anthro in the news 8/6/18 and 8/13/18

banner_na_foodThe three sisters: beans, corn, and squash. Credit:

reclaiming Native food sovereignty

The Santa Fe New Mexican carried an article about the movement to reclaim Native North American food sovereignty, highlighting a recent book, Food Sovereignty the Navajo Way: Cooking with Tall Woman, by Charlotte J. Frisbie, professor emerita of anthropology at Southern Illinois University. Taking the perspective that improving Native American diets is “a political as well as a public health measure,” she offers firsthand experiences and information collected during the decade she lived with Tall Woman, who died in 1977 at 103 years of age. Frisbie documents the gathering, growing, and preparation of traditional foods on the Navajo Nation.  Beyond the case of the Navajo, Frisbie defines food sovereignty as an international movement by indigenous peoples to “return to traditional foods produced by traditional methods…to reestablish healthy lifeways.”

Gurkhas fighting for their rights

Gurkha kukri, c. 1814. Credit: National Army Museum U.K.

The Asia Times (Hong Kong) reported on the progress of Gurkha activism in gaining equal rights, compared to British comrades, in terms of pay and pensions. For nearly two centuries Ghurka warriors fought and died for Britain on battlefields around the world. For most of that time, the Gurkhas were paid far less than their British counterparts. Their struggle for equal rights is now almost over, thanks to the Gurkha Justice Campaign, a movement launched in the early 1990s, and other Gurkha organizations such as GAESO (Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen’s Organization), the first organization to push for reform. Om Gurung, professor and head of the Central Department of Sociology/Anthropology of the Tribhuvan University of Nepal, played a significant role in providing GAESO with the international platform that it needed. As a result, GAESO was able to organize national and international seminars and conferences, liaise with human rights organizations, and gain global exposure. 

If you are a woman seeking a man, move to Seattle

An article in The Washington Post described findings from a quantitative analysis of an online dating site in four U.S. cities. It shows, among things, stark gender and age differences in “desirability” and the relative abundance of single, heterosexual men in Seattle. The article quotes Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at the Kinsey Institute who was not involved in the study. She commented, first, that these are not really dating apps: They’re “introducing apps.”  “The only real algorithm is your own brain. Where you meet him [or her] doesn’t matter. On a park bench, online or other places. The app can set you up with someone who might seem perfect, but traits like humor or trustworthiness are hard to measure online.”  Fisher, also the chief scientist at, offered advice for online dating based on user research by Humans are visual animals, so picture choice is important. She recommends uploading six photos. Also, perhaps the most helpful advice was, “if what you’re doing isn’t working, change your strategy.”

forensic anthropology and war remains: interview

Two military cargo planes carrying 55 aluminum coffin-shaped cases landed at Hickam Air Force Base in Oahu, Hawaii, containing the presumed remains of American service members who died in North Korea between 1950 and 1953 during the Korean War. The remains were turned over to United States officials by the North Korean government, the first such handover since joint recovery efforts between the two countries came to a halt in 2005. The New York Times Magazine spoke with Paul Emanovsky, a forensic anthropologist for the D.P.A.A. (Defense P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Agency) who has been identifying missing American military personnel since 2002, to understand what steps the agency takes to make an identification.

take that anthro degree and…

…become a documentary filmmaker and photographer. Karen Cantor has just released her third documentary, Return: Reclaiming Native American Foodways. The film explores Native American food sovereignty in a conversational way by focusing on six women involved in the movement. Although the foods they champion — salmon in Washington; whale in Alaska; corn, beans, and squash in New Mexico and South Dakota — are as different as the tribes and their geographical origins, their shared passion for the work they are doing ties the film together and demonstrates the national reach of the food sovereignty movement. Cantor has a B.A. in anthropology from Goucher College and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University. 

Welsh burials at Stonehenge

BBC reported on archaeological findings about the identity of some cremated human remains buried at Stonehenge around 5,000 years ago.  Christophe Snoeck compared the levels of different forms, or isotopes, of the element strontium against a national database to work out where the cremated individuals spent the last years of their lives. Rick Schulting, senior author on the study, said: “These must have been important people. Being buried at Stonehenge is the ancient equivalent of being interred in Westminster Cathedral today…The evidence suggests that some of the people buried at Stonehenge must have spent much of their last 10 or so years in Wales. Although we tend to think that immigration is a new thing, these people were obviously able to travel substantial distances across difficult terrain.” Findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

sexism and ageism in Anglo-Saxon prehistory

Quartz carried an article describing archaeological research indicating that young women were buried with more treasure than their older counterparts between the years 475 and 625 C.E. in England.  In a study published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Christine Cave, a graduate student in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University, Canberra, and Marc Oxenham, professor of bioarchaeology in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University, Canberra, explain that the treatment of people in death reflects their status in life. After examining grave goods in English cemeteries across three centuries, they found that female graves tended to have high-status objects which represented beauty, such as gemstones, rings, and brooches. Male tombs were filled with tools and artifacts of martial power, like spears, axes, and goblets. But, while men tended to accumulate more items with increased age, the opposite was true of women: “older women on the whole were shown less respect in death than their male counterparts…Aging in Anglo-Saxon England was a gendered process.” [Blogger’s note: this finding about the combined effects of gender and ageism mirrors the results from the contemporary U.S. study of “desirability” in U.S. date-seeking, noted above, which revealed that the most “desirable” age for females is up to 18 years with a steady decline after that, while, for men, “desirability” increases with age].

Hobbits and human evolution in Southeast Asia

News (Australia) republished an article originally on The Conversation, written by archaeologists Michael Westaway, senior research fellow with the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University and Francis David Bulbeck, senior research associate at the Australian National University. They discuss earlier and new findings about Homo floresiensis, nicknamed Hobbits because of their short stature, and point to the species’ possible links with living people in the area. ABC (Australia) carried a piece about research arguing against any genetic continuity between Homo floresiensis and contemporary local people. Princeton University evolutionary biologist Serena Tucci and her colleagues compared DNA from 32 pygmy (short-statured) adults from the village of Rampasasa with sequences from modern humans from around the world as well as Neanderthals and Denisovans. They found Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA within the pygmy genomes — which was expected — but nothing out of the ordinary that might point to another archaic hominin, said study co-author and University of Queensland geneticist Peter Visscher: “They kind of fit in where you’d probably expect them to fit in, in terms of ancestry, when you compare that group of people to other populations in South-East Asia, Oceania and so on.” This study was published in Science.

tracking down the real Lorax

Inception of The Lorax. Credit: a,d, Yvonne A. de Jong and Thomas M. Butynski; b,c, Dr. Seuss Enterprises; e, Anup Shah, courtesy of Nature Picture Library; Nature Ecology and Evolution

An article in The Washington Post described how a chance meeting of two Dartmouth College professors at an academic dinner led to a collaboration that yielded insights into the likely inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ renowned character, the Lorax. According to Nathaniel J. Dominy, associate professor of anthropology, he and Donald Pease, an English professor, and two other scholars, “…used eigenface decomposition methods to calculate facial similarities and we generated the plot with t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding (t-SNE), an iterative algorithm that down-projects multidimensional information into two dimensions for visualization.” Their conclusion: The Lorax was inspired by patas monkeys of West and East Africa. These creatures share the Lorax’s general facial characteristics, particularly his distinctive mustache. The monkeys’ vocalizations sound like the Lorax’s “sawdusty sneeze.” And the monkeys depend, for 80 percent of their diet, on the Seussian-looking whistling thorn acacia trees of the Laikipia plateau. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

anthro in the news 7/30/18

Stop them before they stop us – Bumper stickers on a car in Austin, Texas, 2016. Credit: Lars Plougmann/Flickr

ethics of AI weapons research

The Guardian reported that thousands of leading AI (artificial intelligence) researchers have signed a pledge against killer robots. A key issue is that, while researchers of course can choose not to work on autonomous weapons, for those who do such research, the use of their published findings is beyond their control. The article quotes Lucy Suchman, a signatory to the pledge and professor of anthropology of science and technology at Lancaster University. She said that even though researchers cannot fully control how their work is used, they can engage and intervene when they have concerns:  “If I were a machine vision researcher who had signed the pledge I would, first, commit to tracking the subsequent uses of my technologies and speaking out against their application to automating target recognition and, second, refuse to participate in either advising or directly helping to incorporate the technology into an autonomous weapon system.”

decolonizing African universities

Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda . Credit: Makerere University

The London Review of Books published an essay by sociocultural anthropologist Mahmoud Mamdani, director of the Institute of Social Research at Makerere University and Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at the School of International and Public Affairs, and  professor of anthropology, political science and African Studies at Columbia University. He writes: “It is striking, in the postcolonial era, how little the modern African university has to do with African institutions. It draws its inspiration from the colonial period and takes as its model the discipline based, gated community that maintained a distinction between clearly defined groups: administrators, academics and fee-paying students. The origins of this arrangement lay in 19th-century Berlin, and Humboldt University, founded in 1810 in the aftermath of Napoleon’s conquest of Prussia. The African university makes its appearance later in the 19th century. At the southern end of the continent, colleges were started from scratch – Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Witwatersrand. In the north, existing institutions such as al-Azhar in Cairo, a centre of Islamic scholarship, were ‘modernised’ and new disciplines introduced. The Humboldt model aimed to produce universal scholars, men and women who stood for excellence, regardless of context, and – in the colonies – could serve as a native vanguard of ‘civilisation’ without reservation or remorse. The African university, in other words, began as part of the European colonial mission, a precursor of the one-size-fits-all initiatives that we associate with the World Bank and the IMF. And so it continued, until decolonisation.”

Continue reading “anthro in the news 7/30/18”

Fifty mosques in Tower Hamlets: Religion, modernity, and postmodernity

Tower Hamlets, one of the most ethnically diverse zones in Europe. Source: Wikipedia

By Sean Carey

According to nineteenth century anthropologists, religion would disappear with modernity, supplanted by science. Not so. Fifty mosques exist in the Tower Hamlets borough of London alone.

In this post, Sean Carey talks with  John Eade, professor of sociology and anthropology at Roehampton University and former Executive Director of CRONEM (Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism), which linked Roehampton and the University of Surrey.

After research in Kolkata (Calcutta) on the social identity of the educated Bengali Muslim middle class, Eades completed his Ph.D. in 1986 on Bangladeshi community politics in Tower Hamlets.  Since then he has researched the Islamization of urban space, globalization and the global city, British Bangladeshi identity politics, and travel and pilgrimage. He recently co-founded two book series: the Routledge Series on Religion, Travel and Tourism and the Ashgate Series on Pilgrimage.

SC: You favor a post-modern approach to the study of society. Can you explain what this is?

JE: Post-modernity means different things to different people, of course, but I associate it with the crucial change in Britain and other highly developed capitalist economies bound up with the decline of industrial society and the advance of a post-industrial order dominated by the “service sector.” This sector comprises business and financial services, media, advertising and the “cultural industry,” IT (informational technology), and high tech enterprises, as well as the professions such as medicine, law and education. The sector is based around consumption and encourages us to be the consumers of goods, images, and information organized on an increasingly global scale.

Socially, industrial decline and the advance of work in services has meant the replacement of tightly knit local communities with looser networks which may stretch across national borders (transnationalism), may reflect individual choices much more, and be encouraged by global communications associated with IT and high tech innovation. The former wool and cotton towns in northern England provide example of industrial decline while London, a highly globalized city, demonstrates the transformations wrought by the post-industrial dominance of the service sector.

In 1986, the East London Mosque was one of the first in Europe to be allowed to use loudspeakers to broadcast the adhan. Source: Wikipedia

SC: According to early anthropologists, religion would die out in the modern world, superseded by science and undermined by affluence. It hasn’t quite worked out like that, including in globalizing cities such as London. What’s going on? Continue reading “Fifty mosques in Tower Hamlets: Religion, modernity, and postmodernity”

50 Best Cultural Anthropology Dissertations of 2014

See also the best cultural anthropology dissertations of 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

As in previous years, I did a key word search in Dissertation Abstracts International to find dissertations defended in 2014 that address topics related to the anthropologyworks mission. I continue to regret that this source provides information almost exclusively on U.S. dissertations, in other words, it is not “international.”

“Best” means my “best” picks: dissertations that connect to major global issues. My search terms were human rights, justice, migration, gender/women, health, violence, conflict, environment, food, and energy.

As you may imagine, I do not read the entire dissertations, only the abstracts. My selection is based on the abstracts – and the topics as described therein. So maybe I should retitle this post as the 50 Most Important Cultural Anthropology Dissertations.

The dissertations are ordered alphabetically by the author’s last name. Dissertations are not generally available through open access. Here are my 50 picks for 2014. I was excited to read about them, and I hope you will be, too.

  • Can Anyone with Low Income Be Food Secure?: Mitigating Food Insecurity among Low Income Households with Children in the Tampa Bay Area, by Edgar Allan Amador. University of South Florida. Advisor: David Himmelgreen.

This study compares households with children at different levels of food security and insecurity using the USDA Core Food Security Module (CFSM) and an ethnographically informed analysis of coping. I seek to understand the differences between at-risk households in order to determine why some fall into more severe food insecurity while other manage to avoid it. Data on food security, demographics, use of food assistance programs, shared cultural models for food, food shopping behavior, food consumption, and measures of depression and anxiety were collected from 207 households. Future studies should explore how food insecurity and stress affect household relationships.

  • Logics of Sacrifice: An Ethnography of the Makah Whaling Conflict, by Leslie E. Beldo, Jr. The University of Chicago. Advisor: Richard A. Shweder.

This dissertation examines the ethics of human-animal interaction at work in the continued conflict over Makah indigenous whaling in the state of Washington. I argue that contemporary Makah whaling is driven as much by tribal members’ refusal to back down in the face of outside resistance as it is an affirmation of tribal identity and sovereignty. In the U.S. Pacific Northwest, Native American tribal identities were formed in the course of legal battles for fishing rights throughout the twentieth century. The dissertation takes anti-whaling activists seriously in their suggestion that Makah whaling is an environmental issue and an animal issue as much as it is a Native American sovereignty issue. Continue reading “50 Best Cultural Anthropology Dissertations of 2014”

PBS documentary on an Indian American woman’s experiences in returning to India

We are excited to announce the DVD and digital release of Crossing Lines, an award-winning PBS documentary that explores the journey of an Indian-American woman’s return to India for the first time after her father’s death.

“Watch this documentary and give your kid a hug, especially if she is a girl.”
Ashfaque Swapan, India-West

“… in my Intercultural Communication class I showed Crossing Lines.  I show it every semester I teach the class.  The students were very moved by it.  One was in tears, literally.”  Jim Neuliep, Ph.D. St. Norbert College, De Pere, WI

Like most second-generation ethnic Americans, Indira Somani has struggled with identity issues since her parents migrated to the U.S. in the 1960s.  Born and raised in the U.S., Indira led an American life, but at home her world was Indian.  Crossing Lines takes you on a journey to India, where Indira visits her father’s extended family for the first time after his death.  It is the story of how one daughter pays tribute to her father in all that he’s taught her about India, Indian culture and family.

A favorite at festivals around the world, Crossing Lines has also aired on over 100 PBS affiliates across the U.S. and has been purchased by nearly 100 universities including Harvard, Yale, University of California- Berkeley, Arizona State University, University of Texas-Austin, Seattle Community College, University of Illinois and University of Denver.

“[Indira’s] wonderful, poignant and personal story is one that like so many American stories reaches across oceans and continents in search of our family histories and truths,” Peter Bhatia, Executive Editor, The Oregonian.

“[The film] sketches a more universal story of the problems that Asian immigrants face in reconciling homelands with adopted lands.” Radhika Parameswaran, Ph.D., Critical Cultural Studies Scholar,Indiana University.

Purchase a copy of the film at our website, or call us at 1-888-367-9154. The film can be directly ordered on the website, and a study guide for educators can be downloaded.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions or to book as guest speakers. We hope you’ll consider making Crossing Lines a part of your library’s collection!

Gaza: What you can do

Without doubt many people are following the devastating attack on Gaza and may be wondering if there is anything they can do to help. If you are interested in donating to assist Gaza’s population, one excellent organization is ANERA ( They have been doing exemplary work in Gaza (along with the West Bank and Lebanon) for a long time and are trying very hard to keep it up even under these devastating conditions.

And if you are looking for something to do, consider supporting the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) call that will be coming to the American Anthropological Association. It is likely that there will be a resolution at this year’s AAA meeting for the membership to vote on. Certainly, there are a number of panels and roundtables on the AAA program to allow for discussion of this issue.

Ilana Feldman
Associate Professor of Anthropology, History, and International Affairs
George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052

CIGA Working Paper by GW graduate, Greyson Conant Brooks

A CIGA working paper, The Lighthouse and the Landing Pad: Transnational Commodification of a Global Gay Identity and a Ugandan LGBTI Rights NGO, is now available.

The author of this paper, Greyson Conant Brooks, holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Colby College and an M.A. in Anthropology with a concentration in International Development from the George Washington University. He wishes to acknowledge and thank the following for financial, logistical, analytical, and personal support: the activists and advocates at SMUG, The Lewis N. Cotlow Fund at GW, Stephen Lubkemann, Barbara Miller, Attiya Ahmad, Ujala Dhaka-Kintgen, Erica Wortham, Melissa Minor Peters, Tina Levine, Steven Barry, Leslee Brooks, Stanley Brooks, and Michael Barry. Continue reading “CIGA Working Paper by GW graduate, Greyson Conant Brooks”

“Wrestling on the page” about contemporary Tibet

On the Insight Tibet blog, Dr. Tashi Rabgey, research professor in international affairs at GW, reports on a talk by Dr. Tenzin Jinba, professor of sociology and anthropology at Lanzhou University, China, and is currently a program fellow in agrarian studies at Yale University.

The February 3 event was sponsored by the Tibet Governance Project of the Elliott School’s Institute for Global and International Studies. It was entitled: Gender, Identity Politics and State-Society Relations on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier and was based on the author’s 2014 book, In the Land of the Eastern Queendom: The Politics of Gender and Ethnicity on the Sino-Tibetan Border (University of Washington Press, 2014).

Dr. Rabgey applauds Dr. Jinbo for: “…his willingness to wrestle on the page with…questions of Tibetan identity politics, he has not only provided a refreshing new standpoint on the politics of ethnicity and ethnic representation in the context of Tibet…[and] he has also thrown down the gauntlet for the debate-to-come about the collision of Tibetan and Chinese nationhood.”

DC event: Ethno-linguistic research with Himalayan communities

The Smithsonian Institution’s Recovering voices series presents at talk on Shamans, Activists, and Word Hunters: Ethno-linguistic Research Collaborations with Himalayan Communities by Sara Shneiderman, Yale University, and  Mark Turin, University of Cambridge and Yale University.

When: Friday, February 14th, 3:30 pm

Where: Rose Room, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC

This presentation addresses the dynamics of long-term research partnerships with historically marginalized communities. The presenters will discuss the ethnographic, linguistic, and political dimensions of their collaborations with members of the Thangmi community in the eastern Himalayas over almost 20 years, as an anthropologist and linguist respectively. Thangmi is an endangered indigenous Tibeto-Burman language spoken by a community of the same name in India and Nepal.


Note: attendees without Smithsonian credentials will need to be escorted to the seminar room, which we are happy to do. If you need an escort please email at least 24 hours before the lecture.

If you would like to be added to the Recovering Voices events mailing list, please send a message to