anthro in the news 9/28/15

Mural in New York City, September 2015 (Source: Anthony DelMundo / NY Daily News)

What the Pope said

Two media sources included commentary from anthropologists about the Pope’s messages during his visit to the United States. The Real News Network (TRNN television) provides a transcript of a panel discussion in which Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of medical anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley discussed the Pope’s language about and position on capitalism and how his message does or does not resonate with poor people in Latin America.  KNPR (Nevada) aired a discussion about the implications of the Pope’s U.S. speeches for the state of Nevada, including insights from Kevin Rafferty, archaeologist and professor at the College of Southern Nevada where he chairs the department of human behavior.


Hostess Cupcake (Creative Commons, public domain)

Food studies and activism rising

KQED (California) reported on the rising popularity of food studies courses and degree programs on U.S. campuses as well as student food activism. The piece mentioned Emory University’s Peggy Barlett, professor of anthropology, who has introduced several food courses including the Anthropology of Coffee and Chocolate and Fast Food/Slow Food. Indiana University, which established the first Ph.D. in the anthropology of food in 2007, reports an upswing in the addition of and student interest in food-related courses; food was a university-wide focus during the spring semester.


Graeberian connections

Two news sources gave a shout out to cultural anthropologist David Graeber of the London School of Economics.  An op-ed in the Financial Times addressed what the next generation will need in terms of employment: “…So for ‘emotional wellbeing’, my kids need $75,000. However, their specific jobs matter too. Socially meaningful work would be nice. More selfishly, some jobs provide greater happiness than others. Clearly what the anthropologist David Graeber calls ‘bullshit jobs’…sap the happiness of many poor people.”

An article in the Huffington Post on Silicon Valley culture and neoliberalism draws on Graeber’s insights about constraints on workers’ rights: “David Graeber, author of The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Joys of Bureaucracy, says that conservatives set up think tanks in Chicago during the ’70s to ensure a utopian vision of technology that empowered workers rights could never evolve. As Graeber and others have pointed out, instead of robotizing the factories, the capitalist and ruling class simply moved the production lines overseas.”


Anthropology addressing Ebola

The Kokomo Tribune (Indiana) profiled the work of medical anthropologist Gene Shelley who is a senior behavioral scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She has been working at the CDC for 23 years on a variety of problems including child maltreatment, domestic violence, and HIV/AIDs. For the past 11 months, Shelley has been the leader of the CDC’s Ebola Anthropology Team which provides research and expertise on cultural issues such a local burial practices and combating Ebola-related stigma in West Africa. During that time, the team has responded to more than 130 internal requests for cultural information, prepared reports on cultural topics related to the response, and worked with health communication scientists to assist with Ebola prevention message development. Shelley describes her work as an anthropologist as that of a “cultural translator,” giving context to the complex factors that come with treating diseases: “Anthropology is a study of the whole system of culture, not just the medical or spiritual aspects of it…We know how everything comes together in culture and that beliefs affect everything. That’s why anthropologists are needed.”


Take that anthro degree and…

…become a playwright. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is the author of five critically acclaimed plays, two of which, Appropriate and An Octoroon, shared the 2014 Obie Award for best new American play. Jacobs-Jenkins has a B.A. in anthropology from Princeton University where he also took many fiction writing classes. He later received an M.A. in performance studies from New York University. After a job at the New Yorker magazine, where he edited and wrote reviews, he won an emerging artists fellowship from the New Theater Workshop, a spot in the Emerging Writers Group at the Public Theatre, and a Fulbright Fellowship to Germany where he wrote the play War, commissioned by the Yale Repertory Theatre. His most recent play, Gloria, is about competitive magazine interns. He is now in the Residency Five program at New York’s Signature Theater, which provides him a five-year residency and three full productions. He has also taught playwriting at Princeton and NYU.

…become an expert on the Vikings and Viking-theme event organizer. Dayanna Knight has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.A. and doctorate in medieval archaeology from the University of Nottingham. Her book, Viking Nations, is expected to be released in early 2016 in the U.K. and then in the United States.

…become a manager of global health user experience. Rebecca Lord is a user experience (UX) professional now working for Medullan, a digital health consultancy focused on improving healthcare outcomes through human-centered solutions. She will lead their global user experience practice. Lord, who has over a dozen years of experience in the field, specializes in creating simple, human-centered digital experiences. Lord has a B.A. from Connecticut College in anthropology, studio art and art history. She is quoted as saying: “My background and education in studio art and anthropology helps me bring a blend of curiosity, compassion and creativity to my work…I thrive on solving complex problems and creating interfaces that help people across the spectrum of healthcare delivery. In my role at Medullan, I look forward to working with leaders in engaging consumers in their health, especially in cutting edge spaces such as precision medicine and genomics.”


Mapping Minnesota’s archaeological sites

The Star Tribune (Minneapolis) reported on a project led by Minnesota State University professor Ron Schirmer to map all the American Indian archaeological sites in the state of Minnesota. Schirmer’s doctoral work in Red Wing, for example, was challenged by artifacts cataloged in different places and systems, leaving him unable to make site-to-site comparisons. So, he has decided to do something to address the problems of lack of documentation, different labeling systems, and spread-out collections. He plans to start building a database containing the location of the state’s roughly 18,000 sites and millions of artifacts along with their accompanying notes, studies, and field work.


First observation of Bornean orangutan meat-eating

According to coverage from the BBC and other media, researchers working in a forest in Borneo documented the first known case of a Bornean orangutan eating meat, a dead squirrel that was likely scavenged rather than hunted. The observation is published in the journal Primates where the researchers report: “The entrails of the squirrel were dropped but every other part of the carcass was chewed and swallowed, including bones, skin, fur and tail.” It is the first time a Bornean orangutan has been seen eating any kind of meat since a project looking into their lives started in 2003 and has logged 16,000 observation hours. BBC brings in commentary from Adriano Lameira of Durham University who observed Sumatran orangutans eating meat. Lameira says that wild orangutans can develop their own dietary preferences: “Such individual food preference can be passed on through generations, or spread horizontally across populations, giving raise to diet cultures.”


Now hear this

The Christian Science Monitor reported on research examining the hearing abilities of early human ancestors on the basis of fossil remains. The study suggests that early human species may have had better hearing in certain frequencies than humans today, facilitating short-range communication in open field environments compared to rainforests. A team of researchers, led by Rolf Quam of Binghamton University, studied skulls and ear bones from Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus, two species that lived between 1 million and 3 million years ago, as well as modern humans and chimpanzees to compare their hearing abilities. Quam is quoted as saying:  “It turns out that this auditory pattern may have been particularly favorable for living on the savanna. In more open environments, sound waves don’t travel as far as in the rainforest canopy, so short-range communication is favored on the savanna.”


In memoriam

Archaeologist Christopher Jones of the University of Pennsylvania Museum died at the age of 77 years. He was known for his discovery and deciphering of inscriptions left by the ancient Maya of Guatemala. As a research associate and later a consulting scholar for the museum, Jones was engaged in ongoing study and publication pertaining to Tikal, one of the largest ancient cities in the Americas.  He deciphered a complex list of kings and dates that revealed the dynastic history of the famous city.

Andrew Hill, paleoanthropologist and professor at Yale University, died at the age of 69 years. Hill was the J. Clayton Stephenson Professor of Anthropology, and Curator and Head of the Division of Anthropology in the Peabody Museum. Before coming to Yale in 1985, Hill spent several years based in Nairobi, working at the National Museums of Kenya, directing The International Louis Leakey Memorial Institute for African Prehistory, and conducting fieldwork at Lake Baringo, Kenya, as well as in the Siwalik region of Pakistan. During this period, he discovered the Laetoli footprint tuff, which along with Australopithecus afarensis fossils from Laetoli and the Afar, revolutionized the field by proving that bipedal locomotion preceded the evolution of large brain size in hominin evolution. In 2009 he was made a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was a member of the National Research Council of the National Academies Committee on the Earth System Context of Human Evolution, which resulted in the publication, Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution in 2010. In 2012 he was recognized as a “Notable Alumnus” of Royal Holloway and New Bedford College, University of London. He taught courses on human evolution, faunal analysis, and taphonomy. In 1994 he received the Yale College-Lex Hixon ‘63 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences.


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