Tag Archives: anthropology

The African Muslim Fist-Bump

"Fist bump" by Indy Trendy Skits on Flickr

“Fist bump” by Brady Tulk on Flickr

(filed under cultural marginalia)

It was something that I had become accustomed to, a process of acculturation.

Meeting people in the Gulf and the Middle East was always a bit of a negotiated process. As I have mentioned before, while it is a truism that white women are to be treated as men, we inhabit a third gender, which we negotiate on a daily basis. Though my husband can expect a hearty handshake, a slap on the back, a hug, touching noses, or even, in the case of a man at a Syrian gas station, a rather rigorous attempt to crack his back, when I meet men, touching for a handshake is a complex, political process.

It is awkward the first few times it happens, when the glad-handed American thrusts her hand out in front of her, self-assured, flashing a smile, and this is met with a grimaced wince and a slow, reluctant hand limply meeting her own. I knew vaguely about the various prohibitions in Islam against touching women before praying, touching them with your hands, and so on, but it can be a hard habit to unlearn for someone trying to be polite.

So over the years I’ve congratulated myself for becoming more appropriate, more circumspect. When I meet Muslim men I put my hand over my heart, thus removing the necessity for them to decide to be “rude” and pious or  “worldly” and accommodating. After a time, I became unused to casual contact in the street–crowds would part in front of me, lest they touch me by accident and have to undergo purification–wudhu–again. But I could not become entirely inured to this process. Every once in a while, I would touch my hand to my heart (I’m so culturally sensitive!) and the man would thrust his hand out in front of me, insisting that I shake it. His cultural sensitivity would contest mine, and I would, of course, shake his hand.

In April I went to Africa for the first time, to the EUROTAST meetings in Ghana and Senegal. My excitement did not really register until I looked out of the plane window and saw the ragged line between deep blue ocean and the vast, tawny Sahara. In Senegal we spent most of our time in meetings on Goreé Island, a heterotopia of its own, but afterwards Dan and I headed south for a couple of days, to a crazy little community on the beach. Senegal is primarily Muslim, and felt more familiar to me than Ghana, even though people spoke English in Ghana and French in Senegal.

We were chatting to a man next to a wall who was fingering a misbaha, a string of prayer beads. He gave Dan a fierce handshake (there is the handshake-snap in Ghana, but that is a whole other thing). I was in mid-motion, putting my hand up to touch my chest, when he held out a fist to me. I probably looked at it quizzically, because he shook the beads in his other hand and explained, “you know, because I’m praying.” So I bumped his fist and he seemed satisfied. I was surprised and then delighted at this new (to me) variation of etiquette. Using the outer surface of the hand makes it okay to touch white ladies with while praying, so, the fist-bump. Okay. Got it.

The fist-bump is not rare in West Africa, nor is it a strictly Muslim practice; in Ghana there was a lot of fist-bumping, but it seemed on a more casual basis than a handshake. And that is how I coded it, a less-formal, “hip” gesture of friendship/encouragement. Since the famously infamous Obama “terrorist fist jab,” a few popular accounts traced the fist-bump to sports and it has been endorsed by doctors as being more hygienic. The fist bump is also briefly cited an example of “emergent culture” by Martin Ortlieb.

In Senegal, under a bright, yellowy sun and next to a whitewashed & peeling mosque, I found a slightly different version of the fist bump. Emergent or no, individual quirk or no, I loved to see it incorporated into a system of beliefs that dictate how and when it is appropriate to touch someone.

New Words Needed for Emerging Social Behaviors

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Automatic? by Gregory P. Smith

That long pause when you expect automation and then realize that you have to manually work the faucet or hand dryer.

When people are clustered together looking at a computer screen and the person at the keyboard has to type a password and everyone looks away to give the person “privacy.”

Asking permission to smoke an e-cigarette inside.

Ambiguity not conveyed by the range within “like.”

Mount Everest and Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake

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It was probably the old-timey packaging that attracted my attention. Nestled in-between the CLIF and LUNA energy bars was a slim, indigo blue wrapper that would not have been out of place on old money, or a commemorative plate. On the back was this legend:

Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake was the first Mint Cake to be successfully carried to the top of MOUNT EVEREST on 29th May 1953 this being the first successful expedition to the summit.
Romney’s were approached by the 1953 expedition to Everest, to see whether they could supply Mint Cake to them within 7 days. Sir Edmund Hilary and Sirdar Tensing ate this Mint Cake on top of Everest as they gazed at the countryside far below them. Since then Kendal Mint Cake has become a firm favourite with hikers, climbers and visitors to the Lake District.
A member of the successful Everest Expedition wrote- “It was easily the most popular item on our high altitude ration – our only criticism was that we did not have enough of it.”

The sixtieth anniversary of Hilary and Tenzing’s successful ascent passed last May, with the requisite press flurry. I am not a mountain climber, much beyond the easiest of the 14ers in Colorado, but Mount Everest has held my interest for years. It is a site of difficult, controversial heritage, and the assemblage that is left on the mountain each year is a fascinating array of technical multicultural detritus and human remains. The narrative around Mount Everest has changed from fearless mountaineering with a heavy overlay of nostalgia to that of egotism, recklessness, and exploitation of the sherpas and the environment.

Each summer there are stories of crowded summits and vainglory; from the 1996 disaster wherein 15 people died while summiting to 2006 when dozens of people passed David Sharp, a British climber who lay dying beside the trail and the previously deceased who had become trail markers, dictated by their distinguishing features. The cold, dry clime of Mt. Everest preserves all of the garbage and corpses, and at one point there were over 200 bodies on the mountain.

Mount Everest has been steeped in colonial overtones since the British access to the mountain was secured in 1904 by Francis Younghusband’s attack on Tibetan peasants, clearing the way. Younghusband was then put in charge of the early mountaineering expeditions, who situated climbing Everest as an extravagantly useless activity. He remarked, “If I am asked what is the use of climbing this highest mountain, I reply, No use at all: no more use than kicking a football about, or dancing, or playing the piano, or writing a poem or painting a picture.” Mountaineering was a patriotic mission to improve British morale.

As Mazzolini writes, an important part of maintaining Britishness at Mount Everest was choosing identity-affirming foods. In the 1920s, meals eaten at high altitudes included quails packed with truffles and champagne, marking the expeditions as a gentlemen’s pursuit. On his 1922 reconnaissance, Mallory noted that there was an abundance of cheese, tinned food of all sorts, and they were “never short of jam and chocolate.”

The shift from luxury to efficacy came between the 1920s and 1930s, when expeditions led by Tilman dined on pemmican (dried beef and fat) with sugar and dried fruit. The climbing body was reconceptualized, says Elizabeth Mazzolini, from an expression of imperialist aesthetics to a machine without excessive concern for pleasure or comfort. This was problematic though, as at altitudes over 22,000 feet eating becomes an unpleasant assignment–diminished appetite, nausea and vomiting are common. Food that was merely monotonous before becomes unimaginable.

In this context, Hilary and Tensing brought Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake along for their successful summit in 1953. Romney’s Kendal Mint Cakes are a mixture of glucose, sugar, peppermint oil and water and were issued as rations on several expeditions. I bit off a small corner of the one that I bought and suffered from near immediate sugar-shock. A bit like a hard York peppermint patty, it was easily the sweetest thing I’ve ever tasted.

The packaging of Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake explicitly ties the summiting of Mount Everest to Britishness, equating eating the sweet on the summit with hikers, climbers and visitors to the Lake District in the quote on the back of the package. On the front is an interesting hierarchy that provides the context for Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake–the outer two images feature English natural heritage in the form of Windermere and Derwentwater, the former is the largest natural lake in England and the latter is on of the principal bodies of water in the Lake District. The next two images feature cultural heritage–Romney House Kendal, a listed building that was build in the early to mid 18th century and the Kendal Castle Ruins, a 12th century castle that was the home of the Lancaster family. Finally, in the center, George Romney, a popular English portrait painter (who is indeed related to Mitt Romney). The mint cake came from a company founded by Sam T. Clarke, who merely named his wholesale business after George Romney; the painter did not invent the mint cake.

The Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake website offers an interesting additional note–according to them, Tenzing Norgay left one of the cakes up on top of the summit “to appease his gods.” If true, Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake also has the honor of being one of the first bits of garbage left on the summit. Food of the gods, indeed.

There are efforts to clean up Mount Everest every year, with an average of 50 tons of discarded climbing gear, human excrement, oxygen tanks, and dead bodies coming off the mountain. As Mazzolini notes, the news always lumps the categories together, corpses and discarded mountaineering gear. The failures, the people who did not make it down the mountain, are unimportant–their bodies could not match their hubris.

Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake packaging provides an ideological link to climbing Mount Everest and portrays it as a quintessentially British triumph, one that can be cited on perhaps lesser adventures around the Lake District. Mount Everest remains a contentious place, where dead bodies are discarded like garbage, where $65,000 buys you a place in line to the roof of the world, and crass individualism is indistinguishable from sublime achievement.

ResearchBlogging.org
Elizabeth Mazzolini (2010). Food, Waste, and Judgment on Mount Everest Cultural Critique, 76, 1-27 : 10.1353/cul.2010.0013

Participate, Make, Share – My 2013 Commencement Speech

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Me and my amazing mother, Elizabeth Kelly.

I chose to be the graduate student speaker at the UC Berkeley 2013 commencement ceremony. It was a difficult audience to write for–I probably should have just copied Neil Gaiman’s keynote from last year and called it a day. I’m a little ambivalent about how the speech turned out, but people seemed to enjoy it. Anyway, here it is:

In the years before I had the opportunity to stand in front of you in these fancy robes, I was one of the graduate student volunteers that helped out during commencement. After grading exams, teaching, securing funding, conducting research and finding time to write, graduate students are called on to help our fantastic staff today. When I volunteered during commencement, I selfishly went for the best job…the person who stands just behind and to the side of the esteemed chair of the department. This person hands the scrolls to the chair, but as I discovered, they have an extraordinary insight into the commencement ceremony.

What this person sees is your face as you achieve an epic win.

Jane McGonigal, famous game theorist, humanitarian and UC Berkeley PhD, class of 2006), describes an “epic win” as an “outcome that is so extraordinarily positive that you had no idea that it was even possible and that when you achieve it you are shocked to discover that you are actually capable of such a thing.” The facial expression is singular: joy, fulfillment, attainment of a goal, perhaps a little bit of disbelief and shock.

After several years of basking in the glow of the achievements of both my fellow graduate students and the amazing anthropology undergrads I taught…now I get to join you.

But I have to admit that I am greedy. I want that job again. I am excited by the potential to enact change in the world, but moreso by the potential of seeing other people achieve their own aspirations.

Accordingly, my dissertation research was shaped by three principles: Participate. Make. Share.

In anthropology we learn about the breadth and diversity of human experience and in my sub-specialty in archaeology, we acquire knowledge about this human experience through material culture. Our education is one of discerning patterns and difference, specifically, we learn how to see. My advisor Ruth Tringham would surely protest–we learn about the past through all of our senses, she would say. We touch the edges of still-sharp obsidian, we smell the dank interiors of caves, we hear the rasp of dirt beneath our trowels and the dull and hollow rattle that marks a grave. Still, this experience, this way of seeing requires your attention and participation.

And that is the first principle that I learned during my studies at UC Berkeley–your full participation is required. No half-measures. Learn and live with both hands.

The second principle is to make things. This may seem like a strange imperative coming from an archaeologist–great, now we have even more material culture to study–but making mudbricks at the San Francisco Presidio on a particularly chilly morning, trying to get the straw-to water-to horsehair-to mud ratio correct, hefting them, slapping the bricks together into a wall, and watching the mudbricks melt in the ubiquitous Bay Area fog gave me particular, if unflattering insights into the early architecture of the colonizers in the area. Making ethnographic movies taught me how to watch regular movies…and commercials and Youtube clips. Always always try it yourself. As part of the outreach program mandatory for Berkeley archaeology graduate students, I developed this mudbrick-making into an exercise for 10-year-olds visiting the Presidio and saw them Get It–that elusive link to the past that we archaeologists take for granted.

This dovetails nicely into the final principle, which is to share. It is not enough to participate, it is not enough to make things, these things (and the insights gleaned from them) must be shared whenever possible. The default should be to share. The production of knowledge about humans is for everyone, and should be made available to everyone. Enter your ideas into the commons, publish your own book, and push to make academic journals open access. Though the process is terrifying as a junior academic, it is not only vital for the survival of our field, but imperative that we communicate our knowledge of the diversity of human experience in the face of suffering and violence enacted against alternate ways of life.

What I saw as I stood behind the chair of anthropology and what I am seeing today is the realization of years of effort that resulted in a fantastic, transcendent moment. What I ask of you today is to now work toward the next epic win. Participate, make things, and share.

Thank you.

 

Post-Apocalyptic Foodways: the Archaeological and Ethnographic Evidence

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Starvation, by Gwen Boul.

Popular television and movies like The Walking Dead, I Am Legend and other post-apocalyptic dramas are usually framed in the modern day or near-future, with the characters battling the odds to stay alive in radically changed living conditions. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road followed characters walking through a nightmare landscape, where people turned to scavenging, brutality, and cannibalism to survive.

But how do humans actually cope with extreme conditions of scarcity and stress? Shanti Morell-Hart’s article, Foodways and Resilience under Apocalyptic Conditions, examines ethnographic examples in conjunction with the archaeological record to investigate “collapse” narratives in human history. The social and physiological effects of starvation are more complex than previously imagined and reactions to starving can result in some incredibly diverse strategies for survival. Foraging and gleaning are documented during famines in Ireland, Russia, Sudan, and China, among many examples, and sometimes this foraging becomes emigration. Property boundaries are defended and social structures, such as respect for elite status, can change rapidly. Finally, the stage of exhaustion wherein people first compete with fellow family members or huddle together, inactive. Morell-Hart illustrates this with a brilliant quote from Pendergast, describing a famine and plague in 1652:

Ireland … now lay void as a wilderness. Five-sixths of her people had perished. Women and children were found daily perishing in ditches, starved. The bodies of many wandering orphans whose fathers had embarked for Spain and whose mothers had died were preyed upon by wolves. In the years 1652 and 1653 the plague and famine had swept away whole counties, that a man might travel twenty or thirty miles and not see a living creature.

Physiological signs of starvation can be seen archaeologically in skeletal remains including hypoplasias (underdevelopment of bones and teeth) and stunted growth, but this is well-known. The question is, how do we see signs of coping with this famine? Morell-Hart tracks redefinitions of foodways, including substituting one kind of food (or food-like substance) for one eaten more traditionally or transforming objects that were previously thought of as inedible to potentially edible food.

There are well-known examples of this transition including eating shoe leather or in extreme examples, cannibalism. Morell-Hart finds it curious that the “popular imagination most readily turns to cannibalism” but most examples of cannibalism “appear to have much more to do with the symbolic aspects of this practice rather than the nutritional.” There is some slippage between what we would think of practical and symbolic eating that may have started in response to a famine but then persisted, the famine response having fundamentally altered the foodways of the group.

One of the more striking ethnographic examples that Morell-Hart cites is second harvest and maroma practiced by some of the Cochimí peoples in Baja California. Second harvest involved scavenging undigested seeds from excrement, cleaning and roasting the seeds, then eating them again. Maroma involved “trying a bit of meat to a piece of string, passing the bit from person to person to swallow, and them immediately extracting the swallowed bit with the string to distribute the digestion of the meat.”

Looking toward the ethnographic and archaeological record further reinforces the incredible diversity and adaptability of humans to survive. Indeed, Morell-Hart finds that “rigidity of food paradigms has led to death, in some cases” when populations “struggled with rationed relief foodstuffs because they were unfamiliar.” Archaeology combined with ethnographic studies can contribute to our understanding of how humans respond to famine and how we reconfigure ideas about food in the long term, and allow us to better respond to food shortage crises around the world.

ResearchBlogging.org
Morell-Hart, S. (2012). Foodways and Resilience under Apocalyptic Conditions Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment, 34 (2), 161-171 DOI: 10.1111/j.2153-9561.2012.01075.x

Arabs in London (and on Instagram)

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Peter Marlowe, Arabs in London, 1976

I was reluctant at first to create (yet another) project Facebook page. I think a lot of people are experiencing “like” fatigue and running social media for organizations cashes out your social media circle pretty fast. Really Colleen? Asking me to like yet another one of your projects? C’mon. Still, Facebook remains one of the best ways to inform people about archaeology online, especially people who are not already interested in archaeology. So, I created the Origins of Doha page on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/OriginsOfDoha

As this season of archaeology is finished, there aren’t a lot of updates from the field to create interest and traffic. Happily I have a large archive of old photographs of Doha to look through and post. There just aren’t a lot of resources for this sort of thing online, and most old photos of the Gulf are in private/personal collections. I love being able to share these photos, especially as many residents are completely unaware that there were older buildings before the shiny towers and large developments came to Doha. I think a lot of these photos resonate with people as they depict familiar places (like the Corniche) before a lot of the prominent development.

Race on the Corniche in Doha, 1974.

Race on the Corniche in Doha, 1974.

Anyway, I wrote a bit about photography in the Middle Eastern context for my thesis, and it is one of the parts that I’m developing into future research on depictions of heritage and authenticity. So I was very happy when I was contacted  through the Origins of Doha Facebook page by the lovely person behind this Tumblr/Instagram of crowd-sourced family photos from the Middle East:

http://zamaaanawal.tumblr.com/

When I asked her why she worked on this she answered that it was because so many collections aren’t publicly available online. So she’s making her own. Absolutely brilliant. Her archive also revealed a lovely bit of synchronicity. Peter Marlowe has a series of photographs titled “Arabs in London”, as featured above. The women is in the middle of the shot, in front of Harrods and between two cars, perhaps attempting to show a dissonance between her appearance and her surrounds. One of the contributors to Zamaan’s archive recognized her:

It’s @Mozishaq’s aunt. Taken from iconic “Arab” to auntie on Instagram.

Though we already feel oversaturated by social media, it still has the ability to surprise, delight, and de-center.

The Recent Ancient Tradition of Ogoh Ogoh

 

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Bali is quiet today. It is Nyepi, the first day of the New Year, and it is a day of mandatory rest and meditation. We are not allowed outside our flat–if we are caught on the street we’ll be firmly escorted back inside. We must stay very quiet and not indulge in any way, or we’ll catch the attention of demons that are currently flying over Bali. If we are quiet enough they’ll shove on and not stop to wreak havoc. There are no flights in or out of Bali today. Silence.

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Yesterday, however, was a glorious racket as Ogoh Ogoh were paraded down the street at sunset, twirled around and “confused” at intersections, then burned down at the seaside. Over the past week we’ve been peeping inside of temples to look at the in-progress Ogoh Ogoh as they were carefully built over metal frames. As we stood watching while the young single women of the neighborhood encircled the crossroads, holding torches toward the center, and the young single men of the neighborhood paraded into the center, playing drums and melodic reong–pot-shaped gongs, the ceremony felt timeless, foreign, yet had a spiritual resonance as well. It was invented in the 1980s.

I was ambivalent when I heard of the recent manufacture of the Ogoh Ogoh parade–it seemed typical of the kind of trap you can fall into with Orientalist thinking. Bali is so mystical, the people are so nice, they value spirituality, aren’t their ancient ceremonies so quaint and romantic? Still, I love a good procession and it reminded me of the Day of the Dead, another parade that celebrates the liminal and otherworldly.

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The materiality of Ogoh Ogoh is interesting; though some Ogoh Ogoh are very small, they rapidly become very elaborate, with an emphasis on the grotesque. Many go to great lengths to make the Ogoh Ogoh appear to be flying, with very little attaching the demon to the underlying bamboo structure that young men use to carry it. There are lights installed to light up their faces, and some have heavy metal music blaring from their bases. Many Ogoh Ogoh have pendulous, veiny breasts representing Rangda the demon queen. Some are painted, some are meticulously airbrushed, and I have heard that some of them are sold instead of burned at the end of the night.

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The Ogoh Ogoh and their young male handlers process to the beach, where they gleefully tear off the heads of their creations, then set fire to the demons that they carried through the streets. The Ogoh Ogoh were once made of paper mache, but now they are mostly polystyrene and the great gouts of black smoke made it impossible to breathe. The crowds dispersed before the fire had gone out.

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And today, Bali is quiet.

AAA 2013: A Digital Ecology of Sharing Archaeology

Sorry to post yet another abstract, but the American Anthropological Association has come to San Francisco and I’m presenting in a fantastic panel titled, Sharing Anthropology: Theorizing Anthropological Research in the Age of Social Media. All of the rest of the presenters are anthropologists (except for Ryan Anderson, who is a sneaky former archaeologist) so I’ll be one reppin’ the field.

Sadly my slides aren’t going to be quite as fantastic as the ones I previously posted, but what can you do? Here’s my abstract:

A Digital Ecology of Sharing Archaeology

Clean. Draw. Photograph. Level. Record. Dig. Sample. Sort Artifacts. Share.

Share?

Archaeologists are increasingly recognizing the benefits of an online presence. Field school blogs and project Facebook pages have become standard outreach fare. Yet this outreach is often an afterthought, relegated to undergraduate students and rarely cultivated as a legitimate expression of archaeological research. I argue that unless digital sharing moves beyond a rarely-updated Facebook page and is integrated into all aspects of archaeological practice it will always be considered an illegitimate by-product, remaining at the fringes of our profession, a poor shadow of the potential that digital outreach has for communicating with the public. This integration involves disrupting our professional customs to re-frame our research in terms of expressive, teachable moments. Contrary to the opinion that sharing at an intimate level would compromise our research, I argue that sharing can introduce reflexivity into the archaeological process and increase multivocality among project participants. Creating a digital ecology wherein archaeological research is made available “at the trowel’s edge” and rewarded as a legitimate undertaking is risky, unpredictable, and utterly necessary to usher archaeology into the digital age.

A Moment for Elizabeth Brumfiel

I stepped into the auditorium. The space seemed cavernous–high ceilings, hundreds of white chairs, and a single podium up front, a podium that was not nearly big enough to hide behind. I took a deep breath and stepped inside.

The room was empty, but felt safe. It was my first professional meeting–the Society for American Archaeology in 2004 in Montreal and I was overwhelmed. There were thousands of archaeologists and they all seemed to know each other. I had just been working long days on a big site in Kerrville, Texas, and felt grubby and callused–very removed from the high-falutin’ academic talk that surrounded me.

I walked up to the podium in the empty room and did what my mother told me to do: “get into the room early and practice giving your talk at least twice.” The paper was printed in big font, double spaced, a few corrections here and there. In my own scrawled handwriting across the top–SMILE. I lowered the microphone to my height, wincing at the screeching sounds that it made, and started to speak.

I was about half-way through when the door way at the back of the auditorium cracked open, then closed shut, and then, more slowly, opened again. I couldn’t really see who it was, but that didn’t matter; I didn’t know anyone anyway. As soon as she–I could see that it was an older woman at this point, made it about half-way down the aisle, I apologized and said that I was just practicing. She said it was fine and made her way to the front row. I was nervous, but if I couldn’t give my talk to one woman, how could I give it to a whole audience?

While I droned on, she settled into her seat and pulled out her own sheaf of papers. She was writing rapidly, but not frantically, crossing out some words and re-writing others. I tried to ignore her as I hurried on with my talk.

At some point I noticed her pen stop, then drop, and she looked up from her paper. I was speaking about feminist lineages in archaeology; how as an undergraduate I benefitted from strong female leaders in archaeology and their students becoming teachers of a new generation (and supermajority) of women in the field. And she, this woman in the first row, was listening.

I finished and she stood up and clapped loudly, congratulating me for speaking so clearly and well. We chatted for a little while, about my paper topic, and she gave me further advice about conference presentations and academia. I honestly don’t remember most of the rest of the session–I was still very nervous–but to this day I remember her kindness, her encouragement, and her generosity. She didn’t have to mentor me, she could have kept working on her paper, but she took a moment for a nervous, nobody undergraduate. I glanced at her name tag, but it meant nothing to me at the time…until I googled her later.

Thank you, Elizabeth Brumfiel (1945-2012).

—-

Please read Rosemary Joyce’s post, which gives you a better perspective on just how amazing Elizabeth Brumfiel was:

Liz Brumfiel will always be remembered

Course Description: Materiality and Ethnographic Film

When it comes to UC Berkeley, these days I feel more like a politically-minded voyeur than grad student. I’ve been following the Occupy movements in both Oakland and Berkeley online, but I’m half a world away, working and writing my dissertation out in the desert.

Still, I’m going to be teaching a Reading and Composition course next summer, and I used part of my weekend to come up with a course description:

Materiality and Ethnographic Film

Ethnographic film has a long and ambivalent tradition within anthropology. The theory, technology, and methodology behind making ethnographic films has changed radically during the last century, but often this historic context has been ignored. In this course we will critically examine a wide range of ethnographic films through the lens of materiality. Materiality, or the study of the relationship between people and things, allows us to think about technology and social interactions in new and compelling ways. What were people wearing and using in the film? How was the film made and how does this effect the scenes that were filmed? What can these films tell us as artifacts in themselves? In our “archaeological” examination of ethnographic film, we will read the current interdisciplinary literature regarding materiality and excavate the context of these anthropological artifacts. This course satisfies the second half of the University’s Reading and Composition requirement.

The Reading and Composition requirement is a two-part writing skills class that all undergraduates have to take to graduate. The first class is the basics of writing and the second class, which is what this course description is for, is for intensive reading and writing on a particular topic. The only prerequisite is that the student has taken the first class–no Anthro or Media Studies is required to take the class.

Anyway, it is my first course description and I have no idea if it sounds of any interest at all to undergraduates. Any thoughts? Too boring, complex, or obscure?