation Endowed Chair in Gerontology, and Director of the Center for Successful Aging at California State University, Long Beach. Dr. Martinez was a founding faculty member of the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (HWCOM) at Florida International University, where she served as chief of the Division of Medicine & Society and chaired the admissions committee for the college for five years. An applied anthropologist, she has received funding from the National Institutes of Health, the MacArthur Foundation, among other sources for her community-based research on social and cultural factors influencing health, with an emphasis in aging, Latinos, and minority populations. She previously served as the Chair of the Board of the Alliance for Aging, Inc., the local area agency on aging for Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, and President of the Association for Anthropology, Gerontology, and the Life Course. She received a joint PhD in Anthropology and Population & Family Health Sciences (Public Health) from Johns Hopkins University.

Adventures in Scholarly Publishing: Balancing Risk with Reward and a Great Deal of Determination

March 10, 2022

Vivian Berghahn with Marion Berghahn

Vivian Berghahn, and Marion Berghahn, publishers at Berghahn Books discuss the pros and cons of open access publishing now and in the immediate future. Vivian Berghahn is Managing Director and Journals Editorial Director. In addition to overseeing the journals division at Berghahn, her managerial responsibilities include advancing the company’s online initiatives and the strategic development of its overall publishing program. Born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, Marion Berghahn studied at the universities of Hamburg, Paris, and Freiburg where she received a DPhil in American Studies, Romance Languages and Philosophy. In 1969, she moved to England where she received an MPhil in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge, followed by a PhD in Sociology from the University of Warwick. These subjects, together with history, formed the basis of her scholarly publishing program. In 1980, she started her first company, Berg Publishers, but was forced out in 1993 and subsequently started her new company, Berghahn Books, in 1994, and has been leading it ever since.

Sh!! Talking about Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Contacts with the Americas is Taboo!

February 3, 2022

Alice B. Kehoe

The imperialist domination of the Americas after Columbus, legitimated by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, created a Manifest Destiny ideology with the social-charter myth that Columbus was the first outsider to see America.  Upholding the ideology meant forbidding research into possible earlier transoceanic voyages, and this remains foundational.  In her early career, Dr. Kehoe was considered a maverick because she persisted as a professional archaeologist though being a married woman. Alice has collaborated with geographers in building a compelling case for at the least, Norse beginning 1000 CE, Polynesians, and medieval Asian merchants in the spice trade c. 1200. In this talk, she elaborates on the motivations behind this taboo, while simultaneously debunking it.

Alice Beck Kehoe is a professor of anthropology emeritus at Marquette University. She is the author or editor of twenty books, including North American Indians: A Comprehensive AccountThe Land of Prehistory: A Critical History of American Archaeology, and North America Before the European Invasions. Since her retirement, she has continued to be active in research and writing. Her memoir, entitled Girl Archaeologist: Sisterhood in a Sexist Profession, was published in February 2022. It is a story not only of a woman’s persistence in a scientific field but of speaking truth to power.


Sing Me Back Home: Ethnographic Songwriting and Sardinian Language Reclamation in Italy. 

December 16, 2021

Kristina Jacobsen

Focusing on the recording of a bluegrass song she cowrote in the Sardinian language that foregrounds rurality, place, and nostalgia for a Sardinian past, Dr. Jacobsen examines themes of Sardinian language stigma, cultural intimacy, and ordeals of language as they emerged in the process of writing, recording and performing this song which you will hear in the talk.

Kristina Jacobsen is an associate professor in two departments – music and anthropology at the University of New Mexico. She is an ethnographer, singer-songwriter, and ethnomusicologist who has studied Navajo country music. Her book The Sound of Navajo Country: Music, Language and Diné Belonging (2017) was the winner of the 2018 IASPM-US Woody Guthrie Award for most outstanding book on popular music.  Dr. Jacobsen is a touring singer-songwriter, fronts the all-female honky-tonk band Merlettes, is the founder and co-facilitator of the UNM Honky-Tonk Ensemble, and has released four albums of her own songs.

Awesome or Crazy? True or Irresponsible? An Anthropologist Walks Across and Studies the United States

October 21, 2021

William Fairbanks

Dr. Fairbanks retired in 2007 and starting in 2009 began walking across the United States, with the help of and support of his wife, Carole. Starting in California, with various breaks in time, it took five years, but the interaction with the people he met during the walk gave him a deeper understating of both the people and the nation. During his talk, he explains the why, the what and the where of his many experiences and their anthropological significance. 

William (Bill) Fairbanks received his PhD in Anthropology from UC-Santa Barbara in 1975. He spent most of his career teaching at Cuesta College (San Luis Obispo, Ca), where he had responsibility for both sociology and anthropology. He taught up to seven course preparations a year. Bill often took students to conferences and served on many committees of various anthropological organizations.

The Irish Travellers: an illustrated 40-year ethnographic retrospective

September 2, 2021

Sharon B. Gmelch

Dr. Sharon Gmelch, University of San Francisco and Union College, gives an illustrated talk about her return to Ireland to interview Irish Travellers, an indigenous nomadic minority group, and about the changes that have occurred in their culture since her first field work among them in 1971-72. The use of fieldwork photographs taken by George Gmelch proved to be an effective way to get Travellers to reflect on their changed lives. The results of this research were published in 2014 as Irish Travellers: An Unsettled Life. A documentary film was also made about Sharon and George’s return research.

Sharon Bohn Gmelch earned a PhD in cultural anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Her interests include visual anthropology, gender, ethnicity, and tourism. She is the author of ten books, including Nan: The Life of an Irish Travelling Woman (1986/91), which was a finalist for anthropology’s Margaret Mead award, and The Tlingit Encounter with Photography (2008). She also co-produced an ethnographic film on the Tlingit. She has conducted research in Ireland, Barbados, Alaska, and the Napa Valley, and published Tasting the Good Life: Wine Tourism in the Napa Valley (2011, with George Gmelch). Her most recent book is In the Field: Life and Work in Cultural Anthropology (2018, with George Gmelch).



Papers from a session at the 2021 AAA meeting

Alfred L. Kroeber: The Man, His Work and His Legacy

Link to full versions of the papers in the Berose International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology:

Kroeber, Alfred Louis (1876–1960)

Coordinated by Herbert S. Lewis

Alfred Louis Kroeber (1876–1960) was considered the “Dean of American Anthropology” from the 1940s until his death. A New Yorker from a German immigrant family, Kroeber began his higher education at Columbia University. He studied English literature and received an M.A. degree in that field but he left literature for anthropology and became Franz Boas’ first PhD at Columbia University in 1901. In the same year Kroeber left New York for a life in California. He was founder and the predominant intellectual force in the University of California-Berkeley Department of Anthropology from 1901 until his retirement in 1946, and beyond. He published more than 550 works—books, monographs, papers, reviews—on a wide range of topics in ethnology, linguistics, history, and archaeology. His subject was the whole world of humans and their cultures, their pasts and their interconnections. His works ranged from the micro to the macro level. On the one hand, he collected texts in Indian languages, recorded songs, and engaged in participant observation. On the other, he published works at the highest plane of theory, generalization, and worldwide cultural comparison. Kroeber’s Handbook of the Indians of California is the foundation for the study of the indigenous peoples of that state. The legacy of his linguistics, ethnography, and recordings are invaluable to many California Indian groups and individuals. Kroeber ‘s testimony and his research were central to the success of California and other Indian groups in their Land Claims cases against the United States government. His book, Anthropology (1948), is a remarkable compendium of facts and ideas about the world’s peoples and cultures, and his massive edited enterprise, Anthropology Today (1953), encompassed the vast range of the field at that time. Kroeber became known outside of anthropology as a result of Theodora Kroeber’s book Ishi in Two Worlds (1961), published soon after her husband’s death. Despite their serious intellectual disagreements, Kroeber was the heir to Boas’ reputation as the master of the field.

Click on the title to access the full article

“Alfred L. Kroeber’s Career and Contributions to California’s Indigenous Peoples” Herbert S. Lewis

The need for a session devoted to Alfred Louis Kroeber at the 2021 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association became obvious when, on January 27, 2021, the name of that distinguished anthropologist was publicly removed from Kroeber Hall on the campus of the University of (…)

“The Anthropologist as Cultural Historian: Alfred Kroeber and the Forging of a Discipline” Stanley Brandes

Alfred Kroeber’s career should be understood largely as a crusade to define and establish—intellectually and institutionally—what was in his day a still largely new discipline: anthropology. He did this in two ways, first through practical demonstration, specifically the practice and promotion of (…)

“Alfred Kroeber and the Development of Linguistic Anthropology: A Brief Reassessment” James Stanlaw

Introduction: The Call for a Retrospective Alfred Kroeber (1876-1960) is largely known today as one of the first founders of modern American anthropology, and as a major contributor to culture theory via such constructs as the “superorganic” (1917a), “culture area” (Driver 1962), or (…)

“The Kroeber‑Ishi Story: Three Cinematic Versions” Jack Glazier

In 1960 the University of California conferred the high honor of naming a building after the dean of American anthropology, Alfred L. Kroeber, who attended the dedication of Kroeber Hall just months before his death. Sixty years after that dedication, the chancellor of UC Berkeley, attentive to (…)

“Alfred Kroeber’s Handbook and Land Claims: Anthros, Agents, and Federal (Un)Acknowledgment in Native California” Nicholas Barron

Introduction In January of 2021, the University of California, Berkeley announced that it would un-name Kroeber Hall, the facility that houses the school’s Department of Anthropology, a critical source of social scientific scholarship since its founding in 1901. According to the university’s (…)

“Goodbye Kroeber, Kroeber Hall, and the Man We Know as Ishi” Nancy Scheper‑Hughes

On January 26, 2021, UC Berkeley chancellor, Carol Christ, the president of the UC system and the chair of anthropology with the support of most of the anthropology faculty, [31] agreed that the time had come to erase the name of Alfred Kroeber from Kroeber Hall. Obviously, times change and my (…)



Activist Realignments in the History of Anthropology: The Association of Senior Anthropologists’Panels at “Raising our Voices”

Grant Arndt

Posted on June 25, 2021 by Web Admin

When the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, an online event titled “Raising our Voices” was offered as a substitute.

I had organized a history of anthropology-themed panel for the cancelled meeting, but along with my fellow panelists, elected to put it on hold as we all prepared for the transition of service and teaching to online platforms. I was therefore delighted when the Association of Senior Anthropologists announced that they had organized two panels for “Raising our Voices.” It was clear from the panel abstracts that the ASA sought to bring an historical dimension to the activist theme implied by the title of the new event, emphasizing the continuity of activism throughout the history of the discipline.

One of the panels, “Representing the History of American Anthropology,” mounted a defense of the founding generations of American anthropologists, seeking to recover their overlooked or misunderstood activist contributions. The second, “Voices of Experience,” documented the social justice commitments of some of today’s senior anthropologists. I took both panels’ approach to activism as a response to historical accounts of “the enduring ways in which the ‘objects’ of ethnographic inquiry have long been engaging, salvaging, adopting, and enchanting anthropology on their own terms” (to quote Nick Barron’s report from the AAA last year, “Who’s Zooming Who?”). As such, I’ve come to understand them as part of a positive movement toward a better understanding of anthropology’s ongoing history of activist engagements, one that transcends the entrenched polemics of critique and defense in which anthropology’s historical self-consciousness sometimes seems trapped.

“Representing the History of American Anthropology” included papers by four scholars known for their work on the topic. Herb Lewis, a key figure in the defense of anthropology in general and Franz Boas in particular for over two decades, focused on debunking the idea that past anthropologists trapped their interlocutors in the “savage slot” and that they contributed to Indigenous erasure by practicing “salvage anthropology.” Lewis argued that both charges misrepresent the motivations and the impact of anthropological work. Alice Beck Kehoe sketched out the historical entanglement of Americanist research and American Federal Indian policy and drew attention to the activist work of James Mooney and Frank Speck. She also argued for the value of salvage anthropology to contemporary Native communities. Jack Glazier drew from his revelatory recent book on Paul Radin’s work at Fisk University in 1920s, where Radin collected autobiographical narratives from elderly survivors of slavery. [1] Here Glazier emphasized how the project turned Radin’s distinctive interest in autobiographical narratives toward efforts to overturn white-supremacist narratives still foundational to American historical scholarship at the time. Perhaps the most provocative paper on the panel was given by Regna Darnell who issued a call for “an anthropologically-based historicism celebrating the multiple potentialities” of the current moment, one open to a variety of historical and contemporary purposes. Presented as a critique of the “closed” vision of the history of anthropology that she sees as having been championed by George Stocking, Darnell’s paper provided a framework for imagining the papers of her fellow panelists less as defenses of anthropological ancestors than as invitations to contemporary anthropologists to think about their own activist commitments as part of a long (if intermittent and sometimes marginal) anthropological tradition.

The other panel, “Voices of Experience,” developed this sense of the historical continuity of activist projects in anthropology by shifting from the heroic age of Americanist anthropology to recent decades. Rather than being based on traditional historical research, it presented what organizer Jim Weil has called the “living-history of the discipline.” [2] Each of the four participants discussed the various expressions of social justice activism evident in their careers. They emphasized that their social justice work had shown the value of anthropological methodologies and principles, in particular the basic idea that “people have their ways of thinking, different mental models” and that “we need to hear them even if we disagree with them” (Schensul). More specifically, Carol Mukhopadhyay told of her work on the American Anthropological Association’s traveling exhibition “Race: The Power of an Illusion.” Kathleen Fine-Dare spoke of moving outside of her research specialty to become her university’s Tribal Liaison for NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act). Ralph Bolton discussed his work on HIV awareness education in Europe and his ongoing work on health, education and economic developments in the Peruvian Altiplano. And Jean Schensul described her work outside of the academy using community-based intervention methods to address HIV prevention and other health-related projects.

For me, the most striking aspect of the panel came when the panelists were asked how they would respond to “younger anthropologists” who argue that activism was easier in the past than it is now. They explained that the point of presenting their own experiences was not to challenge younger activists, because “every generation has its activists, and people build on past experience and past knowledge [but have to] own it now” (Mukhopadhyay). They noted that older activists may have learned lessons still applicable now, and made mistakes that could be made again. As one of the organizers summarized their message at the end, “we may be wasting time if we try to reinvent the wheel, but we may need to realign the wheels” (Weil). Ralph Bolton then extemporized a properly activist end to the session filled with a wealth of experience-based observations: “while things change, there is one thing that really remains the same and that is [that] all of us…simply have to take action for some social justice issue and find a way in which [we] can make a difference…”

It was in reflecting on the panels that I began to imagine a productive dialogue between them and the panel organized by Nick Barron and Hilary Leathem at last year’s AAA, which I took then as a provocative yet constructive account of the limits of anthropology from the perspective of Indigenous activism and activists. Alas, while the provocations of the panel last year could be followed up with post-panel discussions, the online platform for “Raising our Voices” abruptly ejected us from the virtual room at the scheduled end of each panel. We will thus need to find other online forums, and hopefully, one day soon, in-person venues to continue substantive debates over how best to deal with the entanglements created by activism as historians and as anthropologists.

[1] Jack Glazier, Anthropology and Radical Humanism: Native and African American Narratives and the Myth of Race, (Michigan State University Press, 2020).

[2] Jim Weil, “Discretionary Ethnography: Eliding the Personal and the Political in Two Latin American Research Settings,” Journal of Anthropological Research (Spring 2020), 8.

Grant Arndt – – Associate Professor of Anthropology and American Indian Studies, Department of World Languages and Cultures, Iowa State University


A bit of section lore:

The Official Gavel, Tony Paredes

Since you asked:

Here is the genealogical legitimization of the gavel I recounted orally as I presented it to Herb Lewis at the recent ASA business meeting in New Orleans (with apologies to the Maori). By association, the gavel is rich with symbolism for ASA.

I acquired the gavel (originally a maul) as surplus used equipment at Ocmulgee National Monument (OCMU), NPS, on a site visit in connection with FSU being host institution (then and now since 1972) for Southeast Archeological [sic] Center of the National Park Service. That must have been about 1977. It was already quite old and beat up at the time.

OCMU is best known as a large pre-Columbian mound site in central Georgia. It has archaeological components, however, ranging from Paleo-Indian, ca. 10,000 BE, to the American Civil War. Its visitor center itself is a fine example of ArtDeco architecture. And, OCMU is the site of one of the largest annual intertribal gathering of American Indians at an NPS facility in the Southeast.

During the Great Depression, through WPA, OCMU was the location of one of the largest US government sponsored archaeological research projects ever undertaken. Many prominent American archaeologists worked there early in their careers including A.R. Kelley, Charles Fairbanks, and Gordon Willey.

The head of the gavel is made of rawhide. [Sidebar] That reminds me of a 1960s TV series, “Rawhide,” in which a young actor named Clint Eastwood got his big break. Now, nearly 50 years later Eastwood is doing some of his finest work as he gallops into his 80s.

To carry the OCMU/ASA connection even farther, when the Society for American Archaeology met in Atlanta in 2009 one of the tours original planned was to OCMU. For some reason the tour was cancelled and my predecessor as ASA president, Alice Kehoe, was very disappointed. I volunteered to give her a personal tour, so one day she and I drove the 60 miles or so to Macon and had a wonderful “anthropology day” on the road and touring the site. During our tour Alice took lots of pictures. One was of me in a tee-shirt with my long-sleeved Khaki shirt wrapped around my waist (the weather had turned quite warm). If I squint at the picture just right, I can almost convince myself that I look like the Panther-kilt warrior chief motif from Southeast Ceremonial Cult iconography. It was on that day that Alice clearly passed to me the mantle of authority for ASA.

I had a plaque attached to the gavel that reads simply–in large type–“Twentieth Anniversary. Association of Senior Anthropologists. EST. 1990”

When I completed saying all this at out ASA luncheon meeting in New Orleans, where I presented gavel to incoming president Herb Lewis, our incoming president-elect Paula G. Rubel added yet another layer of ASA connection to OCMU. The collection from an archaeology site that she worked during her student days in the 1950s near Augusta, Georgia, was deposited with OCMU and should still be in their Collections (I will be checking to see if it is still there.)

So you have it. It’s fun to think about how a story like this might change after several generations of ritual oral recitation.

Maybe others will enjoy.



Expanding American Anthropology, published by University of Alabama Press…Order Now!

About the Book

Published by University of Alabama Press.

Order Now!

Expanding American Anthropology, 1945-1980: A Generation Reflects takes an inside look at American anthropology’s participation in the enormous expansion of the social sciences after World War II. During this time the discipline of anthropology itself came of age, expanding into diverse subfields, frequently on the initiative of individual practitioners. The Association of Senior Anthropologists of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) called upon a number of its leaders to give accounts of their particular innovations in the discipline. This volume is the result of the AAA venture-a set of primary documents on the history of American anthropology at a critical juncture.

In preparing the volume, the editors endeavored to maintain the feeling of “oral history” within the chapters and to preserve the individual voices of the contributors. There are many books on the history of anthropology, but few that include personal essays from such a broad swath of different perspectives. The passing of time will make this volume increasingly valuable in understanding the development of American anthropology from a small discipline to the profession of over ten thousand practitioners.


Alice Beck Kehoe is professor emeritus of anthropology at Marquette University, and author of a dozen books, including Controversies in Archaeology, The Ghost Dance: Ethnohistory and Revitalization, and North American Indians: A Comprehensive Account.

Paul L. Doughty is Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of anthropology and Latin American studies at the University of Florida. He is coauthor of Peru: A Cultural History and Peasants, Power, and Applied Social Change: Vicos as a Model.


Some historical Anthropology News columns and other links: