I’m happy to announce a new podcast episode over at New Books Network. In this episode I interview brother and sister teams Elizabeth and Stephen Ferry. Elizabeth is an anthropologist and Stephen is a photographer, and together they’ve produced La Battea, a book which combines text, images, and design to tell the story of small-scale miners in Colombia in a unique and powerful way. When I say ‘design’ I mean it: the book is physically designed to pull the reader into the topic. Cardboard covers, a specially-chosen paper, and carefully designed chosen fonts provide a unique experience which is topped off by the small piece of gold embedded in the cover.
In this episode of the podcast, I talk with Stephen and Elizabeth Ferry about the design, photography, and text of this book. They also talk about the Kickstarter they ran to create the book, and their decision to produce both Spanish and English language versions that were affordable for local communities. Other questions include: What is it like to write a book with your sibling? How elemental a human experience is mining? I think this is a good one so I hope you will check it out.
Aloha all. Some quick final links to keep up to date on what I’ve been doing since September. This site has gone on for far too long without an update, so I’ll post several in the next couple of days.
For this post, I want to highlight something new at the New Books Network — my very own author page! It’s not much but it does provide a single location where you can find all the interviews I’ve done. This is part of the redesign of the website and is just one of many more positive features which I’m told will come in the near future.
That’s all for now! More soon and happy end of 2020. I know I for one couldn’t be happier that this year of over and I’m looking forward to a much more prosperous and healthier 2021.
I’m very happy to announce that I have a new interview up at New Books Network. This one is with Matt Tomlinson, an anthropologist of the Pacific at the University of Oslo. Matt’s book is a discussion of the role of the concept of ‘culture’ in contemporary Pacific protestant theology. I love the cover image of the book, which features the holy family around a kava bowl. Full disclosure: I’m on the board of the Pacific Islands Monograph Series, which published this book. Second disclosure: We’re always looking for more manuscripts. If you have a really Pacific-focused manuscript let me know!
I announce my publications and interviews and things on social media but I have fallen behind on announcing them on my blog, which is supposed to be a more organised and permanent record of what I’m doing. So here is the first of a few posts about my (boreal) summer activities:
My interview with Nancy Mattina on Gladys Reichard, ‘America’s least appreciated anthropologist’ is now live over at the New Books Network. Go take a listen! Nancy’s carefully-researched book re-captures the achievements of Gladys Reichard, a woman whose achievements, Nancy persuasively argues, was erased by her contemporaries. Perhaps the closest discipline of both Franz Boas and Elsie Clews Parsons, Nancy presents an image of an incredibly productive scholar with a zest for living whose work was disparaged by the sexism of men like Edward Sapir and Clyde Kluckhohn and the classism of blue-blooded women such as Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. It’s easy to be put off by Sapir’s misogyny today, but what I thought made this book and our interview so fascinating was Nancy’s portrayal Benedict and Mead not as feminist heroes but as envious of and less-successful than Reichard. In the middle we ask the question: What would have happened to American ethnography if Reichard, carrying Boas’s and Parsons’s style forward, had become hegemonic. It’s a fascinating question! And with Reichard’s wonderful ethnography Spider Woman now available for free download, hopefully more people will be able not only to ask this question, but answer it.
My new episode of New Books in Anthropology is up — it’s an interview with Christina Thompson on her book The Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia. It’s a history of European attempts to understand the prehistory of Polynesian and Austronesian migration. It’s a very well written and well-structured story that starts with the Spanish discovery of the Marquesas, goes through Kon Tiki and Hokule‘a, and ends with contemporary work. I was impressed by the amount of work that it covers, and how easily it goes down, and it was blurbed by Pat Kirch at Matt Matsuda so you know most of the details were right. I think this will be a go-to book for people who want to get started understanding the prehistory of the Pacific.
At the same time, I can imagine that some of my colleagues would take fault with the decision to write a book about white people studying the Pacific rather than just focusing on Pacific Islanders themselves. Christina has defended this choice — which I feel is a legitimate one — and notes that she covers people such as Nainoa Thompson and Te Rangi Hiroa. But I still felt this book read very much as a story of a Western project of knowing into which Pacific Islanders were eventually incorporated. I don’t know — maybe this reflects my own concern about how we conceptualise and tell anthropology’s history. Another shortcoming is the inevitable ‘what got left out’ question: While historical linguistics is mentioned, that story doesn’t get told in the detail it could. But of course it’s inevitable that a book tells some stories and not all others (at least, this is a problem all non-infinitely long books have).
My favourite aspect of this book is that it turned me on to the work of the wonderfully-named Willowdean Chatterson Handy. Christina’s section on her inspired me to read Handy’s Forever The Land Of Men, her memoir of doing fieldwork in the Marquesas in the 1920s alongside her husband and Ralph Linton. It is a hidden gem of a book and if you can find a copy I’d highly recommend it. I was particularly interested to see how thoughtful Handy was about the impact of colonialism in the Marquesas and her own positionally as a researcher. Inspired, I asked a friend of mine who studies the Marquesas what he thought of Willowdean.
“She was smarter than [her husband] Handy,” he said to me.
“How can you tell?” I asked.
“Everything the co-wrote is better than his solo publications!” He replied.
In sum, I recommend Christina’s book very warmly although I recognise it might not be framed in a way that will please everyone. I hope you enjoy listening to our conversation!
I’m proud to announce that I’ve become one of the hosts for the New Book Network’sNew Books in Anthropology podcast! In my inaugural episode, I talk with David Varel, the author of the first-ever biography of Allison Davis. Davis (1902-1983) was a pioneering anthropologist who did ground-breaking fieldwork in the Jim Crow south, challenged the racial bias of IQ tests, and became the first African American to be tenured at the University of Chicago. In this episode in New Books in Anthropology we talk about Davis’s collaboration with authors such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Edward Sapir, John Dollard, W. Lloyd Warner Warner, St. Clair Drake, and many others. We also discuss how Davis pioneered concepts such as structural racism and explored the relationship between race and class. David Varel talks about the choices he made as a White academic writing about an African American life, and the importance of widening intellectual genealogies by including ‘lost’ figures such as Davis. I hope you enjoy it!