Interview: Joseph Julian Ziems Weiss

Joseph Julian Ziems Weiss is a PH.D. student in Anthropology at the University of Chicago. In the fall of 2011 he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Unsettled Co-Existence: Political Community and Everyday Life on Canada’s Northwest Coast,’ supervised by Dr. Jean Comaroff. We touched base with Joseph to learn more about his research on the remote archipelago of Haida Gwaii and the tricky game of sovereignty that plays out amongst its inhabitants. 


Could we begin by learning a bit about your fieldsite?

map courtesy wikipedia

My project is focused on Haida Gwaii, an island archipelago just off the coast of Western Canada. Haida Gwaii (which means literally “Islands of the People”) is the traditional territory of the Haida nation, whose people have inhabited the islands since time immemorial. It’s also claimed by the Canadian government on behalf of the Crown and forms part of the province of British Columbia. The islands are pretty rural, with only one major paved highway connecting its communities together, mail that comes by ferry, and completely appalling grocery store prices. Logging roads veer off from the highway like veins, reflecting the islands’ recent history as a major logging center. But even with the bald patches left by a century of logging in the tree cover, the islands are one of the most beautiful places on Earth, something I think would still claim even if I wasn’t just a bit biased.

Haida Gwaii’s population lives in small towns dotting the islands, the largest of which has a population of about 1,200. There are two Haida reserve communities and about four other towns with by and large split populations. That said, segregation was far more pronounced in earlier colonial times, and there’s a still sense that some of the non-reserve towns are basically “settler” communities. My work’s located principally in Old Massett, the Haida community on the north end of the islands. Old Masset’s on reserve, but the neighboring formerly exclusively settler town of Masset isn’t, and you really get a sense of the colonial history of the place when you notice that all the grocery stores, the credit union, and amenities are located exclusively “uptown” in Masset. My day-to-day is spent mostly in Old Massett as a volunteer at the local Elementary school, but one is always moving between communities for public events, to see friends, or even just to get the mail or pick up groceries. It’s an interesting place to live and, of course, to conduct research.


Engaged Anthropology Grant: Dr. Frederick Kyalo Manthi

Some of the young Turkana men involved in the Engaged Anthropology Program with Dr. Manthi in the middle.

Dr. Frederick Kyalo Manthi is is a senior research scientist and head of the paleontology section at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi. He has been involved with the Wenner-Gren Foundation since 2006, completing several post-Ph.D. research grants aiding investigation of Pleistocene-era Kenya and running workshops intended to spread human-evolution education in Kenya. He is also one of the very first recipients of WGF’s new Engaged Anthropology grant, which allowed him to bring his research back to the people of his fieldsite, northern Kenya’s Turkana Basin. As per the requirements of the EAG, Manthi has submitted his final report to the Wenner-Gren Blog, so that we can all gain some insight into his experience with this exciting new program. 


Upcoming June Conferences & Workshops

June is just around the corner and with it comes two great new WGF-sponsored programs; one workshop and one conference. Let’s learn a bit more about them.


Linguistic and Material Intimacies of Mobile Phones

June 4-7, 2013

The National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C. (administered by the George Washington University Department of Anthropology)

This workshop builds on and integrates emerging but distinct literatures on the social, cultural, linguistic, and material aspects of mobile phones. We synthesize these approaches by focusing on three innovative and cross-cutting themes: 1) Inscription – How do mobile phones materialize and fix meanings using acoustic, visual and tactile resources? 2) Intimacy – How do mobile phones enable and challenge the boundaries of privacy, selfhood and personal desire as they connect us to ever wider social networks? 3) Fetishization – How does the materiality of mobile phones mediate and privilege certain aspects of a user’s devotion to their phone? This workshop will invite a collection of established and emerging scholars to Washington, DC in early June of 2013 for three days to present and discuss theoretically informed case studies that examine and challenge these themes. This workshop will not only produce a scholarly volume of essays, but will also provide the theoretical foundation for a planned exhibit on mobile phones at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.


Resilience and Vulnerability in Hunter-Gatherer Research (10th Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies)

June 25-28, 2013

University of Liverpool

The 10th Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies, CHaGS 10, provides a forum for the research results that have since emerged in a field which continues to be one of the few domains in anthropology where research across all four anthropological subdisciplines takes place. The main theme of the conference to be held in Liverpool, UK, is ‘Resilience and Vulnerability’ which is highly relevant to hunter-gatherer research but also more generally in a world struggling with economic, cultural and ecological turmoil. In its 20 panels, CHaGS 10 will seek to show what the world in general and hunter-gatherer research in particular might learn from some of the most resilient but also most vulnerable of societies past and present. The conference will include fresh empirical input on the current state of hunter-gatherer research in the context of resilience and vulnerability, and it will also provide room for discussions concerning methodological innovations for current and future research in this domain that has decreasing opportunities for conventional field research. There is no anthropological association, nor any other conference that would be in the position to fulfil this role and ChaGS 10 will provide the opportunity to create the institutional tools, in terms of an academic organization and in terms of a regular publication outlet, that ensure the continuity of hunter-gatherer research into the future.


To learn more about the Wenner-Gren Foundation and our Conference & Workshop Grant Program, please visit our Programs page. And check back for more upcoming conferences in the summer months!


NYAS @ WGF April 29th: Audio Now Available!

Dr. Ramon-Zayas & Dr. Colon

We would like to again thank Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas of Baruch College, CUNY and Edgar Rivera Colon of Columbia University for speaking at our offices on April 29th, presenting the final New York Academy of Sciences anthropology section lecture of the academic year, Cartography of “Racial Democracy”: Race, Affect, and the Production of Abject Subjects among Brazilians and Puerto Ricans in Newark. 

Listen to a recording of the talk now, the accompanying Q&A, and then tell us what you think!