Engaged Anthropology Grant: Catalina Villamil

Participants from Makerere and KIU, and Dr. Villamil, on World Anatomy Day.

We’re delighted to present another great addition to the Engaged Anthropology Grant blog series with a post from Catalina Villamil who had the opportunity last year to return to Uganda to share the results of her Dissertation Fieldwork Grant.

In 2015, I received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to study the evolution of head and neck anatomy in humans and our ancestors. One of the clearest adaptations in our ancestors is the adoption of bipedalism, and a large part of paleoanthropological research is focused on understanding when, how, and why bipedalism evolved. Oftentimes these questions must be answered from a limited number of fossil remains, and so biological anthropologists want to get as much information as possible from as many parts as possible. My research showed that there is little or no influence of bipedalism on the shape of the head or the underlying relationships between the head and the neck, which suggests many assumptions about locomotion from fossils may be incorrect or premature.

Department of Anatomy at Makerere University, where the lecture and workshop took place.

My project entailed the collection of data on hundreds of human skeletons from Europe and Africa, in order to sample human variation. As part of this work, I visited the Department of Anatomy at the Makerere University College of Health Sciences in Kampala, Uganda, where the Galloway Osteological Collection of recent East African human skeletons is housed. This collection is vitally important in biological anthropology, as collections of African skeletal material, and in particular recent material, are rare. Further, although Africa is home to a great deal of human variation, it is not well represented in biological anthropology or anatomical research. The academic community at Makerere was welcoming and deeply interested in promoting the use of this collection, but without access to the resources that make much of osteological research possible. As a result, I wanted to go back and share my results with them, as well as other resources that could be used by faculty and students to expand research using the collection. In 2019, I received the Engaged Anthropology Grant, which enabled me to visit Uganda again and share my results with the academic community there, and to provide a workshop on anatomical and osteological research methods.

I visited Kampala on the week of October 14, 2019 to coincide with World Anatomy Day, which is held worldwide on October 15. While there, I gave a public lecture on my research findings utilizing the Galloway Collection. Students and faculty from Makerere University, as well as from Kampala International University (KIU), attended the lecture, as did representatives of the Anatomical Society of Uganda. The next day, I also provided a methods workshop, Collecting and analyzing human osteological data, to the faculty and students at Makerere and KIU. In the workshop, I discussed osteological methods for aging and sexing, data collection standards and tools, and methods for analyzing morphological data. In addition, I provided the attendees manuals and other resources, as well as short tutorials on freely available software programs and comparative datasets that they can use to carry out data collection and analysis. With Wenner-Gren funding, I was able to bring specialized calipers that can be used for data collection on skeletal materials, to assist with the workshop discussion of standard measurements and tools. These tools were donated to the department at the end of the workshop. Dr. William Buwembo, chair of the department, and Dr. Ian Munabi hope Makerere students will use these tools and information to increase research use of the osteological collections and to improve representation of African variation in published research. As part of this workshop I also met with several graduate students who are doing research both at Makerere and KIU, and we discussed their methods and research questions, leading to some productive discussions on work that has already been done by biological anthropologists and how it relates to the work being done at these two universities.

Grounds of Mulago Hospital at Makerere University, where the Departmetn of Anatomy is located.

In addition to the lecture and workshop, I met with faculty members and others with the hope of strengthening collaborations between Makerere and my own university and creating an ongoing academic relationship. Like many universities in the US, the Makerere College of Health Sciences faces growing class sizes but limited resources, especially for research. We hope that we will be able to identify funding opportunities that will benefit both institutions and that will fund the next generation of anatomy- and osteology-oriented researchers at Makerere. At the end of my weeklong visit, I also met with collections staff in charge of skeletal and paleontological materials at the Uganda National Museum. Museum curators would like to expand knowledge and use of the collections at the National Museum, as well as to facilitate student training and the creation of educational materials for the Ugandan public. We hope to develop an ongoing collaboration as well.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: David Bond

David Bond addresses Environmental Forum on St. Croix (May 31 – June 1, 2019). Hosted by the St. Croix Foundation, the forum brought together local environmental leaders, non-profits, and government officials to confront the environmental legacy of oil refining on the island and envision a more sustainable St. Croix. Photo by Nicole Canegata.

In 2010 David Bond received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on, “Hydrocarbon Frontiers: Experts and the Social Life of Facts at a Caribbean Refinery,” supervised by Dr. Ann Laura Stoler. In 2019 Dr. Bond returned to St. Croix when he received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on, “St. Croix After HOVENSA”. 

Saint Croix stands at a climate crucible. For the past 50 years, the HOVENSA refinery on Saint Croix – for a time, the largest in the world – generated enough wages and tax revenue to support the US territory in the Caribbean. Such fiscal wealth came at tremendous environmental cost, and in 2011 the EPA uncovered a litany of egregious lapses that culminated in a record-breaking $700 million dollar fine against the refinery. A few months later, the refinery shutdown abruptly, forcing massive cuts to the territorial government budget and sending the islands economy into steep decline.

David Bond and Environmental Forum attendees. Photo by Nicole Canegata.

Five years later, with Saint Croix still in a tailspin, an unprecedented Category 5 hurricane hit the US Virgin Islands. Two weeks later, a second Category 5 hurricane slammed into Saint Croix damaging 90% of the buildings on the island and wiping out all the public infrastructure. Weighed down by the destruction of fossil fuels in environmental and climate form, Saint Croix now stands at a crossroads: many residents want to break away from fossil fuels and rebuild their island in a radically sustainable way yet state officials seem intent on doubling down on fossil fuels as the only way to generate the funds needed to rebuild and buttress the island against the coming storms. A climate crucible, one with immense stakes for those on the island and of wider significance for the rest of the world struggling with how to face up to the challenge of climate change.

Former HOVENSA refinery (at one time, the largest refinery in the world). After an egregious history of pollution was uncovered in 2011, the refinery shutdown to avoid paying a record breaking $700 million fine. Today, the site is being reopened as the Lime Tree Bay Refinery and Energy Hub (over the protests of the local community as now fines have been paid and the immense environmental contamination is being swept under the rug by federal agencies. Photo by Nicole Canegata

I was asked if I might visit the island in June 2019 to join a community conversation about how to best navigate these issues. Support from Wenner Gren helped make that visit possible, and allowed me to share findings of previous research with community leaders and chart out new lines of collaborative research with the community. An essay I wrote about the history of fossil fuels on the island became a minor actor in the unfolding drama (“Oil in the Caribbean,” Bond 2017). My research for this essay uncovered some of the refineries egregious environmental lapses and the backstory on the $700 million EPA settlement that was sidestepped and then brushed aside after the refinery closed. Although my essay hardly made a splash in the scholarly fields it addressed, about a year after it was published I started getting emails from Saint Croix. Folks on St. Croix told me it provided a new language for their lives, that it explained the history they lived and felt but didn’t know how to explain and confront. I don’t know of any higher praise for work in the social sciences. This past June, I visited the island to participate in an Environmental Forum convening on the island to discuss climate resilience and sustainability on the Saint Croix. Local environmental leaders asked me to give a keynote address that would share the arc of my essay with local leaders and key stakeholders, and then participate in a multi-day discussion of where the island might go next. It was truly an honor to spend a few days brainstorming with such a group of spirited leaders. Support from an Engaged Anthropology Grant from Wenner Gren also enabled me to conduct additional research in conversation with community concerns to publicize this climate crucible to wider audiences and advance more equitable and sustainable change on the island.

More about the St. Croix Foundation Environmental Forum can be found here.

NYAS Lecture 1/27: On the Infectious Affinities of Viruses, Plants, and Dying Human Bodies: Species’ Shifting Boundaries and Uncertain Futures

The New York Academy of Sciences brings us another great installment of its lecture series on January 27th when Dr. Charles L. Briggs, Alan Dundes Distinguished Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of California, Berkeley, presents, “On the Infectious Affinities of Viruses, Plants, and Dying Human Bodies: Species’ Shifting Boundaries and Uncertain Futures.” Dr. Jennifer Telesca, Assistant Professor of Environmental Justice, Pratt Institute, will act as discussant. The event will be held at 5:45 PM at the Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065.

Please note: the lecture begins at 6:30 PM, and while the event is free to attend pre-registration is required for entry into the building. Early registration is strongly recommended, since seating is limited. For the buffet supper, registration is also required.

This presentation charts the emergence of precarious futures by conjuring a space between medical anthropology, multispecies ethnography, linguistic anthropology, and zoonosis (exchanges of pathogens between humans and nonhumans). Its analytic task is akin to tossing a deck of cards into the air and trying to grasp how different beings would read their novel configuration. Here the entities unpredictably thrown together include humans, plants, bats, chickens, and viruses, and the forces that induce unforeseeable rearrangements include state efforts to turn environmental destruction into social justice, alternative indigenous socialisms that grant plants agency in imagining futures, and climate change. By tracing how assemblages of rabies viruses and human nerve cells occasion more-than-human speech acts and plants sensorily move between healers’ and patients’ bodies, it pushes against boundaries that would isolate species, ontologies, and subdisciplines.

About the Speaker:

Charles L. Briggs is the Alan Dundes Distinguished Professor in the Department of Anthropology, the Co-Director of the Medical Anthropology Program, Co-Director of the Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, and Chair of the Folklore Graduate Program at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include The Wood Carvers of Córdova, New Mexico; Learning How to Ask; Voices of Modernity (with Richard Bauman); Competence in Performance; Stories in the Time of Cholera (with Clara Mantini-Briggs); Making Health Public (with Daniel Hallin); and Tell Me Why My Children Died (with Clara Mantini-Briggs). He has received the James Mooney Award, the Chicago Folklore Prize, Edward Sapir Book Prize, the J. I. Staley Prize, the Américo Paredes Prize, the New Millennium Book Award, the Cultural Horizons Prize, the Robert B. Textor and Family Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology, and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Lichtenberg-Kolleg, and the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences.

All talks in this series take place at Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065. A dinner and wine reception will precede the talk: Buffet dinner at 5:45 PM. ($20 contribution for dinner guests/free for students).  Lectures begin at 6:30 PM and are free and open to the public, but registration is required.