Engaged Anthropology Grant: Christopher Morehart

Chris Morehart giving a presentation of the book to attendees.

Christopher Morehart received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2007 to aid research on “Agricultural Landscapes and Political Economy at Xaltocan, Mexico,” supervised by Dr. Elizabeth M. Brumfiel. In 2012 Dr. Morehart continued his research when he received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on “Environmental Interaction and Political Transformation in the Northern Basin of Mexico”. After receiving an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2016 Morehart began working on a, “Collaborative Development of a Book on the Archaeology of Xaltocan, Mexico for Community Members”.

This report presents an overview of a Wenner-Gren engaged anthropology grant project. Funds from Wenner-Gren were used to finance the creation of a book on the archaeology of Xaltocan. Xaltocan is a contemporary town approximately 35 km north of present-day Mexico City with a history that has lasted well over 1000 years. It is also one of the most continuously studied archaeological sites in central Mexico. Archaeologists first visited the town very briefly in the 1950s and again in the early 1970s.

However, in the late 1980s, Elizabeth Brumfiel initiated a long-term archaeological project in Xaltocan, with the promise that she would always seek to engage actively with community members and address questions that they have about their own past. Several other archaeological projects have occurred in the town over the past 15-20 years, all directed by Brumfiel’s students or former students (many funded by Wenner-Gren). Members of the town have a strong interest in their past and in the work archaeologists have been doing. This relationship is a unique example of productive, engaged archaeology. Many archaeologists have created museum exhibits (some financed by Wenner-Gren) as well as public talks and other events.

Left to right: Filemón Zembrano (director of the Casa de la Cultura of Xaltocan), Abigail Meza Peñaloza (UNAM), Kristin De Lucia (Colgate),
Unidentified member of the community pictured holding book, Enrique Alegría Rodríguez (UT Austin), Chris Morehart (ASU), John Millhauser (North Carolina State U)

This project was planned to provide a more tangible and lasting contribution to the community. This book is based on the archaeological work of several researchers, from the United States and Mexico, as well as the experiences and leadership of local historians and organizers. This book is not an academic article or a technical report, both of which are supplied to community members and officials as part of ongoing projects. It is a book written specifically for the community of Xaltocan, written in an engaging, accessible and dynamic prose.

Plan of the book

Although I wrote the grant proposal, I worked closely with Enrique Rodríguez Alegría and Kristin De Lucia, two other archaeologists who have worked in Xaltocan. The book contains 13 substantive chapters, each written either by a researcher or group of researchers who has carried out an investigation in Xaltocan or by a local leader engaged in promoting cultural and historical affairs in the town. Each chapter is brief, 3-4 pages, and written in an accessible prose (in Spanish). At the end of the book, we have included a fairly comprehensive bibliography of publications on the history and archaeology of Xaltocan. Below is a list of the chapters:

Capítulo 1. La historia de la arqueología en Xaltocan, by Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría

Capítulo 2. El medio ambiente de la cuenca de México y del lago de Xaltocan, by John K. Millhauser

Capítulo 3. Antes de Xaltocan, by Christopher Morehart, Abigail Meza Peñaloza, and Destiny Crider

Capítulo 4. La formación de un reino, by Kirby Farah

Capítulo 5. Los grupos domésticos y la comunidad, by Kristin De Lucia

Capítulo 6. Las chinampas de Xaltocan, by Christopher Morehart

Capítulo 7. Impuestos, tributos y mercados, by John K. Millhauser

Capítulo 8. La religión y los ritos de los grupos Domésticos, by Kristin De Lucia

Capítulo 9. Xaltocan y el imperio azteca, by Lisa Overholtzer

Capítulo10. Xaltocan en el periodo colonial, by Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría

Capítulo 11. La historia genética de Xaltocan, by Deborah A. Bolnick, Jaime Mata-Míguez and Austin W. Reynolds

Capítulo 12. La casa de cultura de Nextlalpan “Cualcalli”, by Filemón Hernández Zambrano

Capítulo 13. El museo arqueológico de Nextlalpan en Xaltocan, by Sergio Maya Rodríguez Una bibliografía de la investigación arqueológica en Xaltocan

Distribution of the book

Kristin De Lucia and Enrique Rodríguez Alegría signing autographs

Distributing the book to the community of Xaltocan was an important goal of the project. We produced 315 printed copies and donated them to the town’s cultural center and museum. We worked with local organizers in order to plan an event to present and distribute the book. This occurred in July 2019 at the Casa de la Cultura (cultural center) in the center of Xaltocan. I gave a brief presentation of the book to approximately 60 to 70 attendees. The director of the cultural center (also one of the book contributors) decided to give a copy of the book for free to all in attendance, with the option of a small contribution (virtually everyone contributed something), after which the book would be sold at a price determined by the cultural center.

The presentation of the book was a great success, and attendees were very enthusiastic about the book.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Sophie Chao

Figure 1. Cover of the manual on indigenous rights and agribusiness projects.

Dr. Sophie Chao received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2015 to aid research on “Agribusiness Land Grabs and Transforming Indigenous Foodways: Towards a Theory of Hunger and Satiety in West Papua,” supervised by Dr. Jaap Timmer. In 2019 Dr. Chao returned to the field when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Oil Palm Expansion in West Papua: Multi-Stakeholder Workshop on Sustainability in the Agribusiness Sector”.

With the support of an Engaged Anthropology Grant, the grantee organized a workshop on “Oil Palm Expansion in West Papua: Multi-Stakeholder Workshop on Sustainability in the Agribusiness Sector” on 13 – 14 August 2019 in Jakarta. This event was attended by ten indigenous Marind participants (six men and four women) from Merauke, West Papua, where the grantee undertook her doctoral research, as well as thirteen representatives from the Indonesian National Land Agency, the Indonesian Investment Board, the Merauke Regency Governmental District Office, the Merauke Regency Environmental Agency, and local and national Indonesian non-government organizations.

Figure 2. Screenshot from the documentary “Declaration of Land as our Spiritual Mother.”

The project allowed the grantee to disseminate the findings of her doctoral research on the social and environmental impacts of oil palm plantations on indigenous Marind communities in Merauke, in the form of an oral presentation, translated thesis chapters, and a summary of the overall thesis in brochure form. This research revealed that agribusiness projects severely undermines indigenous communities’ relations to land – which is central to their sense of collective belonging and cultural identity – and their morally imbued relations to forest plants and animals whom Marind consider their kin through shared ancestral descent. The research also demonstrated that Marinds’ right to give or withhold their consent to land conversions is routinely disregarded in the design and implementation of agribusiness projects. Affected communities lack the capacity to communicate their demands and grievances directly to high-level policymakers and corporate representatives and have limited access to comprehensive information about the palm oil projects affecting their livelihoods and environment. Their capacity to assert their claims to land is further hindered by their limited understanding of their rights under national and international law, and of the redress mechanisms available to them under these frameworks.

Figure 3. Workshop participants brainstorming participatory mapping and recommendations to the government and oil palm corporations towards rights-based palm oil production.

The workshop created a multi-stakeholder platform for indigenous Marind representatives to share their experiences of the adverse impacts of monocrop oil palm developments on their livelihoods, land rights, cultural well-being, food security, and physical environment, and to voice their recommendations towards addressing these adverse impacts before government and NGO bodies. In turn, Marind representatives were able to acquire up-to-date information from government and NGO representatives pertaining to the legal and governance structures regulating oil palm production in Indonesia, government targets and sites of future oil palm expansion, and indigenous people’s rights as these are enshrined under national and international legal frameworks and initiatives – including the draft Indigenous People’s Rights Bill and the One Map Initiative in Indonesia. Marind participants were also introduced to the principles and criteria of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO), two multi-stakeholder commodity certification standards established to promote rights-based and deforestation-free palm oil.

Figure 4. The workshop was attended by six indigenous Marind men and women from Merauke, West Papua.

Formal presentations from the participants on the first day were followed by break-out group discussions on the second day, during which the participants formulated a set of joint recommendations for rights-based and culturally sensitive approaches to palm oil production in Indonesia. These recommendations included: 1) moving beyond a “consultation-only” mode of land acquisition towards full respect for indigenous people’s right to give or withhold their consent to land developments 2) more transparent, inclusive, iterative, and collective consultation processes, in which women, youth, and elders are equally involved 3) participatory mapping to support the identification and protection of customary land rights, ownership, and boundaries 4) the development of binding and verifiable safeguards, standard operational procedures, and protocols to protect indigenous communities’ food and water security and cultural food sovereignty and 5) the direct and iterative involvement of indigenous communities in the identification, demarcation, management, and monitoring of conservation zones within oil palm plantations.

Figure 5. Sample research outcome outlining the history of industrial land use in West Papua.

In addition, a documentary titled Declaration of Land as our Spiritual Mother, produced by the grantee during her doctoral research was launched at the opening of the workshop (see Figure 2). This 45-minute film documents various aspects of indigenous Marind’s relationship to the forest, ritual practices, modes of subsistence, and grassroots land rights movements in the face of oil palm developments. A community manual in logat Papua, or Indonesian creole, produced by the grantee and titled Where Are We to Go If Our Customary Lands and Forests Disappear? A Practical Manual for Indigenous Communities on Land Rights and Human Rights in the Context of Oil Palm Investments, was also launched on the occasion of this workshop and copies printed for wider dissemination in the Marind villages where the grantee undertook her doctoral research (see Figure 1). This interactive manual and offers practical guidance to indigenous communities regarding their right to free, prior, and informed consent, the consultation and land acquisition process, and the obligation of states and corporations to respect indigenous lands and livelihoods.

Figure 6. A workshop participant describes the cultural and economic significance of the forest for indigenous Marind women.

The workshop provided the opportunity for the grantee to discuss directions of future research with the indigenous participants present and the opportunities and challenges (both legal and practical) involved in such research. A draft analysis of the process involved in organizing and holding the multi-stakeholder workshop itself was drafted together with community members and will form the basis of an academic article titled “A Tree of Many Lives: Indigenous Papuan Experiences of Multi-Stakeholder Negotiations and Strategic Ontological Performance,” due for submission to a first-quartile anthropology journal in September 2019.

Drawing from the outcomes of the workshop described above, and with the support of additional funds, the grantee also organized a follow-up regional meeting on 26 August 2019 between indigenous Marind who attended the workshop and local communities in Sorong Selatan, where oil palm development is underway. During this event, indigenous Marind community members were able to share lessons learned from their engagement to date with oil palm companies, to describe the process and outcomes of the workshop help in Jakarta, and to offer guidance and advice to Sorong community members based on their own first-hand experiences. A side-training on participatory mapping and its uses in advocacy contexts was also organized, during which community members produced sketches of their customary lands, boundaries, and sites of cultural, spiritual, and economic value. This will be followed by training in the use of GPS technology in the course of 2019.

Figure 7. Workshop participants with grantee.

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.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Ivo Syndicus

Seminar presentation at the University of Papua New Guinea’s Anthropology strand.
Photo credits: Alan Robson

While a doctoral student at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ivo Syndicus received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on “Culture, Development, and Higher Education in Papua New Guinea,” supervised by Dr. Thomas Strong. In 2018 Dr. Syndicus was then awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Experiences and Challenges of University Students in Papua New Guinea: Research Results and Ways Forward.”

In March and April 2019, an Engaged Anthropology Grant enabled me to spend almost six weeks in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to engage a range of audiences about my dissertation research on higher education in PNG. In my PhD dissertation, I describe and analyze various fields of student experiences related to university education, especially at the University of Goroka, such as:

  • how university students, but also staff, experience processes of social stratification vis-à-vis kin and sponsors;
  • how a cultural politics of difference, drawing on the reification of culture such as sensibilities surrounding exchange and reciprocity, feeds into the construction and consolidation of provincial identities at universities and beyond;
  • how forms and styles of leadership in both university management and student politics become contested at university, especially in prolonged student strikes.
Seminar presentation at the University of Papua New Guinea’s Anthropology strand.
Photo credits: Alan Robson

Activities to share results and engage with different audiences took place in PNG’s capital Port Moresby, Goroka, and other locations in the PNG highlands. Specific activities in Port Moresby included a seminar at the University of Papua New Guinea facilitated by its Anthropology strand that drew attendance from within and beyond the university, a research colloquium presentation at the National Research Institute, and a presentation with a stronger orientation to relevant policy matters to staff of the Division of Quality Assurance at the PNG Department for Higher Education, Science, Research and Technology.

Participants of the postgraduate workshop at the University of Goroka. Photo credit: Jayne Safihao

At the University of Goroka, I gave a talk to the university community facilitated by its Center for Melanesian Studies. This constituted perhaps the most significant event of engagement in terms of presenting my results to many of my previous interlocutors throughout research processes, at the institution where I conducted most of the research and for which its results are most specifically relevant. I also conducted a workshop with postgraduate students at the University of Goroka, organized by the Center for Melanesian Studies and the School of Postgraduate Studies, in which I discussed ethnography as approach to research both in anthropology and beyond, drawing on illustrations from my research.

Discussion following the public lecture at the University of Goroka. Photo credits: Bruce Dorum

I also visited and met several of my interlocutors during research and graduates of the University of Goroka in the highland provinces of Simbu and Jiwaka, learning about their current context and reflecting back on experiences during their studies at the University of Goroka.

The presentations at universities in particular led to subsequent meetings and discussions with members of respective university communities and other institutions. At the University of Goroka, I also held a meeting with the university management to provide a briefing about my research results in general, and to discuss questions around student representation and participation in university governance in particular. The presentation of my research results was perceived as timely and welcomed both in view of developments in the university sector in the last years, and broader social processes in PNG and its pathway as a nation of a uniquely rich cultural and linguistic heritage.

Discussion following the public lecture at the University of Goroka. Photo credits: Bruce Dorum

A noteworthy area of discussion were legislative changes in relation to university governance through the 2014 Higher Education Act, which provides increased possibilities for ministerial intervention in university affairs. These changes resonated with demands in student strikes especially at the University of Goroka, where students lobbied the government to oust the university council and management through recurrent strikes between 2010 and 2015. Policy reform in 2014 enabled the Minister responsible for Higher Education to dismiss the council and management of the University of Goroka in 2015, and the University of Papua New Guinea faced similar ministerial interventions into its academic governance at the time of my engagement activities. Based on my research, I was able to illustrate how student leaders at the University of Goroka prepared the ground for a sympathetic reception of changes in the Higher Education Act that led to the erosion of autonomous university governance with potentially severe implications for the quality of university education in PNG through political interventions.

Presenting a copy of my thesis to University of Goroka’s librarian Raphael Topagur. Photo Credit: Anna Zeming

This connects to issues with student representation, and the observation that student leaders increasingly tend to foreground their own political ambitions instead of actually seeking to address issues at universities or the national political arena, such as corruption, as they claim. In effect, universities seek to limit the powers of student representatives, which increases students’ frustration and in turn facilitates politically ambitious student leaders to mobilize frustrated students for strikes towards their personal goals. This raises the question how meaningful student representation and participation in university governance could look like, especially from a perspective of opening up more meaningful avenues for student participation rather than their systematic exclusion. This seems acutely relevant in current times as student representative councils remain suspended following student unrests at PNG’s state universities in 2016, creating the conditions in which frustrated students may turn to unelected student leaders to advance their issues without the checks and balances of democratic legitimization, and recognition or accountability within the procedural bureaucracy of universities.

An especially controversial aspect in the constitution of student representative councils is the role of provincial student associations. Provincial student associations are an important avenue for student sociality and mobilization at state universities. There is a widespread concern, however, that they foster a competitive politics based on parochial issues and personal political ambitions rather than adequately representing students in relation to issues of student welfare or academic matters. Some state universities seek to reform student representation to be stronger based on academic programs, for example, although many students insist on provincial associations to remain an integral part of student representative councils. This also connects to broader questions for the direction of nation-building in PNG. The consolidation of provincial identities along increasingly quasi-ethnic lines based on the reification of supposedly bounded cultural characteristics is a phenomenon that invites reflection about the vision of PNG as a nation that is united both in diversity and commonalities beyond provincial and regional boundaries.

The Engaged Anthropology Grant provided, in summary, a unique opportunity to contribute to current debates in relation to the higher education sector and broader social phenomena in PNG today.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: R. Elliott Oakley

Figure 1: Young men dance into a kitchen, playing flutes, whooping, and rubbing the openings of turtle shells to make noise and wake up the village.

While a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh, Elliott Oakley received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2015 to aid research on “Counting Fingers, Quantifying Forests: Numbers, Translation and Guyanese Eco-Politics,” supervised by Dr. Casey High. Three years later Dr. Oakley received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Supporting Waiwai ‘Cultural Preservation’ in the Context of Conservation.”

The Waiwai Village Museum began as a community initiative to generate income for residents of Masakenyarï, an indigenous community in southern Guyana. Part of a protected area partnership, the Kanashen Community-Owned Conservation Area, the Museum was envisioned as a way to showcase Waiwai culture and sell handicrafts to visitors. My dissertation research (2015-2017) demonstrated how community ideas of the protected area frame conservation as a process of building connections, more to international NGOS, the Guyanese government, or other outsiders than to the plants and animals that make up a lived Amazonian environment. As tourists failed to arrive with any real consistency, over the course of my fieldwork many people in Masakenyarï began to doubt the Museum’s potential to provide greater access to money. But interest in a formal space for local histories, language resources, cultural materials, and Waiwai crafts endured.

Figure 2: Formally handing over my PhD to Toshao Paul Chekema.

While writing my doctoral thesis in Edinburgh, I was fortunate to visit collections in Glasgow and London containing materials from southern Guyana, most obtained in the mid twentieth century during colonial rule of British Guiana. I sent pictures of the exhibitions – ‘Life in the Rainforest’ in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum and the ‘American encounters’ section of the London’s Horniman Museum – to Waiwai friends in Guyana over Facebook. During fieldwork I had promised to adapt my research materials into resources that could be part of the Village Museum in Masakenyarï. But, in part prompted by the images of these UK museums, I learned that the Village Museum stood empty. My discussions with community leaders and elders led to an Engaged Anthropology Grant with three aims: sharing doctoral research findings with participants in Masakenyarï; working with the community on alternative visions to re-establish the Waiwai Village Museum; and filming Waiwai Christmas celebrations, connected to traditional kesemanitopo or Shodewika festivals, to contribute to the establishment of a community-operated digital archive of cultural practices and related research outputs.

Before returning to Guyana, I visited Glasgow Museums to consult their Waiwai collections with curators Patricia Allan and Ed Johnson. The widow of the Scottish colonial official Gordon Lethem, Governor of British Guiana for part of the 1940s, donated assorted objects and photographs from southern Guyana to Glasgow Museums. Many of the objects – and most of the black-and-white images – have not been digitized, and I was lucky to view them and take reference photographs to share with people in Masakenyarï.

Figure 3: Residents gather in the roundhouse to view and discuss Lethem’s photographs, archival newspapers, and research posters.

Arranging the two-month trip to Guyana to start in December 2018 allowed sharing research findings and discussing the Village Museum to coincide with Christmas celebrations, which people often referred to as the most significant cultural event to document to communicate their identity. Though people gather daily between Christmas and New Year’s to eat and dance, enacting this joyous sociality took clear precedence over my rather mundane suggestion to talk about my research. The main conclusion I sought to communicate was how building connections with outside peoples and places is fundamental to enacting the Waiwai ewto, the village or ‘place-where-people-live’. The December festivities were a firm reminder that these desires for exteriority are valuable insofar as they enable states of happiness and contentment, associated with village interiority and embodied most forcefully and deliberately at Christmas.

I felt the full weight of this insight when, while filming hunters returning to the village on December 23rd, the dugout canoe I was traveling in capsized. Gone, it seemed, was any chance of achieving the third project aim, with the camera equipment drying out in a bucket of rice. Immediately aware of my possible grief and frustration, several of the hunters passed arrows and portions of meat from their own hands to mine so I could walk with them into the village. Their generosity turned me from a position of observer to that of participant in a powerful way.

Figure 4: Janet Yaymochi reviews footage from an interview about traditional dancing, kwachi practices, and Christmas celebrations.

Upon checking four days later the camera worked as normal, much to our collective relief, and I was able to collaborate filming parts of the dancing and festivities. The focus shifted to ‘kwachi’, in which young men gather and walk from household to household waking up the women who will prepare food for the day’s communal meals.

Eventually, I was able to present my research at a village meeting on New Year’s Day. I said my formal thanks, discussed the research findings, presented village copies of the PhD and distributed printed summaries for each household. I donated an external hard drive, with photographs and videos from my doctoral research, Waiwai language materials, digital copies of anthropology publications focused on Waiwai people, and artefact images from museum collections in the UK, to start a ‘digital archive’ based in the village and operated by the community.

Then, the event shifted towards collaborative small-group discussions based around the assorted printed materials, which ranged from Lethem’s 1940s photographs to Guyanese newspaper archives from the 1970s to posters summarizing my doctoral research. It was a pleasure for me to move around the roundhouse listening as older generations recognized their kin or described the context of the images to their children and grandchildren.

After celebrations closed down after New Year’s Day, the village shifted from the continual daily gatherings to the much quieter rhythms of household life in an Amazonian community. With time to rest and to visit, I focused on discussing museum plans, translating a chapter summary of my PhD into the Waiwai language, and tying up filming by speaking with senior women about the significance of kwachi.

People in Masakenyarï discussed how museum artefacts and images collected decades before might offer a pathway forward for their heritage goals. Rather than rely on tourists arriving in person, their museum vision – like the conservation processes I documented during doctoral fieldwork – is to build connections through enduring outside interests in Amazonian objects, peoples, and places. We composed a letter to Glasgow Museums to take the next step in that effort.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Andrew Hernann

While a doctoral student at City University of New York Graduate Center, New York, Andrew Hernann received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on “Ethics on the Margins: Religious Transformation in a Labor Regime in Timbuktu, Mali,” supervised by Dr. Gary Wilder. Then in 2016 Dr. Hernann received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Narrating Crisis: Collaborative Storytelling in Post-Crisis Timbuktu.”

Through my Engaged Anthropology Grant, I was able to intensify and decenter my collaborative research among northern Malians by organizing the production and exchange of local narratives of occupation, displacement and military intervention. In 2012, northern Mali was occupied by ethnic Tuareg nationalists and allied religious extremists. As this cohort of armed militants attempted to occupy more central and southern regions of the country, the French and UN armies intervened, pushing the fighters north into the desert. Officially “liberated” in 2013, northern Mali – especially the city of Timbuktu – has remained dangerous and in crisis. Indeed, there remains the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks, as well as the foreboding nature of a foreign military presence. While many Timbuktians have returned to northern Mali, many have also chosen to remain displaced, particularly in Bamako, the Malian capital. Furthermore, some subtle and not-so-subtle tensions remain among differing ethnic groups and between rural and urban Malians.

Such conditions foster the development of unofficial narratives among those experiencing displacement and occupation, particularly as residents continue to feel misrepresented by foreign organizations that seem reluctant to substantially engage with local communities. However, and as has been my experience working with residents of northern Mali, such conditions also foster a level of secrecy that somewhat limit the exchange of such narratives. Storytelling, nevertheless, retains empowering and reconciliatory effects, especially during times of crisis. Therefore, while in Mali during summer 2018, my interlocutors and I organized two storytelling workshops during which participants developed and shared their experiences of the northern Malian crisis with one another. The participants were of diverse socioeconomic, ethnic, racial, gender and professional backgrounds, including students, teachers, religious experts, humanitarian workers, UN contract employees, tourist guides, journalists and community activists.

I offered my experience facilitating collaborative storytelling during these workshops. However, given the importance of incorporating local and culturally relevant values, I emphasized a more collaborative approach, empowering my interlocutors to organize and facilitate these workshops as they best saw fit. Therefore, while occurring over multiple days, the workshops took on a seemingly more “informal” element relative to those more common in the USA. They were less structured than I had originally anticipated, with more down time spent chatting over tea and meals. Nevertheless, participants were able to successfully share their experiences and analyses of the ongoing Malian crisis and organically develop and re/produce authentic, culturally resonant products. Unfortunately, due to ongoing security concerns and the (then) upcoming presidential elections, a shadow of secrecy clouded the workshops. In order to facilitate the safe production of crisis narratives among participants, the group decided not to permit photography/video/audio recording, the use of full names or a written version of their stories. However, most expressed feeling able and eager to reproduce the storytelling workshop format that we developed in increasingly local settings throughout Bamako and northern Mali as a way of distributing stories and facilitating the catharsis that such storytelling often produces. Furthermore, our hope is to publish both a manual of how to conduct similar workshops and a written version of the stories developed this summer – stories which many of my interlocutors jokingly stated were more authentic and analytically useful than anything that an outsider would be able to produce – when they collectively sense that the need for secrecy has abated.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Preeti Sampat

Display in Kerim.

While a doctoral student at City University of New York Graduate Center, New York Preeti Sampat received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2011 to aid research on “Right to Land and the Rule of Law: Special Economic Zones in India,” supervised by Dr. David Harvey.  In 2017 Dr. Sampat was able to build upon her fieldwork when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Living Histories of Land Museum.”

The Living Histories of Land in Goa Mobile Museum initially anticipated large printed mounts curated with visuals of campaign materials from historical environmental struggles in the state such as press releases; posters; news clippings; photographs, excerpts from speeches; and symbolic installations using sound, visual materials and natural materials. After much effort locating materials from older struggles from the 1970’s to 1990’s however, it was clear that largely news media archives and a few pamphlets were available for the older struggles, although more recent struggles had preserved posters and banners. This posed a challenge since a display of mostly black and white press clippings and pamphlets on mounts seemed visually unappealing and would defeat the purpose of attracting bystanders and local residents to the museum venues as it traveled. There was also an imbalance of materials available from older struggles compared to more recent struggles.

Explaining the campaign materials to students at Ponda.

After much brainstorming with colleagues to create a visually attractive display, I took the decision to create an installation with an online museum hosted in a dedicated website, that would curate multi-lingual press coverage (in English, Marathi and Konkani) of the struggles, available video archives, and other materials related to the environmental struggles that we could locate. This also put a nice spin on the definition of a ‘mobile museum,’ as the museum could now be ‘visited’ on mobile phones, with a long lasting archive available much after the Museum display period. With the help of curatorial and design assistance, the Museum to put up installations on hired tablets and laptops, curated available videos of struggles into a running loop displayed on a projector screen, and created a short dramatic skit to attract footfall to the venues. Posters and pamphlets from older struggles (where available) and more recent struggles were also put on display around the installation.

Film screening in Panjim

The earliest archived struggle dated from the 1970’s agitations against Zuari Agrochemicals that also catalyzed the Fish-workers movement in Goa and across India. This was followed in the 1980’s by the massive and long-standing agitation against the Konkan Railway; the struggles over controversial tourism projects in coastal areas; and the 1990’s agitations against polluting Du Pont (Nylon 6,6) and Metastrips industries. More recent struggles included those from the mid-2000’s, against the Regional Plan 2011 and 2021; Special Economic Zones; and on-going agitations against mining; the Mopa Airport; the Coal Corridor and Mormugao Port Expansion; and the Declaration of Rivers as National Waterways. While there are many more environmental struggles in Goa, the ones archived and displayed in the museum represented some of the better-known ones in the state.

Performing the theatrical skit at Margao.

Each of these struggles coalesced in opposition to capitalist development projects initiated by the state, and their implications for local environments, livelihoods and culture. The modes of protest included collective protests on project sites, villages and cities influenced by the project, and the capital city Panjim; as well as legal action by concerned residents. The Museum’s online archive organized the historical archives of these struggles along five key sub-themes emerging from the nature of development projects: infrastructure; industry; tourism; mining and real estate. As the Museum was curated and the archive emerged, the periodization of the struggles also shed light on the shifting dynamics of capitalist accumulation in the state. Despite continuing overlaps, some of the earliest controversies erupted around projects related to infrastructure and industry; followed by tourism; with mining and real estate projects more recently.

Poster

The Museum traveled to five locations across Goa, Margao, Ponda and Panjim cities, and Kerim and Verna villages from June 21 – 25, 2018. The Museum had initially anticipated displays in three venues, but this was later extended to two more, as the costs of transportation and labor were reduced with the lighter, mobile installation equipment. Margao and Ponda cities in South and North Goa districts respectively (Goa has only two districts) were added to the venues. Margao is the center of many agitations from South Goa; while Ponda is close to the villages in North Goa where a number of environmental agitations have taken place; and both are bustling market towns with a number of people from nearby villages visiting for work, leisure or other activities. Since all the venues were public spaces arranged with due government permissions, the theatrical skit was used to introduce the Museum to bystanders and visitors at the Museum venue. This was followed by an invitation to view the original pamphlets and posters from the struggles; and the archival materials on laptops, tablets and mobile phones arranged at the venue. The film screening of short films from various struggles was held in the evening to allow for clearer viewing at dusk and after sunset.

The interactive installation in Verna.

The audience in each of the venues ranged from curious bystanders; local residents passing through; students; local activists; and journalists. For many, this was a novel archival display, a people’s history of the state. Local residents from different villages also extended invitations for hosting the Museum in their localities in the future. The Living Histories of Land in Goa Mobile Museum hopes to continue adding to the online archive with support from volunteers and to travel to other locations in the future. With the positive feedback and interest the Museum generated, discussions to this effect have been held with interested activists.