Archive for Conferences & Symposia

Symposium #153: “Human Colonization of Asia in the Late Pleistocene”

The 153rd Wenner-Gren Symposium, “Human Colonization of Asia in the Late Pleistocene” has just recently concluded in Sintra, Portugal. As always, you can expect a Current Anthropology special issue forthcoming, containing the meeting’s papers and available to all 100% Open-Access.

Front: Adam Powell, Chris Bae, Martin Sikora, Michael Petraglia, Patrick Roberts, Katerina Harvati, Fabrice Demeter / Middle: Sue O’Connor, Kelly Graf, María Martinón-Torres, Knut Bretzke, Yuichi Nakazawa, Leslie Aiello / Back: Robin Dennell, Max Aubert, Alexandra Buzhilova, Tom Higham, Jimbob Blinkhorn, Youping Wang

 

ORGANIZERS’ STATEMENT

“Human Colonization of Asia in the Late Pleistocene”

Christopher J. Bae, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Michael D. Petraglia, University of Oxford

Katerina Douka, University of Oxford

The identification of Neanderthals and Denisovans, along with growing fossil and archaeological evidence for the presence of modern humans in Asia earlier than originally thought, places the spotlight on the last 125,000 years. Exciting and new evidence in Asia is just beginning to rival in importance the better known paleoanthropological records of Europe and Africa. Hence, there is a need to critically examine, synthesize, and debate the Asian record from a multidisciplinary perspective, thereby contributing to human evolutionary studies in general.

The purpose of this symposium is to bring together a group of scholars who are investigating the evolutionary history of Asia from different disciplinary perspectives. The symposium will thus be multidisciplinary, assembling hominin paleontologists, archaeologists, geneticists, and geochronologists with active Asia-based research projects. In addition, leading specialists who are intimately familiar with the records of different parts of Asia are invited, thus ensuring the group is aware of the latest findings and allowing for a richer inter-regional comparison of human occupation history. The overall objective is to develop a deeper appreciation about the timing and nature of the spread of humans across Asia during the Late Pleistocene, placing particular emphasis on single or multiple waves of expansion. This is especially important in terms of understanding the potential interactions of various coeval hominin taxa who inhabited various sub-regions of Asia.

There are at least five broad ranging questions that we will focus on, discuss, and debate:

  • What are the implications for an earlier dispersal of modern humans out of Africa and into Asia, and what role, if any, did behavioral innovations play in facilitating these dispersals?
  • What happened when modern humans colonized new territories, e.g., did it lead to interbreeding among populations? Competitive exclusion followed by extinction?
  • What do modern and ancient DNA studies suggest regarding the timing and route modern humans took out of Africa and into Asia?  Do the hominin paleontological and archaeological studies support these models?
  • What is the importance/implication of a more eastward expansion of Neanderthals into Central Asia, and what shall we make of the recent Denisovan findings?
  • How do recent multidisciplinary findings force researchers to rethink the human evolutionary record of Asia and beyond?

It is time to re-examine the Late Pleistocene human evolutionary record of Asia. We anticipate that bringing together a diverse group of researchers will move the field forward and lead to new insights and set the tone for future research.

 

Interview: Dr. Denise Blum

Dr. Denise Blum is Associate Professor in the Department of Education at Oklahoma State University. An educational anthropologist who has been conducting research in the Republic of Cuba since 1995, Dr. Blum received a Wenner-Gren Conference & Workshop Grant to organize ‘Rethinking Public Anthropology through Epistemic Politics and Practice’ at the Hotel Habana Riviera in Havana, Cuba, in collaboration with Rodrigo Espina Prieto and Rosalin Bayona Mojena of the Juan Marinello Cuban Institute of Cultural Research. We spoke to Dr. Blum to learn more about this unprecedented collaborative project.

 

Could you talk a little about how this project first got underway? What goals were you hoping to accomplish?

In November 2014 I was on sabbatical in Cuba, doing follow up research about my initial research with 9th graders in 1999 now as 30 year olds to see how their lives had played out. Did they fulfill their aspirations of their high school years? What correspondence did their schooling have with their current employment and quality of life?

I was invited by the Juan Marinello Cuban Institute of Cultural Research in Havana to collaborate and receive mentorship on my current project during my sabbatical.

During this time I initiated a conversation with my mentor, the Associate Director of the Institute, about the possibility of applying for a Wenner-Gren grant to bring an anthropology workshop to Havana.

It must be understood that, first of all, no one in Cuba has a Ph.D. in Anthropology, unless they were able to leave the country to obtain it. The discipline of anthropology was eliminated from The University of Havana at the beginning of the Revolution and did not rear its head again until the mid 2000s.  A course in anthropology may serve those in the natural sciences now, who pursue a career in archeology, forensics or health care.  A master’s degree in anthropology was recently created in 2008 and so far two selected cohorts have been able to pursue it——again for the same types of careers aforementioned. Therefore, the career as an anthropologist still does not exist in Cuba.

With this problematic and the desire to collaborate with the United States on this grant, we thought it to be most practical to focus the workshop on applied and activist anthropology. Regardless of recent changes, the Cuban government and society feel strongly about goals of social justice. Anthropological fieldwork, in general, does not always serve this purpose. Therefore, this way we could assure to serve Cuban interests the most, considering differing ideologies and politics, and bring focus to the workshop.

To be efficient with our time together, I advocated for the invited participants to be all Spanish-speaking.

 

How many of the non-Cuban participants had prior experience with the country? 

Surprisingly, out of the 13 participants, only 5 participants had visited the country previously.

 

What were some of the challenges of hosting a workshop in Havana? 

I assumed that all of the Latin American participants would not have any challenges while in Cuba. One really difficult situation is money.  A participant from Brazil called me at 11pm at the hotel and told me that the airport “Cadeca,” or money exchange, would not change her reales and asked me that if she got a taxi to the hotel ($20 USD equivalent) would I be able to pay for it. I agreed and fortunately all of us had enough extra money to pool our funds during the entire time to cover her expenses because nowhere in Havana (banks included) would they change her reales nor could she withdraw money on her bank or credit card.

For others, they brought some cash, thinking they could put many of their expenses on credit card. Very few places take a credit card: typically only hotels and very expensive stores. So people did ask to borrow money from me, and I was glad that I had extra cash. In addition, everything is much more expensive than you can imagine; oftentimes you would pay more than in the United States for the same item.  For example, at a restaurant, it might be difficult to pay less than $10 USD for a sandwich and drink. You have to really know Cuba to find the restaurants in Cuban pesos; then your meal might cost the equivalent of $5 USD.

For clarification, there are two currencies in use in Cuba: CUCs and the Cuban peso. The CUC, or convertible peso, has been in use since 1994, when it was treated as equivalent to the U.S. dollar. Officially exchangeable only within the country, its value is $1USD and is the more dominant of the two, especially for tourists.  The Cuban peso is valued at 22 Cuban pesos to the US dollar and is typically used by Cubans to obtain the limited goods that the Cuban government offers at the bodega, where the ration booklet is in effect, but staples are limited. Most Cubans earn salaries in Cuban pesos (average Cuban salary varies between $20-$30 a month), as they work for the state. They must convert these pesos to CUCs to buy almost everything they need, which are at prices equivalent to stores in the US, take for example, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, etc.

Definitely the most difficult situation for me was the money. I have been traveling to and doing research in Cuba for 20 years and am very resourceful and well networked, but I had never done a workshop before and this brought a couple of major challenges.

First, I was dealing with the logistics with a Cuban scholar who did not have a phone, not to mention internet for Skype. She typically used a pay phone on the street when making phone calls to anyone in Havana or she called from the phone at the research institute. However, neither place is equipped (because others need to use the phone too) to deal with lengthy phone calls (more than 5-10 minutes). This entire workshop was planned via email without ever talking to my contacts in Cuba—-hundreds (if not thousands) of emails Cuba-US. So many details and frequently there were misunderstandings. In addition, I had to communicate with the other 12 participants (3 from the US and 9 from Latin America), organize passport information and information for a Cuban visas, write letters of invitation in Spanish and English, translate wiring forms that were written in English to Spanish so that the Spanish-speaking folks could fill them out and my university could disburse traveling funds to them (there were also mixups with the money not arriving at the proper bank). None of the aforementioned went smoothly. In fact, the scanned passport pages would not pass through email. The Cuba side did not have access to Dropbox, so I had to find someone traveling to Cuba to take all of this paperwork on a flashdrive to the Institute.  There were glitches at every turn, costing more time and energy on my part.  Creating the program was a collaboration that went through many renditions until the day before the workshop. Some of the initial participants dropped out at the last minute. I invited new ones and the process of getting them into the workshop was repeated with these new participants.

In addition, a Dropbox was created so US and Latin American scholars could deposit select research articles, which could be uploaded to flashdrives to share with the Cubans in the workshops. Folders (with paper, program, and pen) were created at my university for the workshop. We had, with 6 Cuban panelists, a total of 22 presenters for the workshop and 38 Cuban scholars attending in the audience.  Everything for the workshop was created with 60 people, presenters and audience, in mind.

The major challenge for me was that I had reservations at the Hotel Riviera via email based on prices I saw on their website at $35 USD per night. When I arrived in Havana 4 days before the workshop began, the hotel told  me that that website operated under a different entity than the hotel and that they could not offer me that price. I contacted the website and they did not have those rooms available any longer.  The hotel was quoting me $144 per night for a double and $125 for a single. The rooms were not paid for —–only reserved—-and I had 12 people arriving in 48 hours to Havana.  Needless to say, I did not have the cash to pay for this. The Latin Americans would not be able to afford the rooms at this price, and all of the other hotels, which were only slightly lower in price, were booked.  We looked for peoples’ homes to place the participants—–nothing available. Finally, I decided to pay for the rooms through the agency. They accepted my credit card because it went through a bank in Amsterdam. I asked all of the Latin American participants to pay me $35 per night (for 3 nights) and the 3 US participants to pay me the full amount.  I never revealed this story to the Latin American participants; I absorbed the cost and was a nervous wreck in the process and broke out in hives that didn’t disappear until the workshop was over.

Other than the various situations with the money, it was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, partly because it brought so much meaning to all involved, an eye opener every day. My mentor, renowned cultural anthropologist, Doug Foley, had always wanted to conduct research in Cuba and for various factors in his life, stayed in Texas and accomplished his well-known ethnography on the raza in South Texas instead. He has spent years living vicariously through my research and this was a thrilling experience for him.  When I was able to finally take him to a school compound on our own, where I had connections to the teachers there, we were able to visit several classrooms and hear from students. This was an unplanned visit. What he witnessed and his reaction was so moving to me; it was additional confirmation to me that I had had the best mentor possible in my career as an anthropologist. He said, “This is very emotional. It has touched my heart.”  We all strive to be understood. I’m sometimes seen as fanatical about Cuba’s education system, and finally, the person who had been reading my work all of these years understood me and knew why Cuba’s education system is truly revolutionary. This marked an important moment for me.

 

It was very important for your workshop that you publish on a Cuban press. Could you talk a little about the Cuban publishing process?

Oh my gosh.  Well, since I did the bulk of the legwork on the workshop, the Cubans at the research institute will review the manuscripts. The Juan Marinello Research Institute has its own publication press.  In Cuba, typically you have to pay to fund your book and most Cubans find funding from external sources. We were quoted that $3000 will fund 1000 copies of the book (approximately 250 pages) containing chapters from those participants who presented research and ideas on activist and applied anthropology at the workshop. This will be published in Spanish and be able to have a further reach to Cubans, rather than being published outside of the island. Our manuscripts are due by March 4th and the hope is that the book will be published by September 2016.

 

What was it like working with Cuban anthropologists? Was there anything particular that caught you by surprise? 

That there are no Cuban anthropologists, except Jesus Guanche, who was able to obtain his Ph.D. outside of Cuba.

 

Finally, what did you take from this remarkable (indeed, groundbreaking) experience? Does the group have any plans on working together again in the future?

The Cubans commented on how rich in information the group was and how cohesive we were as a group—-that there a strong, warm personal connection and solidarity—- where few people knew more than one other person besides myself.  Everyone was very very appreciative of this opportunity. Everyone learned something new and has maintained contact.

Charlie Hale, UT Austin senior anthropologist, has talked about having a follow up conference in Austin that might focus on the role of emotion in activist work.

I am bringing 3 Cubans to a conference in Austin in about a month.

 

Symposium #152: “Fire and the Genus Homo”

The 152nd Wenner-Gren Symposium, “Fire and the Genus Homo” has just recently wrapped in Sintra, Portugal. As always, you can expect a Current Anthropology special issue forthcoming, containing the meeting’s papers and available to all 100% Open-Access.

FRONT ROW: Laurie Obbink, Sarah Hlubik, Meg Thibodeau, Vera Aldeias, Carolina Mallol, Ran Barkai, Xing Gao MIDDLE ROW: Nira Alperson-Afil, Leslie Aiello, Simon Holdaway, Amanda Henry, Michael Chazan, Jill Pruetz, Paul Goldberg TOP ROW: John Gowlett, Richard Wrangham, Harold Dibble, Randall White, Dennis Sandgathe, Francesco Berna, Fatima Pinto

 

Organizers’ Statement

 

“Fire and the Genus Homo

Francesco Berna (Simon Fraser University)

Dennis Sandgathe (Simon Fraser University)

We have come to recognize that the nature of human adaptations must be viewed in the context of bio-cultural evolution. For the last 2.5 million years, at least, hominins have evolved both biologically and culturally with these two facets irretrievably entangled. Fire use must be seen as one of the most important of the technological components of this interplay: it has very likely had major effects on our biological evolution, which in turn likely led to other major technological changes, such as the development of clothing and artificial shelter and changes in hominin diet. In fact, the biology, micro-environment, and behavior of modern humans are deeply entangled with fire-use to the point that the survival of our species has come to essentially depend on it.

 

While there has always been general interest among anthropologists and archaeologists in the role fire played in human evolution, in the last 10 years new hypotheses and archaeological finds in Africa and Eurasia have sparked a renewed interest in trying to further our understanding. In the 1980s and 1990s the focus of this kind of research was more on trying to recognize the oldest evidence for hominin use of fire.  Recent interest has shifted to the questions about how and when fire use became an established and integral part of all hominin cultures. The first evidence for hominin use of fire does not necessarily mark the point at which hominins learned how to make it and it became inextricably part of hominin technological repertoires. Recent discoveries suggest that the history of hominin use of fire is more complex than previously hypothesized and that anthropologists and archaeologists should be more critical of potential evidence of hominin use of fire.

 

Based on current bio-anthropological, phylogenetic, and/or archaeological data we believe we could identify four general models for the role played by the use of fire in the evolution of the Genus Homo. These are alternative views on the timing and nature of the adoption of fire use:

  1. Homo erectus was fully adapted to a cooked food diet and had controlled use of fire by or shortly after two million years ago (the “cooking hypothesis”).
  2. Gradual or intermittent use of fire began during the Early Stone Age (i.e., by groups of Homo erectus and early H. heidelbergensis).
  3. Hominins (H. heidelbergensis?) used it first and used it in the process of colonizing higher latitude regions of Europe and Asia at the end of the Lower Pleistocene or during the early Middle Pleistocene.
  4. Humans had complete control of fire only with the appearance of H. sapiens at the onset of the Late Stone Age/Upper Palaeolithic.

 

Thus, work on the evidence of early fire use is clearly necessary to help answer the fundamental anthropological question: “How did humans become human?” This symposium is designed to bring together scholars who are conducting leading research on the origin of the controlled use of fire and its cultural and biological significance to the genus Homo.

 

Researchers have begun to collect, review and employ new types of archaeological and biological data and have started to pose new questions about the role of fire in human evolution. There is also a notable increase in the number of researchers who are focused specifically on questions of prehistoric fire use. In past decades most analysis of Palaeolithic fire residues was simply one of many issues individual archaeologists might address in the course of interpreting a site. This was typically done in isolation from data from other sites and from other researchers who may have an interest in the topic, and it was not often directed towards bigger questions of prehistoric fire use.

 

While access to new data is an important part of the process of assessing the relative merits of these different models, the goal of the symposium is not just to discuss data collection techniques or the interpretation of individual archaeological sites. Rather, the aim is to collectively review the old and the newer data, revise methodological approaches, discuss integrated, up-to-date scenarios for hominin development of fire technology, and develop a theoretical and methodological framework for future research. The objectives of the symposium include:

 

  • Discussing best possible approaches to select and integrate data collection: what types of data are particularly important for understanding prehistoric fire use and what is the importance of disseminating these data? Should (and can) certain standards of data collection be established? Are there other types of data that we should be collecting?

 

  • Developing a common understanding of what is meant by the terms ‘occasional,’ ‘habitual,’ and ‘controlled’ use of fire. These terms have become rather entrenched in the literature, but their actual meaning remains ambiguous: different researchers may have slightly different intentions with their use and different understandings of their implications.

 

  • Developing anthropological and archaeological methodological criteria by which researchers could identify when humans started to use fire occasionally or habitually, and when they developed the technology to create it. These issues have implications for the development of hominin migration/distributions, diet, bio-cultural evolution, and the onset of ‘modern behavior.’

 

  • Examining the role that cooking may have played in the bio-cultural evolution of the Genus Homo.

 

  • Addressing questions about the function of fire in pre-modern human adaptations (e.g., specific fire applications, degree of reliance); the role of fire in Late Pleistocene adaptations (Neanderthals and early Anatomically Modern Humans); and the role of fire in the emergence of modern behavior.

Upcoming September-October Conferences

A look ahead to what Wenner-Gren is sponsoring in the coming months.

 

Eleventh Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies (CHAGS 11)

September 7-11, 2015

Vienna, Austria

With the landmark conference “Man the Hunter” in 1966, the study of hunter-gatherer societies became a major topic within the social and human sciences. Since then, some of the topics and concerns – egalitarianism, sharing, and mobility – remain central, while others – such as social and technological evolution – have seen better times. Thus, while scholarly trends change over time, the goal of the initial conference, to establish a unified field of hunter-gatherer studies, is still valid. The general question of CHAGS 11 therefore is how the results of the last 50 years and new research agendas can be utilized for the present and future. While many hunter-gatherers are forced to give up their ways of life and subsistence practices, they figure prominently in public discourses on ecological and ideological alternatives to industrial society. Thus, CHAGS 11 will attempt to attract a variety of stakeholders in these debates – indigenous representatives, NGOs, scholars, etc. Based on fieldwork and research from the full spectrum of hunter-gatherer ways of life and from all perspectives our disciplines have to offer, the goal of CHAGS 11 is to bring hunter-gatherer studies back to the center of the human and social sciences.

 

Modern Man in Northern Africa; Chronology, Behavior and Cultural Heritage

Late October, 2015

Rabat, Morocco

This conference will bring together researchers from Canada, France, Italy, Senegal and Morocco to discuss research concerning the history of modern humans in the Maghreb. Two main subjects will be discussed: chronology and behavior of modern humans since their appearance in the region around 130,000 years ago; and characterization of pigments and colorants using different non-invasive and portable methods in the frame of cultural heritage. The goals of the conference are to establish the state of research in Morocco and reinforce the dialogue between teams working in the country and in the wider world.

 

VIDEO: Alexander Dent on WGF Symposium #151

This past March saw the 151st installment of Wenner-Gren’s legendary symposium series, as we invited scholars from around the world to share their work and discuss the transformation of public life in the context of rapidly-evolving media technologies. Alexander S. Dent, an Associate Professor of Anthropology at The George Washington University, sat down with us at the symposium’s conclusion to share his reflections on the experience and what it could mean for future research.

WGF Symposium #151- Alexander Dent-HD from Wenner-Gren Foundation on Vimeo.

Upcoming July-August Conferences

A look ahead at what this summer holds, sponsored by Wenner-Gren. 

 

Biennial Conference Of The Association Of Southern African Professional Archaeologists (ASAPA)

July 1 – 3, 2015

University of Zimbabwe, Harare 

The biennial Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists (ASAPA) Conference brings together a vibrant community of professional archaeologists and allied specialists from Southern Africa as well as international scholars whose research interests lie in the region. The main aim of the conference is to provide these professionals with an international platform to share new knowledge, network and seek collaboration in the fields of archaeology and archaeological heritage management. This provides a solid platform for the transmission of new techniques, new theories and field approaches to ensure that southern African archaeology is locally and globally relevant. The theme of ASAPA 2015 is promoting inter-disciplinary research. The conference attracts other stakeholders such as members of communities that live around archaeological sites, traditional custodians, policy makers and museum curators. It provides an opportunity for dialogue in theory and practice between different archaeological practitioners.

 

15th International Conference of The European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists

July 6 – 10, 2015

L’université de Paris Ouest

Every two years, the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists aims to bring together scholars working in the field of Southeast Asian archaeology to present and discuss new data. This international initiative aims to foster scholarly cooperation within Europe, as well as worldwide cooperation among Southeast Asian scholars. Panels on a wide range of topics relevant to the field will be present.

 

IUAES 2015 Inter-Congress: Re-imagining Anthropological and Sociological Boundaries

July 15 – 17, 2015

Thammasat University, Bangkok

The title of the conference is ‘Re-imagining Anthropological and Sociological Boundaries’. This theme proposes to debate how already-existing tools for the study of societies may benefit from questioning long-held assumptions and categories, and how looking beyond the conventional boundaries of anthropology may help the discipline renew itself, from a theoretical, methodological, and political perspective. We deem it significant that the need to re-evaluate anthropological approaches to the study of humanity should be raised by scholars from an area as diverse as Southeast Asia, and in particular from Thailand, a country whose unusual engagement with colonialism, paired with recent experiments with neoliberalism, has resulted in complex social phenomena we often feel unprepared to interpret. This conference is also an opportunity to encourage dialogue between Thai anthropologists and social scientists worldwide.

 

Fifty Years After Homo Habilis: East African Association For Paleoanthropology and Paleontology Conference

August 3 – 6, 2015

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania 

EAAPP marks its 10th anniversary in 2015 at the height of commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Homo habilis (OH7), which the holotype specimens are now housed in the National Museum of Tanzania in Dar Es Salaam. The goal of this conference is to bring East Africans, international researchers and cultural heritage managers together in a forum to share current research findings and knowledge on the status of human origins research fifty years after the discovery of H. habilis at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. This forum provides unique opportunity of discussions among scientists, curators etc. about research development, conservation, and curatorial management. At the core of this conference is raising public awareness and interest in science and conservation of fossils and archaeological material.

 

Sixth Paleopathology Association Meeting in South America (PAMinSA VI)

August 12 – 14, 2015

Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Sixth Paleopathology Association Meeting in South America (PAMinSA VI) seeks to promote the exchange of results and to establish bonds between professionals from South America and all over the world. This event offers a space to promote advancement in innovative paleopathological research. This meeting represents the tenth anniversary since the first PAMinSA. Thus, it will be an opportunity to discuss the advances produced in South-American paleopathology during the last decade and to debate about specific issues related to the study of ancient health in the region. Its attainment in Argentina will allow keeping the continuity of these meetings as well as encouraging and enriching paleopathology as a scientific discipline in South America.

 

 

 

 

Upcoming June Conferences

A look at what we’re funding in the month of June.

Utopias, Realities, Heritages: Ethnographies for the 21st Century – 12th SIEF (Societe Internationale D’Ethnologie Et De Folkore/International Society for Ethnology and Folklore) Congress 

June 21-25, 2015

University of Zagreb

“This Congress’ theme takes the triad of utopias, realities and heritages as a challenge and seeks to relate it to the ethnographic study of expressive culture and everyday in European ethnology, cultural anthropology and folklore studies. The Congress theme thus aims at analyzing the contemporary moment in the production of imaginaries, projections, wishes, frustrations and anxieties that people have with regard to the past and future; and at the same time proposes to take a self-reflexive stance toward our discipline’s own role in defining the future and imagining the past. While the topic of utopias has recently surged as an iconic term in other academic conferences, ours gives it a special twist by linking it to specifically anthropological and ethnological approaches to everyday realities which are the context of both utopian visions of the future and representations of the past as heritage. The biennial SIEF conference, held for the first time in its history in southeastern Europe, aims at more intensely involving colleagues from Europe’s margins and beyond in international scholarly exchange in cultural anthropology, European ethnology, folklore studies and adjoining fields.”

WGF Symposium #151: “New Media, New Publics?”

Front: Laurie Obbink, Joe Masco, Daniel Salas, Gabriella Coleman, Rosalind Morris, Mary Murrell, Maria José de Abreu, Patricia Spyer, Kajri Jain, Winnie Won Yin Wong, Rosa Norton Back: Christopher Kelty, Rebecca Stein, Charles Hirschkind, Zeynep Gürsel, Sha Xin Wei, Martin Zillinger, Alex Dent, Carlo Caduff, Leslie Aiello

The 151st(!) symposium of the Wenner-Gren Foundation, “New Media, New Publics” was held this past March 13-19 at Palácio de Seteais in Sintra, Portugal, organized by Charles Hirschkind (UC Berkeley), Maria José de Abreu (University of Amsterdam) and Carlo Caduff (King’s College London). Like all of our symposia, the work presented here will be featured in a future special open-access issue of Current Anthropology!

One thing that’s special about this symposium (and that we’re especially excited about) is that it is the first in WGF history to feature an audio-visual component with the participants themselves. In the coming weeks, expect to see a series of short videos with the organizers, participants and others outlining their particular projects, what the symposium means for the anthropological study of media, and the larger history of the Wenner-Gren symposium program. This is something of a new frontier for the Foundation and the program, so please let us know what you think once they go live!

Read the Organizer’s Statement below for a better grasp of the symposium’s theoretical concerns and goals.

» Read more..

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.

WGF Symposium #150: “Integrating Anthropology: Niche Construction, Cultural Institutions, and History”

Front: Leslie Aiello, Cristina Moya, Doug Bird, Ashley Grimes, Kathryn Coe, Mary Shenk, Maurice Bloch, Polly Wiessner, Beverly Strassmann, Laurie Obbink. - Back: Agustín Fuentes, Greg Downey, Pierre Lienard, Ben Purzycki, Alan Barnard, Lee Gettler, Barry Hewlett, Scott Atran

Wenner-Gren Symposium #150, “Integrating Anthropology:  Niche Construction, Cultural Institutions, and History” was held this past October 17-23 in Sintra, Portugal. Like all of our symposia, the work presented here will be featured in a future special open-access issue of Current Anthropology!

All anthropologists, no matter their subdiscipline or field, are interested in why humans do what they do.  In past decades, anthropologists, and particularly those in North America, worked across disciplines drawing on many applications of evolutionary, economic, and cultural theory.

In the 1980s and 1990s a broad diversity of new theoretical approaches emerged.  More humanistically oriented anthropologists, rejecting metanarratives, focused on how humans create complex cultural meanings and realities. Scientifically oriented anthropologists focused on evolutionary and biological influences. Hostilities grew and even in North America, where the Boasian tradition of broad-based anthropology was the norm, some departments split and the discipline divided.

These divisions are devastating to anthropology’s ability to confront the many critical problems in the world today.  There are pressing issues that demand generous engagement between ethnography, social theory, evolutionary theory, biology and socioecology.  These include globalization, environmental degradation, growing inequalities, the impacts of new technologies, and social strife.

The many methodologies and theoretical investments of our diverse practitioners have led to rich understandings of human beings and being human, but at different explanatory scales. To integrate these perspectives we need a starting point. The goal of this conference, and the special symposium issue of Current Anthropology to follow, is to assemble researchers working across sub-fields and theoretical orientations and invite them to collaborate on developing ideas for integrating anthropology that run deeper than many current “biocultural approaches,” and realize these ideas via concrete case studies and innovative methodologies.

The framework we are seeking to build will include evolutionary influences, ethnographic realities, ecological niches, technologies, and cultural institutions. We need to explain gene-culture interactions as well as the sources of enormous cultural diversity in human societies. Research strategies to address the big questions require theoretical plurality and diverse methodologies. This mode of integrating approaches in anthropology will have much to offer the discipline, the academy, and society.