Archive for January 30, 2015

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Lisa Trever

Lisa Trever is Assistant Professor of Visual Studies in the Department of History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2010, while a doctoral student at Harvard University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘The Agency of Images: Mural Painting and Architectural Sculpture on the North Coast of Peru,’ supervised by Dr. Thomas Bitting Foster Cummins. In 2014, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to Peru and organize a series of scholarly events and community-focused projects tied to her dissertation fieldwork.

My dissertation research project was an interdisciplinary study of wall painting, architectural configurations, and archaeological contexts at the Moche (or Mochica) site of Pañamarca (ca. 600–850 CE) on the north-central coast of Peru. This project consisted of archaeological reconnaissance, mapping, and excavation of ancient adobe temple walls painted with scenes of ritual processions, presentations of goblets, and mythological cycles of divine battles. Some of these mural paintings had been documented before, in the 1930s by Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejía Xesspe and in the 1950s by American archaeologist Richard Schaedel and Italo-Peruvian archaeologist Duccio Bonavia. Others were discovered by our field project.

Lisa Trever and Peruvian archaeology student Lussiana Medina Apí excavating a mural painting at Pañamarca in 2010.

Once excavated, my project’s work with the murals entailed conservation, extensive documentation through photography, pencil drawing, and watercolor, and my own close art historical study of the form and facture of each painted wall. The data gathered from this project formed the foundation of my dissertation “Moche Mural Painting at Pañamarca: A Study of Image Making and Experience in Ancient Peru,” which I completed in the History of Art and Architecture Department at Harvard University in 2013. This dissertation is a study of the Pañamarca mural paintings within the physical and social contexts of their architectural settings and the evidence for ritual activity documented in the form of material offerings within the painted temples.

I am now working with collaborators Jorge Gamboa Velásquez, Ricardo Toribio Rodríguez, and mural conservation advisor Ricardo Morales Gamarra to complete the book manuscript containing the complete findings of our fieldwork. The Archaeology of Mural Painting at Pañamarca will be published with a specialized press. At the same time, I am completing my own synthetic and analytical volume on wall painting and indexical evidence for ancient reception of and responses to painted images, tentatively titled Image Making and Experience in Ancient Peru.

Although these two publication projects are well under way, academic publishing of course takes time. It was thus very important for me to be able to return to Peru this year with the support of the Wenner-Gren Foundation to begin to share the results of this project with academic and regional audiences there. The Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to fly from San Francisco to Lima to present color photographs and prints of the watercolor illustrations of the murals that my project created to scholars and officials in the Ministerio de Cultura, the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, the municipal Museo de Arte de Lima, and the Museo Larco. Each of these presentations began a series of conversations that continue to bear fruit as we think collaboratively about how best to exhibit the results of this project in Peru in the near future and how to plan for the future preservation of the site.

Excavation of the painting of a Moche priestess on a temple pillar at Pañamarca.

From Lima I then traveled north six hours to the city of Casma, where the archaeological collections from our project are stored in the Museo Regional “Max Uhle” at the site of Sechín. There I was again able to present photographs and images produced by my project to the museum director. The Engaged Anthropology Grant also permitted me to support the museum and other archaeologists working in the region of Ancash by funding the construction of a new storeroom for collections on the grounds of the museum. Secure storage space is at a premium at this small regional museum, as at many others. The new space will be a real benefit to the museum and to other research projects working in the region.

Also while in Casma I was able to assess the conditions of the packaging and storage of our collections to ensure their long-term preservation. I took the opportunity to perform some conservation work on the feathered shield we discovered at Pañamarca in 2010. This work consisted primarily in rehousing the shield in a sturdy archival box and with acid-free paper that I brought with me from the United States. I also installed a temperature and humidity monitor within the storeroom. During this museum stay I selected carbon samples from our collections and began the process of requesting government permission to export them to the United States for radiocarbon dating. That process was completed in November and the samples are presently on their way to the laboratory for testing.

The feathered shield discovered at Pañamarca...

Traveling further north from Casma to Trujillo, I continued my series of meetings with archaeologists and conservators working in the area, including some members of my own project whom I had not seen in nearly four years. The culminating moment of this two-week visit to Peru was a public, Spanish-language, lecture that I gave to a standing room only audience on a Friday evening at the Museo de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia of the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo. It was a tremendous honor to be given this forum to share the results of our intensive research project with colleagues, with anthropology and archaeology students, and with the community of Trujillo.

...and its new acid-free storage.

I am immensely grateful to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for its support of these activities and continued conversations about this research with Peruvian colleagues and stakeholders. These conversations are still ongoing several months later, as we are making new plans for future endeavors, conferences, seminars, and publications. The Engaged Anthropology Grant gave me the opportunity to cultivate these relationships, which are essential to research and to our common mission to discover and make known as much as we can about the ancient American past and the cultural and artistic traditions of its people.

July 2014 lecture announcement in Trujillo, Peru

NYAS @ WGF: Coastal Archaeology, the Anthropocene, and the Future of Island Ecosystems

Anacapa Island (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

PLEASE NOTE that Monday’s lecture (1/26) has been CANCELLED due to inclement weather. Stay tuned for more information regarding possible rescheduling or other announcements concerning the New York Academy of Sciences Anthropology Section lecture series. 

Our popular lecture series with the New York Academy of Sciences’ Anthropology section resumes for the new year next Monday, January 26, 2015, when we’ll welcome Torben Rick, Director and Curator of North American Archaeology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, to discuss the Anthropocene and the present and future challenges it poses to coastal archaeology and historical ecology.

We live in a time of rapid global ecological change and degradation, prompting many to speculate that we have entered the Anthropocene, a time dominated by human activities. Coastal archaeology and historical ecology provide an important framework for understanding contemporary environmental problems and can help guide future conservation, restoration, and management. Drawing on examples from California’s Channel Islands and other island ecosystems around the world, I explore the ways that archaeology can help enhance contemporary environmental management and chart a course for future collaborative research around the world.

This event will take place at the Wenner-Gren Foundation Building, 470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor, New York (at 32nd Street). A dinner and wine reception (free to students) will precede the talk at 6pm, with Dr. Rick begining his lecture at 7pm.  The event is free, but registration with the New York Academy of Sciences is required.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Dina Makram-Ebeid

Location of the former Helwan Governorate in Egypt. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Dina Makram-Ebeid is Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. She joins us today to relate her experience working with our Engaged Anthropology Grant in her fieldsite south of Cairo.

In December 2013 a large factory occupation took place at the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company (EISCO) in Helwan. EISCO is Egypt’s largest fully-integrated public sector steel plant located in the south of Cairo. The December occupation was led by young workers that joined the plant from 2007 to work on temporary and daily-waged basis. The occupation lasted a month with demands raised ranging from receiving the unpaid sixteen months’ worth of bonus pay to the ousting of the CEO and the corrupt union. This was the largest collective action in EISCO since 1989, when workers staged a strike that ended with the state security storming the plant, killing one worker and detaining and torturing many, including members of the public who stood in solidarity. As a post-doctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany, I returned to my doctoral field site in Helwan, Egypt from August 2013 to May 2014 to conduct more fieldwork on labour politics during the revolution.  With the support of the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant I co-organised two workshops and an exhibition with my previous informants and with young members of the community.

The first workshop enabled the young generation of workers that led the recent occupation to exchange thoughts on their experience with the older workers who led the 1989 strike and to reflect on their demands, strategies and tactics. The exchange highlighted how each generation had different views on doing politics, which opened the space for more deliberation on the differences in opportunities and challenges each group had. Local academics, labour journalists and labour activists were present in various panels.

The platform allowed me to share with workers and others present in the workshop the findings of my PhD research, whose fieldwork I conducted on the shop-floors of EISCO and in the surrounding company town between 2008-2010. My PhD thesis focused on the place of the tenured work contract in public sector factories of Egypt, and how this form of contract comes to be a kind of potential property that crosses the boundaries of common understandings of “private property” and the “public sector.”  I looked at the fragmentation of the labour force along the lines of access to permanent employment and how it was central to the state’s reproduction of dispossession. My work highlighted how EISCO jobs were primarily bequeathed to children of existing workers, thus denying ‘outsiders’ access to stable work and conditioning them to a perpetual proletarian condition. I argued in my research that this ability to bequeath positions to children enabled steel workers to consider themselves part of the middle class, intensified conflicts between tenured and untenured workers in the locality and undermined the solidarities in labour movement. The thesis showed how the immaterial labour of expanding networks and relations is made into a resource that is part of calculations regulating labour regimes that turn what I called ‘the politics of stability’ into norm.

The research findings were thus discussed in the workshop hand in hand with strategies to build solidarity among workers. During the sessions we discussed how the legal modifications made by the state, including the new Labour Law of 2003, which introduced temporary and daily employment in public plants for the first time, created a politics around permanent work contracts and continued to affect collective politics in the plant. We also discussed the challenges in countering the practice of bequeathing permanent jobs to one’s children. The closing sessions located alternatives to the labour regimes that were instated under Mubarak and reflected on organising with more precarious workers outside EISCO. Together we learnt about the mechanisms of labour governance over the longue durée and came up with ideas on how to counter them in practice. During the workshop I also shared with workers documents that I had gathered for my PhD research and which could aid them in their struggle. The documents ranged from bylaws of the plant, to a book collectively edited by workers on the 1989 strike, to various legal and media documents around the 1989 strike. These proved quite helpful to those engaged in organising workers in the plant.

The second workshop included film makers, workers and young members of the community in Helwan. The members of the community were introduced to the basics of film-making, from filming with small devices to film editing and were encouraged to do their own films. Talented members continued to work on a low-budget film project about work politics in Egypt. The experience gave the participants the tools to document the injustices around them and to connect with those who have some access to mainstream media. A final photo exhibition of the plant was placed around the space of the first workshop. It enabled reflections by the group on labour histories, collective memories, and alternative imaginations. Overall the workshops and exhibition were a success, they acted as platforms for knowledge sharing, for reflections on the current predicaments and for imagining alternative futures.

Interview: Michael Chazan on “The Harvard Kalahari Project”

Dr. Michael Chazan is professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto and director of its Archaeology Center. Dr. Chazan’s history with the Foundation goes back to 2007, when he received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research at Wonderwerk Cave in Northern Cape Province, South Africa, which helped establish it as one of the most important archaeological sites in Southern Africa. In 2011, he and colleague Dr. Susan Pfeiffer co-organized the 2012 Meeting of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA) at UToronto with Wenner-Gren support. During the meeting, Chazan and Pfeiffer took the opportunity to organize a retrospective of the Harvard Kalahari project, commemorating its wide influence on the field, and saving for posterity the reflections of the scholars involved.

 

What is/was the Harvard Kalahari Project and why was it important in the development of archaeology and anthropology in Africa?

From 1963 to 1976 a team of researchers led by Richard Lee and the late Irv Devore studied the Ju/’hoansi of the Kalahari. Their collective work gave rise to insights about diverse topics from child care to nutrition.  For archaeologists this project, including the archaeological and ethnoarchaeological research by Allison Brooks and John Yellin, has been a critical resource for understanding hunter-gatherer societies.

What are the main legacies of the Harvard Kalahari Project? How does it relate to the Kalahari Peoples Fund, which is one of the oldest anthropological advocacy groups in North America?

There is of course a tremendous scientific legacy that stretches across the social sciences.  There is also the literary legacy left by Margerie Schostack’s book, “Nisa: the Life and Words of a !Kung Woman, and the many other books and articles written by the members of the project.  What is clear in the film is that the research team collectively saw the need for social advocacy, leading to the establishment of the Kalahari Peoples Fund – still very active today.  This linkage between a strong program of empirical research and social advocacy is the hallmark of this group’s work. I think quite an interesting model for anthropology as a discipline.

Why was it important to hold a retrospective of the project 2012, who participated, and what were the outcomes of the meeting?

Susan Pfeiffer and I felt that the meeting of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists in Toronto would be a great opportunity to bring together members of the Harvard Kalahari Project to talk about their experience.  Brooks and Yellen are active members, while Richard Lee and Nancy Howell are emeritus U of Toronto faculty. We thought that this would be a natural venue for a reunion. Once we suggested it, momentum arose within the group. All we had to do was secure a venue and arrange for the taping. Part of the motivation for me was the sense that there have been high profile negative stories emerging about anthropological fieldwork, so we can benefit from a reminder of how collaborative research teams can make a fundamental, positive contribution.  We also felt that the so-called Kalahari Debate that had swirled through the 90′s had simmered down to an extent where it would be possible to get a more balanced perspective on the experiences  of the members of the Kalahari Project.
What can we learn from the Harvard Kalahari Project as anthropology and archaeology move into the second decade of the 21st Century?

I think we learn quite a bit from the Harvard Kalahari Project and the initiatives it started.  The project shows the rich potential of collaboration. What we see in the film is how human this collaboration is.  For me, the film is quite inspiring.  We see a group of senior scholars who have been profoundly shaped by the experience they had doing fieldwork. At the same time, we see their deep conviction that research matters– that there is an empirical reality and that gaining new scientific insight is in and of itself important.  Their experience reminds us of the vastness of human experience and the vital contribution that anthropology can make.