Engaged Anthropology Grant: Asher Rosinger

Dr. Rosinger and research team travel on the Maniqui River.

While a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, Athens, Asher Rosinger received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2013 to aid research on “Hydration Strategies, Nutrition, and Health During a Lifestyle Transition in the Bolivian Amazon,” supervised by Dr. Susan Tanner. In 2019 Dr. Rosinger had the opportunity to return to the field when he received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Water and Hydration in the Bolivian Amazon: Reinforcing Traditional Strategies to Reduce Water-Related Morbidities.”

The Wenner-Gren Dissertation Grant supported my doctoral research examining hydration strategies, nutrition, and health during lifestyle transitions in the Bolivian Amazon among Tsimane’ forager-horticulturalists. The search for safe water has been and continues to be a critical problem facing humanity. The majority of this indigenous population, like 884 million people worldwide, currently lacks access to clean water and consequently has high parasite loads and high rates of dehydration.

Handing out food after the end of a workshop in the close dissertation community he worked in.

The overarching aim of this engagement project, building on findings from 12 months of dissertation fieldwork in 2 Tsimane’ communities in Lowland Bolivia, was to return to the research communities to provide hydration and water treatment educational and training workshops which will be reinforced through radio programs disseminated to all Tsimane’ communities. Through these workshops and radio program, I hoped to increase awareness and training to reduce water-related morbidities, specifically diarrheal diseases and dehydration, suffered by Tsimane’ children and adults. This engagement project had 3 main components and took place in May 2019 over 3 weeks.

First, I held a meeting with the Grand Tsimane’ Consejo, the governing Tsimane’ council which holds political power and is based in the town nearest the Tsimane communities (San Borja), to discuss the engagement project. During this meeting, I revisited the results I provided them at the conclusion of my dissertation fieldwork (preliminary findings and water quality analysis results, which indicated that the river and streams were heavily contaminated with pathogenic bacteria) with updates on new results and discussed all facets of the proposed workshop. At this meeting, the Consejo requested that instead of posters, they and the communities would rather have radio programs translated into Tsimane’ about these findings, rather than posters since these radio programs are far-reaching and they re-play them and people simply enjoy them more. Therefore, I felt it was a critical component of the engagement project to make this change.

Dr. Rosinger and his translator, Manuel Roca, discussing traditional hydration strategies during a workshop in the distant dissertation community he worked in.

Next, I visited the two communities where I conducted my dissertation research, including one community that takes two days of river travel to visit. At both communities, I conducted an educational workshop based on my findings that focused on safe hydration practices, how much water is necessary in this environment, and water treatment techniques. This workshop actively engaged in discourse with community members about additional challenges they face in cleaning water in their daily lives. It also reinforced these messages and information built on the 12 months of fieldwork, which included in-depth qualitative interviews on these topics, in a culturally-meaningful and understandable way. We did this in a fun workshop in which I also provided a community feast.

In addition, I provided starter kits and new jerry cans (the preferred means of water transport) with lids that people can not put their hands into since this is a key way that water containers become contaminated for families. I provided these new jerry cans to all households in the two communities with instructions of how to use and maintain the kits to clean water and where to purchase replacement materials in San Borja.

Dr. Rosinger working with Manuel Roca on a translation of the workshop for a radio program in Tsimane’.

Finally, I worked with a Tsimane’ translator to translate the presentation of the results from the workshop to a radio program. This translation was then reviewed and approved by the Grand Tsimane’ Consejo. It was then recorded at the Horeb Radio station, where they recorded the radio program and are playing it twice a week for the next month. The radio program was divided into three parts: 1) it discusses the importance of water, the symptoms of what happens when an individual does not drink enough water and they are dehydrated and how dehydration affects the body; 2) it discusses the best ways to rehydrate, including traditional, preferred rehydration practices of Tsimane’; and 3) it discusses different options to clean water, focusing on boiling water and using chlorine as well as appropriate dosages.

Overall, the Engaged Anthropology Grant provided me with an important opportunity to revisit the site of my dissertation research and re-engage with those communities. While I had been back once previously since my dissertation, and I had provided the results back to the communities as I was conducting my dissertation research, this trip felt different since it was all dedicated to the workshops. People were really happy to see me and happy for the opportunity to learn more about hydration and water issues and to tell me what they needed. I felt like what I was doing was as important as all the research I conducted. I think it will be critical to continue to build in these types of workshops in all future research I conduct as a way to stay engaged with the people who are most directly tied to the research.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Mary Elizabeth Schmid

Students’ drawings of “Global Farming Families of Southern Appalachia” historical narrative.

Dr. Mary Elizabeth Schmid received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2015 to aid research on “Global Farming Families of Southern Appalachia and the Mexican Bajio,” supervised by Dr. Ann E. Kingsolver. Building upon her fieldwork Dr. Schmid returned to the field after receiving an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2018 to aid engaged activities on “Anthropology in Schools: Diversity and Agricultural Change in Southern Appalachia”.

Who counts as a farming family in southern Appalachia? Which family migration stories are highlighted in agricultural histories and rural heritage programming? How do K-12 students learn these histories through narratives? What can anthropology do to enhance parity and equity in K-12 curriculums? These are a few of the questions that inspired this engaged project.

When considering Appalachia, the public imagination tends to erase and/or diminish the contemporary and historic diversity of cultures and perspectives that make Appalachia what it is today. Migration histories of families from Europe dominate the heritage lessons. These narratives can quietly teach people that “others” (deemed nonwhites and outsiders) do not belong. People in and of Appalachia know this and many contest it. For my dissertation, I worked with binational farming families in southern Appalachia and the Mexican Bajío. In the U.S., these families contribute to the food system as farmers, farm managers, packing house workers, brokers, truck drivers, and more. But, due to their racialized status in the U.S., their contributions are undervalued and mischaracterized. These Latinx-Appalachian farming families are making history as binational collective strategies. My dissertation tells their stories, counter- constructing stereotypes of Latinx in U.S. agriculture.

Students’ drawings of “Global Farming Families of Southern Appalachia” historical narrative.

Studies show that there is a need for disseminating anthropological knowledge in K-12 schools, for teaching diversity and inclusion in agricultural education, and for addressing racism within U.S. food system studies. This project addresses these needs. The active learning materials are built around a de-identified ethnographic text that weaves together the migration histories of two farming families in southern Appalachia – one from Mexico and the other from Ireland. I selected quotes that tell imagery-filled stories of what life was like for families in Mexico and southern Appalachia as they shifted from subsistence-focused agriculture to market-focused farming. The stories are woven together to both teach the history of the food system in southern Appalachia and the Mexican Bajío and to offer parity to migration histories of Appalachian farming families from Mexico and Ireland. The activities teach social science terminology (e.g., historical narrative, primary and secondary sources, technology, quality of life, and social transformation) as well as practical social science skills such as making kinship charts, interviewing family members, and reading maps.

The project addressed NC sixth-grade “common core standards” listed under History, Geography, and Economy through an integrated anthropological lens. The following are a few of the NC sixth-grade social studies core standards that guided me as I created the educational materials:

  • “Compare historical and contemporary events and issues to understand continuity and change” (6.H.2.2);
  • “Explain the factors that influenced the movement of people, goods, and ideas and the effects of that movement on societies and regions over time (e.g., location near rivers and natural barriers, trading practices and spread of culture)” (6.G.1.2);
  • “Explain how conflict, compromise, and negotiation over the availability of resources (natural, human and capital) impacted the economic development of various civilizations, societies and regions (e.g., competition for scarce resources, unequal distribution of wealth and the emergence of powerful trading networks)” (6.E.1.1).
Students’ drawings of “Global Farming Families of Southern Appalachia” historical narrative.

These enrichment lessons create an opportunity to celebrate diversity and promote intercultural belonging in public schools in rural southern Appalachia. The diversity in my sixth-grade classroom surprised even the students. Their family migration histories were often unknown to them until they interviewed a family member. Their families have come from countries like Russia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Moldova, Honduras, Ireland, Scotland and England. Students made connections to their lives through “text-to-self” writing assignments:

“Thanks for the help of getting my family to tell more stories.”

“The story of global farming families reminds me that my grandfather and me would go to the field to settle maize.”

“This story reminds me of me living in Moldova because we grow vegetables in a farm or at our house at your garden. And they used to carry vegetables with horse and now they carry by car and some still carry by horse and wagon.”

“Thank you for coming and teaching us about history and how food can tell our family history.”

Public anthropology can promote intercultural belonging through K-12 educational materials, especially those used in social studies classes. Social studies curriculums are bubbling with possibility for anthropological data and values. In the school where I worked, some students suffered from trauma due to their separation from deported parents while others expressed that they wanted their new nickname to be “build the wall”. When xenophobia is being publicly popularized, intellectuals must seek out opportunities to counter-act hate across generations. K- 12 classrooms are places where hate can be challenged, and intercultural belonging can be cultivated. As my collaborator Michelle Then, an ELA/Social Studies teacher, said, “I think its education, but it’s also social and emotional for them. From the heart. Seeing that we all came from someplace else and migrated to this place, this class. And for a lot of them, they are making connections to their families back in Mexico. They can see themselves in their school materials.”

Check out http://teachinglearninganthro.com/in the coming months for an article with a detailed account of the steps I took to transform my de-identified dissertation data into sixth-grade social studies curriculum enrichment materials.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Elena Sesma

Community history report cover.

In 2015 Dr. Elena Sesma received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “The Political Work of Memory in Collaborative Caribbean Archaeology,” supervised by Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptiste. Three years later Dr. Sesma was able to return to the field to share her results when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Living Memory and Changing Landscapes in Eleuthera, Bahamas: Developing a Community-Based Archive”.

The Wenner-Gren’s Engaged Anthropology Grant enabled me to return to my dissertation field site in Eleuthera, Bahamas for several weeks to continue collaboration with local research partners and participants from my dissertation research. My dissertation, titled “The Political Work of Memory in Collaborative Caribbean Archaeology” was framed around the principles of community-based, participatory research, and explored the ways in which descendants of a nineteenth century Bahamian plantation constructed and employed a collective memory around the historic and contemporary cultural landscapes of the former plantation acreage.  Through a combination of archaeological and ethnographic methods, the research revealed how descendants materialized memory on a living landscape that many politicians, developers, and foreign corporations prefer to see as vacant and therefore ideal for development.

Poster announcing a public community meeting in Wemyss Bight settlement, May 23, 2019.

This engagement project was intended to build on the community-based nature of the dissertation project by 1) sharing research findings, copies of data, and a written community history report to participants, 2) working with collaborators and local organizations to determine possible future projects and how best to manage heritage sites, and 3) beginning to develop a local archive of island history and collective memory. During the fall of 2018, I expanded a short report of my research that I had originally composed immediately after completing my dissertation fieldwork into a much longer report that included the general history of south Eleuthera, excerpts from oral histories, a discussion of key sites of memory that might benefit from further research or conservation, and copies of historical records regarding the former plantation estate. << https://scholarworks.umass.edu/anthro_digs_reports/1/>> Additionally, I began uploading 360-degree panoramas of several significant south Eleutheran historical and cultural sites to Google Earth at the request of several former participants. << https://goo.gl/maps/MYxDMHFztpEuDWY99>>

Elena Sesma with community partner, Clara Williams, librarian at the Wemyss Bight Community Library.

One of the keys to community-based research, as I have learned over the process of a 5-year long collaborative project, is the need for flexibility and respect for the wishes, needs, and availability of my collaborators. This can, of course, delay the process of research or entirely reshape a well-thought out research plan, but is nonetheless an essential component of doing meaningful and productive community-based research. This engaged anthropology project, conducted in May of 2019, used the same framework, which meant that the first step was to connect with my various collaborators and partners to determine their availability and interest in proceeding with my proposal to run workshops and planning meetings around the development of a community archive. Interest was high but availability in people’s schedules was not. Instead of large-group planning meetings, I met with many of my collaborators and past participants on an individual basis to share research findings and begin discussing the potential for a locally-held and community-controlled archive. In Nassau, I met with the director of the Bahamas Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Corporation to deliver copies of the community history report I produced in the winter of 2018 as well as digital copies of data gathered during the course of my permitted dissertation research. We also discussed what the creation of a local archive might look like in terms of investment and sustainability. I also spoke with members of the descendant community in Nassau whom I had not previously been introduced to. These conversations added important nuance to my understanding of people’s relationships to the land, complicated some of my plans, but ultimately expanded the dialogue over the site’s importance and how best to care for it.

Elena Sesma documents a cemetery wall and grave stone on an eroding beach site, Bannerman Town, Eleuthera, Bahamas.

On Eleuthera, I met with representatives of local organizations and institutions, such as local librarians, non-profit directors, and the leadership of community associations. These research partners each received multiple copies of the community report and we had long discussions about how to translate this report and my dissertation into the basis for a growing community archive. I shared drafts of open access story maps that I had created based on the community report and dissertation, but together we decided to delay the publication of these maps online. Additionally, I met with almost all of my former participants who had been a part of the dissertation research, and in one case, the daughter of a participant who had died the previous year. With each person, I updated them on the status of the dissertation, shared a copy of the community history report, and in many cases, delivered hard copy transcripts of the interviews and oral histories I had done with them. As in the case of all research, it took time (sometimes years) to build rapport with some participants. In the case of southern Eleuthera, many residents have a substantial and well-justified suspicion of outsiders who show up with recording devices and paperwork. Even some of those individuals who had quickly warmed to me in the past were genuinely surprised to see me return and were taken aback when I provided copies of their interviews and a copy of the community report I wrote. It was clear then how unexpected but truly appreciated this kind of commitment and continued engagement is for communities that often feel forgotten by other institutions.

The culmination of these individual meetings and visits was a public meeting held at the Wemyss Bight Community Library. There, I shared a summary of my dissertation, some key findings outlined in the community history report, and presented several potential options for what a community archive might entail in terms of additional research and training, what form it might take, and how it might be accessed. This public meeting was both a chance for me to disseminate my research, as well as an opportunity to open the door to new questions, new participants, and ongoing dialogue between local participants and institutional collaborators.

As this project wrapped up, I reflected deeply on the process and the point of engagement in anthropology, with its many varied meanings and methods. Engagement takes on different forms, and like any good anthropologist – like any good human – we adapt. Engagement is meeting with community partners and collaborators, giving updates and talking about how to build something even bigger and better with the work we’ve already done. Engagement is meeting with officials who manage and oversee heritage resources on all the Bahamas’ 700 islands. Engagement is talking with community members who haven’t previously been involved, absorbing their frustrations at having been left out. Engagement happens amongst large groups at public meetings, where residents and researchers dialogue, fill in holes that were maybe missed in earlier research, imaging a future where this work can continue. Engagement also happens individually, in the living rooms, kitchens, front yards, and shops of those who participated. One of the most profound confirmations of this trip was acknowledging that all of these activities count as engagement, especially if the intention to share and collaborate and dialogue is there.