Anthro in the news 12/15/14

  • Ed Liebow, Executive Director of the American Anthropological Association.

    Cultural anthropology is essential for addressing Ebola

Discover Magazine reported on a conference on anthropology and Ebola held at the George Washington University in November that convened nearly twenty anthropologists to brainstorm about how to better address Ebola through the inclusion of cultural knowledge. The article mentions several anthropologists, academics and professionals working in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, including Sharon Abramowitz of the University of Florida, one of the effort’s organizers.  The article quotes Edward Liebow, executive director of the American Anthropological Association, one of the co-sponsors of the conference: “Epidemiologists are making oversimplified assumptions about transmission, setting these wild upper limit bounds…We’re in a position to actually breathe life into the numbers, to put people into those positions, to make much more realistic assessments of near-term and longer-term predictions.”

For instance, anthropologists’ understanding of things like upcoming seasonal migrations to harvest rice could help in predicting the spread of Ebola beyond what epidemiological models will show. Anthropologists possess knowledge essential for better medical and public health practice. A challenge is to move that knowledge to practitioners and have them incorporate in changed practices.

  • Medical anthropologist on the Colbert Report
Paul Farmer

Luminary anthropologist Paul Farmer recently appeared on The Colbert Report. Colbert kicked things off by asking Farmer to take his temperature since he (Farmer) had recently been in West Africa. Colbert then pops the question, from an innocent and supposedly naïve perspective, “Why do you want to provide health care to the poor all over the world?” In discussing the connection between poverty and illness, Colbert asks, “Is being poor contagious?” Farmer says, “In a way it is.”

  • Anthropology kudos in the news

The Albany Business Review reported on this year’s career achievement award from the Society for Medical Anthropology to Susan Scrimshaw, president of the Sage Colleges. Among her many accomplishments, Scrimshaw recently co-chaired an Institute of Medicine workshop on community-based health education and its implications for the Ebola outbreak.

  • Religion panel focuses on cultural anthropology book
Tanya Luhrmann

The Huffington Post carried an article about the joint annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature held in San Diego where professionals in higher education, publishing and media, clergy and independent scholars convened. The author says:

“My favorite paper this year came from theologian Marilyn McCord Adams in a panel on Tanya Luhrmann‘s book When God Talks Back. This book is a kind of embedded anthropological study of evangelical Christians. It points out that these Christians teach methods for creating a sense of intimacy with God. These include a practice for managing or forming one’s own inner life, for instance, by imagining what God might say in a particular situation, by ‘making a date with God.’”

  • Take that anthro degree and…

become a nurse and political leader. The Honorable Elizabeth Ativie is the only woman in Edo State House of Assembly representing Uhunmwode constituency in Nigeria. She is also the chairman of committees on transport, arts and culture. A professional nurse, she holds a master’s degree in sociology and anthropology. Her interest in social work led her to initiate a mobile clinic as part of her constituency projects.

become a therapist for people with vision problems. Marshall Flax is a certified low-vision therapist and mobility and orientation specialist with the non-profit Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired in Madison. After his upcoming retirement, he plans to continue seeing clients part-time and spend more time on his business making and selling low-vision simulators. Flax earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology and women’s studies.

become of the owner of a custom Amish furniture store. Jeff Scheff studied anthropology in college with ideas of a career involving learning about different cultures. Instead, he now is the owner of Mortise & Tenon Handmade Furniture store in Woodville, Ohio, where he uses his studies and his earlier work during high school as an employee in a wood furniture store. He works with several Amish shops in Ohio Amish country to have custom tables, hutches and more made for his customers. Over the years, he has learned more about the Amish culture and the people he works with, which he said has been interesting and enjoyable.

  • Maya exhibit in Paris

The Guardian reviewed the new exhibit, “Maya, Revelation of a Time without End”, at the Quai Branly in Paris. It features 385 items loaned by 20 Mexican museums. Mayan culture, however, extends to what are now five different countries, from southern Mexico to Honduras. The exhibition reached France by way of the National Palace in Mexico City, where it opened in 2012, via the Palacio das Artes in São Paulo, Brazil. It is the work of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (Inah), the state organization that promotes and preserves Mexico’s pre-Columbian past. The curator of the Paris show, Mercedes de la Garza, the former head of Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology, wanted to highlight the golden age of Maya civilization (300-900). She included many items from Toniná, southern Chiapas, a site investigated in the 1970s by several Franco-Mexican teams.

  • Still searching for the origins of symbolic thought
Prehistoric hand stencil, Sulawesi.

The New York Times carried an extended piece reviewing recent findings about the origins of symbolic thought. The kick-off was the recent dating of Sulawesi’s cave paintings, previously thought to be less than 10,000 years old. Findings by Maxime Aubert and Adam Brumm of Griffith University, published in the journal Nature, revealed that one hand stencil is at least 39,900 years old, making it the oldest hand stencil on record. A nearby painting of a female pig-deer was estimated to be 35,400 years old, making it one of the most ancient examples of figurative art.

Scholars are thus seriously rethinking the origins of human creativity:

“There has always been the belief that a light switched on in Europe, and there was this efflorescence of creativity,” says Brumm, a research fellow at Griffith University. “That’s not the case. On the other side of the world, the same thing was going on at the same time.” Or even much earlier. Brumm and a growing number of archaeologists are ready to abandon longstanding Eurocentric views regarding the origin of human imagination.

Symbolism appears to have emerged early on in Africa and spread from there. Christopher Henshilwood of the University of Bergen has discovered some compelling evidence of pre-European symbolism in South Africa’s Blombos Cave. When he first started excavating Blombos in 1991, few researchers believed that symbolism might have emerged before 50,000 years ago. But Henshilwood’s subsequent discoveries, and those of other archaeologists working in Africa and the Levant, began to change minds. At Blombos, he and his team unearthed a 100,000-year-old animal-bone paintbrush and palettes: abalone shells in which prehistoric humans mixed pulverized red ocher with bone marrow, charcoal and water to form a colorful paste. The cave also contained an ocher slab with 75,000-year-old geometric engravings and 41 sea-snail shells drilled through with holes so they could be strung as beads.

More discoveries and better dating in the future will continue to prompt more thinking and re-thinking about thinking.


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