Category Archives: anthropology

Mornings in the Manor

A photo posted by colleenmorgan (@colleenmorgan) on

 

It was all so new, a year ago, when I described the over and under and through of my commute to work, walking through a microcosm of English history. Now it passes in a blur, I’m either in my headphones listening to a podcast or buzzing by on my lovely Gazelle–the sturdy Danish bicycle that I steer over frozen cobblestones and muddy, overgrown pathways.

I was delayed this morning by a brief flurry of snow, predicated by an Easter pink and yellow sky. I don’t notice my commute much, and a lot of the culture shock has worn off. Now I hear my previous self in other Americans, going on and on about the subtle differences, the quirks, the realignment of world view, and I hope that I wasn’t that completely tedious. I probably was.

I can understand most of what people say these days, even the most York-shure, and I don’t get as many looks of utter incomprehension when I ask for eggs or butter. Verbal code-switching has become comfortable and useful, though there’s still the occasional confusion with “shop” and “store” and a few other things.

So I was in my at-least-partially-acculturated haze this morning, wheeling my bicycle over the big stone pavers of King’s Manor, when I crossed paths with one of the lovely porters. We don’t really have porters in the States, they’re sort of watchmen/caretakers of the building, but not janitors or rent-a-cop security. They are constantly kicking me out of the building, as I often work until closing time–19:00 (7:00PM)–shockingly early in academia-land. But they do it with a smile, especially after I engaged on a military-esque campaign of extreme friendliness until even the most curmudgeonly porter relented.

As usual, I greeted the porter with a big smile and wave, and, code-switching without a thought, asked him if he liked the snow this morning. He returned my smile and said, in the most charming of accents:

“No, no. We never like the snow.”

Something about his cheerfully brusque response, the big old medieval walls rising around me, and the clatter of my bicycle wheels over the pavers pushed me out of my acculturation and made me notice again, back to being a stranger in a strange land. But I’m okay with that. If anything it made me happy to be reminded of how far I’ve been, how much I’ve changed, and how many adventures are yet to come.

Gesture & Clay: Sunday Ceramics

These are two very different videos about crafting ceramics, yet they both capture the motion of highly-trained hands and the beauty of making.

The first video shows fine art pottery from Icheon, Korea–made on a potter’s wheel, all by men. The technique and attention to detail is astonishing, as they cut, pat, stamp, coax, and dab glaze into clay.

The second is from the British Museum, a collaborative ethnoarchaeological project conducted in Kerala, India. These potters are women, and the ceramics they make are standardized pots, each performing a specific role in the shaping of the pot. You are able to see the entire process, as the women stomp, bash, pat, smooth, and tend the pots.

One pot ends up on shelves in museum galleries, the other over a fire, filled with delicious curry.

Archaeological Photography as Dangerous Supplement

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Later this week I am presenting a paper in Dan HicksArchaeology and Photography session at the Photography and Anthropology conference at the British Museum. Here’s the abstract for my talk:

Archaeological Photography as Dangerous Supplement

But isn’t a photographer who can’t read his own pictures worth less than an illiterate?” (Walter Benjamin, 1968)

Archaeology has a long, complex, and fascinating entanglement with photography, a relationship that continues into the digital age. To understand the florescence of digital photography in archaeology, we must inhabit an interdisciplinary space, a space that lies between the compound field of visual studies and archaeology but that also attends to issues of representation, authority, and authenticity. Being conversant in visual analysis can help to create more robust visualization strategies in archaeology, but can have unintended consequences. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of both analog and digital archaeological photographs exposes interesting disciplinary shifts and uninterrogated power dynamics in the field. While digital photography is changing the way that archaeologists are thinking about and doing archaeology, it also reveals the complexity of the relationships present on an archaeological project, in the local community and online. In this, photography can act as a dangerous supplement for archaeology, a Derridean concept W.J.T. Mitchell ascribed to disrupting the cohesion of traditionally defined disciplines.

In this paper I will discuss the process of creating a theory-laden practice of archaeological photography, using the photographic record from the sites of Çatalhöyük in Turkey and Tall Dhiban in Jordan. Through this record I will investigate photography and visualization as a particularly productive instance of the dangerous supplement. Finally, I will explore the implications of merging this theory-laden practice with emancipatory strategies to achieve a more inclusive, reflexive archaeological praxis.

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.”

Zelia Nuttall – Lonely Daughter of Culture

Nuttall

The newest newsletter of the History of Archaeology Interest Group features a short biography of Zelia Nuttall by Peter Diderich. She was one of the earliest female archaeologists and a pioneering scholar of Aztec, Maya, Olmec, and other cultures.

Hopefully Zelia will be featured on Trowelblazers at some point, but I was so seized by this quote by DH Lawrence about a fictional Mrs. Norris, based on Zelia, and the fantastic image hosted by my alma mater, UC Berkeley, that I had to combine the two.

May all of us who muse on the hard stones of archaeological remains take our inspiration from Zelia, and retain a strong sense of humanity & humor.

Telepresence/Teleabsence

brbxoxo

From brbxoxo, empty webcam rooms.

Virtual reality, while often presented as a fully-immersive goggles-and-gloves experience, actually falls along a spectrum. Obviously there are the Neuromancer-esque full simulations that are not currently achievable on one end of the spectrum, and Rudy Rucker’s “where you are when you’re talking on the phone” which Pat Gunkel calls “telepresence.” When you are on the phone you are not entirely in the room you are standing in–some part of you is with the person you are talking to. You are in-between.

I find the telepresence end of the spectrum much more relatable–I even find it a handy metaphor for archaeological practice. Where are you when you are “doing” archaeology? I’d argue (contra Michael Shanks and folks who think that it’s all modern performance) that you are telepresent–not entirely in the present day, but not wholly in the past. In-between, an interstitial space.

I’ve been thinking about this for a few years now, a parallel between virtual reality and experiencing the past (or, actually, any kind of deep research) as entering an interstitial space. More recently I’ve been thinking about teleabsence. When you are virtually there, but not really there. Let me explain.

Brbxoxo is a website that shows webcam feeds of empty rooms. Rooms that usually have a performer (these are often sex cams) but, for one reason or another, are not currently occupied. Live, but absent.

Another example is live chat with Facebook and Skype. If you have either installed as an app on your iPhone, you appear to always be online. I have gotten untold grief for “ignoring” people because I appear to be present, when I am actually absent.

Or, if you are particularly social-media-savvy, you can be present-absent; if you use Hootsweet or another post scheduler, it can appear that you are posting live to WordPress, Twitter and Facebook, when it is really automated. But do you schedule a post to go live during your official working hours, when it might be misinterpreted as inattention to your official duties?

I wonder, as the absent/present divide becomes increasingly ambiguous online, if it will change the value of present-presence: being in-person, offline, and entirely with the person that you are with. Or will cellphones just become completely integrated as an extension of self?