Guest Blog: Benjamin Collins

Figure 1. Grassridge Rockshelter, as viewed from the northern entrance to the site, with Dr. Collins on the right.

In 2015 Dr. Benjamin Collins was awarded a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on “Late MIS 3 Behavioral Diversity: The View from Grassridge Rockshelter, Eastern Cape, South Africa”. Recently Dr. Collins reached out to Wenner-Gren to share an update from the field.

2018 Fieldwork Update from Grassridge Rockshelter, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Dr. Benjamin Collins and Dr. Christopher Ames are leading Wenner-Gren Foundation-funded research at Grassridge Rockshelter that explores the dynamic between hunter-gather behavioral diversity, social network formation, and regional-scale climatic variability during the Late Pleistocene and Holocene in southern Africa. This research forms the core component of the Grassridge Archaeological and Paleoenvironmental Project (GAPP), which focuses on the understudied interior grasslands region of South Africa. Collins and Ames are currently focusing research on Grassridge Rockshelter, a multicomponent site with human occupations dating to the Late Pleistocene (~40,000 years ago and earlier), the early Holocene (~11,600 years ago), and the mid-Holocene (~7,000 years ago). Their ongoing research is collaborative and multidisciplinary – bringing together a variety of perspectives to reconstruct past human technologies and behaviors, and to develop high-resolution paleoenvironmental and geochronological records.

Figure 2. Dr. Ames collecting sediment samples at Grassridge Rockshelter.

Past technologies and behaviors are explored through stone tool analysis, analysis of symbolic artifacts, such as beads and pendants, and the analysis of the animal remains. Dr. Jayne Wilkins and Ms Ayanda Mdludlu are leading the stone tool analysis, with preliminary results suggesting a diverse range of stone tool manufacturing strategies during the Late Pleistocene and Holocene occupations at Grassridge. These strategies exhibit more differences than similarities in comparison with other contemporaneous sites in southern Africa, and are indicative of greater diversity in technological behaviors during these periods than previously thought.

Shell beads are ubiquitous within the Holocene occupations at Grassridge. Ongoing analysis of these symbolic artifacts, conducted by Dr. Collins and Dr. April Nowell, demonstrates an abundance of ostrich eggshell beads in all stages of manufacture, as well as marine shell beads that indicate a relationship to the coast, which was at least 200 km away from the site. These results reinforce the presence of extensive social networks during the Holocene in southern Africa, and suggest that Grassridge was an important social nexus between coastal, interior, and montane landscapes.

Figure 3. Dr. Jayne Wilkins (left) and Ms Ayanda Mdludlu (right) analysing stone tools recovered from Grassridge Rockshelter at the Stone Age Laboratory in the University of Cape Town.

Initial results from the study of the animal remains, led by Dr. Jerome Reynard, Thomas Beard, and Amy Smith, demonstrate a greater diversity of bovids than expected during the Holocene, and suggest changes in hunting strategies and local environments between the early and mid-Holocene occupations. This research also contributes to the development of a high-resolution paleoenvironmental record, with the data from the animal remains being combined with information from stable isotope analyses of recovered animal teeth, pollen and phytoliths extracted from the sediments, and an examination of the site formation processes. Stable isotope research by Dr. Judith Sealy tracks the proportions of C3 and C4 grasses through the early and mid-Holocene and will provide key information on past environmental conditions at Grassridge. Pollen and phytoliths are being studied by Dr. Carlos Cordova and the data indicate substantial differences in the local environments during the different occupations, as well as providing insight on human use of plants within the shelter, especially as firewood. The microbotanical research also contributes to the study of site formation processes, which Dr. Ames combines with stratigraphic and sedimentological analyses to reconstruct the sequence of site formation processes. The data indicate a variable presence of water and flooding in the shelter at the end of the Late Pleistocene, as well as intensive human activity and hearth construction during the mid-Holocene.

Figure 4. Ms Amy Smith (left), Mr. Thomas Beard (centre), and Dr. Jerome Reynard (right) studying animal bones recovered from Grassridge Rockshelter at the University of Witwatersrand.

GAPP is refining the chronological resolution of the occupational sequence at Grassridge through radiocarbon analysis, Uranium-Thorium analysis, and Optically Stimulated Luminescence. In collaboration with Dr. Emma Loftus, a suite of radiocarbon age estimates have been analysed from Grassridge, which have been fundamental in identifying the early and mid-Holocene occupations. Dr. Robyn Pickering is further contributing to the developing the chronological resolution of the sequence by applying Uranium-Thorium dating techniques to estimate the age of a flowstone that separates the Pleistocene and Holocene deposits, information that will also provide unique insights into the local environment and site formation processes during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. Dr. Luke Gliganic is leading the Optically Stimulated Luminescence analysis, which will clarify the Late Pleistocene occupational sequence at Grassridge, as these occupations are beyond the limit of radiocarbon dating.

Initial results and ongoing analyses provide valuable insight into the archaeology and paleoenvironments preserved in the rich archive from Grassridge Rockshelter, and are furnishing a detailed, multi-faceted understanding of life in the interior grasslands of southern Africa over the past 40,000 years. These data point to a record of changing local environments and human lifeways over time that, as more analyses are completed, will inform our understanding of human-environment dynamics during periods of rapid and profound climate change. As this new information is compared to, and contextualized within, the broader southern African record, it will shed light on social network formation and human adaptation to climate variability at local, regional, and subcontinental scales from the end of the Late Pleistocene through the mid-Holocene.

Fieldwork Update: Grassridge Rockshelter, Eastern Cape, South Africa

We welcome a guest post from Wenner-Gren grantees Dr. Benjamin Collins and Dr. Christopher Ames.

Geologist and Uranium-Thorium dating specialist Dr. Robyn Pickering (left) and Dr. Christopher Ames (right) examining the geological sample containing a flowstone which separates Grassridge's Holocene and Pleistocene occupations. Photograph taken by Dr. Benjamin Collins.

Dr. Benjamin Collins and Dr. Christopher Ames are currently conducting Wenner-Gren Foundation-funded excavations of the Late Pleistocene and Holocene occupations at Grassridge rockshelter. The site is located at the base of the Stormberg Mountains in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and is approximately 200 km inland from the Indian Ocean. These excavations are part of the Grassridge Archaeological and Paleoenvironmental Project (GAPP), which explores the dynamic between hunter-gather behavioral diversity, social network formation, and regional-scale climatic variability during the Late Pleistocene.

The Late Pleistocene in southern Africa was subject to periods of severe aridity and rapid climatic change. Some researchers have used this evidence to suggest the interior regions of southern Africa were sparsely populated at these times, with hunter-gatherer groups forming very small, localized social networks. However, the paucity of well-described archaeological sites from the interior during this time frame has made it difficult to explicitly test this hypothesis.

Dr. Christopher Ames (left) and Dr. Benjamin Collins (right) examining the northern profile wall from Dr. Hermanus Opperman's 1979 excavations at Grassridge. Photograph taken by Cherene De Bruyn.

Grassridge’s ~90 – 100 cm thick Late Pleistocene archive is capped by a radiocarbon date of ~35,000 years ago, placing the sequence during an enigmatic period of technological and behavioral diversity in southern Africa. The bottom of the sequence is currently of unknown age. GAPP’s Wenner-Gren Foundation-funded excavations at Grassridge will provide crucial information from the understudied interior region of southern Africa, and make an important contribution towards understanding a period relative uncertainty in the southern African record.

This field season focuses on growing our sample of Late Pleistocene artifacts, and refining the chronology of Grassridge’s Late Pleistocene sequence. Preliminary results demonstrate a rich sample of stone tools, including blades (large and small) and points, faunal remains, several hearths and burning features, and large pieces of ochre. These data provide detailed information about hunter-gatherers lifeways in this area 35,000 years ago, and allow us to compare their strategies with those from across southern Africa.

2016 field crew on site at Grassridge (l-r): Dr. Benjamin Collins, Cherene De Bruyn, Dr. Christopher Ames, and Lisa Rogers.

Our excavations have also recovered substantial charcoal fragments, which are large enough to identify the types of plants being used for fuel, and critical for refining Grassridge’s Late Pleistocene occupational chronology. Moreover, we have identified a thin flowstone at the contact between Grassridge’s Pleistocene and Holocene occupations, which is to be dated by Uranium-Thorium dating specialist, Dr. Robyn Pickering (University of Cape Town). Dr. Pickering’s meticulous analysis will not only provide an important chronological marker, it will also produce detailed information of the paleoenvironmental conditions before, during, and after the formation of the flowstone, and help us better understand the gap in Grassridge’s occupational sequence between the Pleistocene and Holocene.

As our field season comes to a close, we are looking forward to getting back to the lab and analyzing the artifacts and faunal remains recovered from the Late Pleistocene occupation layers, as well as the geological and geochronological samples. These analyses will provide a comprehensive understanding of what life was like for the Grassridge’s hunter-gatherer residents, and more broadly contribute to understanding the relationships between behavioral diversity, social networks, and climatic variability at a regional scale.

Guest Blog: Deflategate, or Ballghazi, and the Conundrum of Expertise

"The Shannon Portrait of the Hon Robert Boyle" by Johann Kerseboom - Chemical Heritage Foundation, Photograph by Will Brown. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

We here at Wenner-Gren love to support and bring attention to the latest in anthropology. While that usually entails work down in the scholarly settings of the field or the lab, we also enjoy learning about the more unexpected, ephemeral targets of our colleagues’ analytical eyes. The following post is syndicated with permission from the Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing (CASTAC). Michael Scroggins is a Ph.D. candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University and CASTAC Outreach Manager. He lives with a Patriots fan.

It is the week of Super Bowl Sunday and I live with a Patriots fan. For the last two weeks all serious conversation in our house has revolved around some aspect of the upcoming game. Unless you have been living under a rock (or inside a book), you can probably guess that most of our conversations center around why a set of footballs used by  the Patriots during the AFC Championship game were found to be under the minimum psi level specified by the NFL. Were the Patriots cheating by manually deflating footballs? Or is there a “natural” explanation for the deflation?

It is the week of Super Bowl Sunday and I live with a Patriots fan. For the last two weeks all serious conversation in our house has revolved around some aspect of the upcoming game. Unless you have been living under a rock (or inside a book), you can probably guess that most of our conversations center around why a set of footballs used by  the Patriots during the AFC Championship game were found to be under the minimum psi level specified by the NFL. Were the Patriots cheating by manually deflating footballs? Or is there a “natural” explanation for the deflation?

The interesting question from an STS perspective, and the hinge which cheating allegations revolve around, is whether or not the atmospheric conditions at the AFC championship game could have caused a football to deflate what the NFL has called “a significant amount.” The question is a thorny one because it is entirely unclear who counts as an expert on football deflation, where one might turn to find an expert opinion, or even what criteria might be appropriate in determining who is, or is not, an expert on football deflation. Worse, how might one find a deflation expert who does not have a rooting interest for or against the Patriots at this late date? In short,  who may enunciate the truths of football deflation?
Patriots head coach, and noted gridiron alchemist, Bill Belichick was the first to turn to science for an explanation. Like a modern day Boyle, he held a press conference in which he detailed an experiment conducted at the Patriots facility which he claimed demonstrated that natural conditions caused “significant” football deflation at the AFC Championship game. His explanation was detailed and involved a special method of preparing the football for play (that is, getting the correct feel for the quarterback) that can change the psi level without manual deflation.

Belichick’s experiment caused an immediate reaction. Science celebrities Bill Nye, the Science Guy (a well-known Seahawks fan and mechanical engineer) and Neil deGrasse Tyson (a theoretical physicist and perhaps a Giants, or Jets, fan) both weighed in on Belichick’s experiment, the former taking to morning television to rebut Belichick and the latter to twitter to voice his doubts.  The next day support for Belichick’s experiment appeared in the form of three Boston area professors (at least one of whom is a Bills fan).  Not one to miss a bandwagon, the NFL is currently consulting with the physics department at Columbia University (could they be Giants or Jets fans?) about the role of atmospheric conditions on football deflation.

While many mined theory for an explanation, others tried to replicate Belichick’s experiment.  The experimenters at HeadSmart Labs claimed to replicate Belichick’s claims about atmospheric conditions causing deflation. Meanwhile, a series of posts by Chad Orzel on his football deflation experiments are summed up here. The HeadSmart Labs experiment included inflating the football in a 75 degree room, soaking the footballs in water, which they claimed made them expand, then moving the footballs to a 50 degree room prior to measuring psi. Doing this, they claim psi was lowered by .9 to 1.8 psi per football, which is in line with the deflation claimed at the AFC Championship game. Orzel, for his part, notes that the series of experiments he conducted, which did not show significant deflation, were performed using a pressure sensor that measures absolute pressure, not gauge pressure. This is a critical difference when atmospheric conditions form part of the argument. No word on the HeadSmart Labs gauge, but a safe guess is that their gauge did not use absolute pressure.

Throughout this crisis of knowledge, Belichick has proved to be a savvy experimenter with a feel for the difficulties of the experimental method and the role of contingency in knowledge production (theoreticians beware!). Take note of this quote from his press conference on the localization of experimental technique and material, and the difficulty of replication:
When you measure a football, there are a number of different issues that come up. Number one, gauges. There are multiple types of gauges. The accuracy of one gauge relative to another, there’s variance there. We’re talking about air pressure. There’s some variance there. Clearly all footballs are different. So, footballs that come out of a similar pack, a similar box, a similar preparation, each football has its own unique, individual characteristics because it’s not a man-made piece of equipment. It’s an animal skin, it’s a bladder, it’s stitching, it’s laces. Each one has its own unique characteristics. Whatever you do with that football, if you do the same thing with another one, it might be close, but there’s a variance between each individual football.
If this is the state of the atmospheric conditions argument, the argument for human intervention has been moving forward as well. As of this writing the NFL has reviewed video footage showing the movement of the footballs in question prior to kickoff. The investigation has now centered on the 90 seconds a Patriots employee spent in a locked bathroom with the footballs later found to be deflated. Here, it has been argued, in a space free of video cameras the employee had time, opportunity, and motive to alter the footballs. Where the physicist has been the default expert for the atmospheric argument, the detective has emerged as the default expert on human motivation.

Not wanting to be left out, over the last few days, data scientists have weighed in on a statistical analysis claiming the Patriots fumble rate over the last few seasons (very low by NFL standards) cannot be explained by random fluctuation. Hence, as the dim logic of data science tells us, there must be foul play!

American football, as the saying goes, is a game of inches. Increasingly, it is also a game of expert witness.

A Case Study of Dissertation Research Collaboration in Rural Haiti – Part 4 of 4

In the previous posts of this four-Part series on research collaboration in rural Haiti, Florida doctoral student and WGF grantee Andrew Tarter discussed the benefits to social scientists of collaborating with research counterparts at Faculté d’Ethnologie (Department of Ethnology) at L’Université d’État d’Haïti (State University of Haiti). He provided a list of steps that constitute a blueprint toward successful collaboration. Here Tarter concludes by addressing some challenges faced, and suggesting additional routes to collaboration.

Challenges to collaboration

The process of research collaboration I have discussed in previous posts of this 4-part series sounds rosy. Make no mistake about it; there were real challenges as well.  Being responsible for many aspects of the physical well-being of three individuals is a task that was new to me, and one that consumed a great deal of my time. There were daily tasks, weekly tasks, and monthly tasks. Daily, I had to offload data (audio interviews, GPS paths and points, photos and surveys) when our research team was done for the day, and reverse the process (program GPS paths and points, clear audio interviews, consult satellite photos, identify plots of land to visit, arrange motorcycle transport, and prepare blank surveys) each morning. I also had to keep on top of charging and returning student laptops and rechargeable batteries so the students could work on their memoirs in the evenings. On a weekly basis, I had to attend two weekly markets to purchase food (no refrigerator), allocate the budget for food and water (drinking and bathing), arrange to have water carried to the houses, purchase and transport charcoal, and manage the overall weekly research schedule, making occasional schedule adjustments for student trips to the capital and holidays. I also taught two weekly English classes at the community center. Then there was the task of recharging Internet USB sticks (at a crippling 2G internet speed) and purchasing and transporting gasoline for the generator.  I found myself frequently taking the 45-minute, one-way trip to the bank, spending multiple hours standing in line to circumvent bank-imposed limits on cash withdrawals, in order to pay the three collaborators, cooks, motorcycle chauffeurs, and the owner of the house where the students stayed.  And let’s not forget laundry. Naively I had not expected these tasks would consume a large portion of my free time. To top it all off, I still had multiple interviews to conduct and ethnographic film footage to shoot in my free time. While difficult, these tasks didn’t in any way negate the experience and benefits of working with research collaborators—it was still well worth it. Nevertheless, PIs working with multiple collaborators should be prepared to spend a good deal of their time on logistics related to keeping the research on schedule.

Other routes to collaboration

Collaborating can take different forms, and I would be remiss to not note at least a few other recent examples and opportunities that interested researchers should consult:

  • Due to the combined efforts of anthropologists abroad and in Haiti, Faculté d’Ethnologie has recently received an institutional building grant from the Wenner Gren Foundation.  This grant—which had not yet been approved when I started my research—now serves as one particular route to collaboration with Faculté d’Ethnologie at UEH.  To read a recent interview with Dr. Jhon Picard Byron (Chef Département Anthropologie-Sociologie) about the grant and the history of anthropology at UEH, click here.
  • Senior researchers can and should benefit from consulting Dr. Mark Schuller’s special issue in Practicing Anthropology, Vol. 35, No. 3 on the benefits and challenges to working collaboratively with Haitian-American undergraduates and their Haitian counterparts at UEH.
  • New scholars en route to Haiti might also consider a preliminary visit to the nearby University of Florida, which has the longest-standing research relationship with Haiti, boasting:


About the author

Andrew Tarter is a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow, and PhD candidate in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Florida. Tarter’s research in Haiti has been supported by NSF, The Wenner Gren Foundation, the Fulbright Program, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

A Case Study of Dissertation Research Collaboration in Rural Haiti – Part 3 of 4

A rakbwa’ (managed woodlot) in rural Haiti.

Andrew Tarter is a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow, and PhD candidate in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Florida. Tarter’s research in Haiti has been supported by NSF, The Wenner Gren Foundation, the Fulbright Program, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. We continue with his four-part guest blogging series (previous installments) outlining his experience collaborating with students from the Faculté d’Ethnologie (Department of Ethnology) at L’Université d’État d’Haïti (State University of Haiti).

6. Research collaboratively

Regrettably, the crystallization of the research plan—often formalized during multiple rewrites for granting agencies—may lead a researcher to believe they must dogmatically adhere, word-by-word, to what they originally proposed.  This is a mistake.  Viewing potential research collaborators simply as “research assistants” along to strictly adhere to the dirty work of data collection often compounds this mistake, and prevents the researcher from benefiting from valuable emic insights. Instead, collaborators should be involved in as many steps of the research process as possible.

Early in our research schedule our team visited a series of different rakbwa (managed woodlots)—the unit-of-analysis of the research design. Visits were followed by long conversations about what constitutes a rakbwa. These exercises ultimately led to the operationalization of the rakbwa concept for our research purposes. I also introduced the students to the concept of the ‘domestication of energy’ (Murray 1987, 1991)—an important theoretical construct of the research. They immediately grasped it at its analogs from theories related to the domestication of plants and animals, and provided valuable feedback about the usefulness of the construct from within the Haitian context.

The students also were intimately involved in the creation of open-ended interview questions, as well as the questions on the survey, which formed the backbone of the research design. Since the research seeks to identify patterns in land-use and land-changes based on sociocultural, ecological, economic and spatial variables, the research team had to generate a wide range of questions that would accurately and reliably measure these multiple variables. Questions that would never have occurred to me were raised by students multiple times and found their way into the final survey.  For example, one of the students suggested that rather than simply asking if an individual has a motorcycle (one indicator in our ‘wealth’ index), we should follow up by asking if the individual makes money using the motorcycle as a taxi to transport goods or people. Rather than simply asking if an individual owns animals, we should ask which kinds of animals, and whether they own them outright or if they are involved in gadinaj (a Haitian system of outsourcing the caretaking of an animal—animal fosterage). Thanks to input from the students, several such questions were further plumbed for additional data by follow-up questions I had never thought to ask. Collaborating in such a manner is an effective way of making sure you don’t miss out in the collection of important data that may inform your research question(s).


View of another 'rakbwa’ (managed woodlot)

7. Check in with collaborators

Humans can be politely mum, for any number of reasons.  This fact can result in the build up of resentment over unsettled or unaddressed issues, making it important to frequently check-in with collaborators to assess their well-being and the progress of the research and issues related to its execution.  An easy way to address this is through weekly meetings, but these can become trite if there is nothing new to address. The right balance will depend on the nature of the research. The three student research collaborators from UEH used meetings on more than one occasion to address difficulties in the work plan we had devised.  One difficulty involved the walking distance to plots of land we needed to visit. ‘As the crow flies’ all of the plots were no farther than 3 kilometers one-way.  However, the up-and-down mountainous terrain of Haiti and the fact that many land plots lay far from established paths meant that often times the students were walking much, much farther than the originally estimated maximum of six round-trip kilometers a day.  After a check-in meeting where they expressed this concern, we made an adjustment to the number of plots we expected to visit each day, and readjusted the weekly work schedule to account for the ‘exhaustion factor’ of so much walking in the sun. During another instance we failed to communicate and I was confused about how long of a break students intended to take for the week of Easter, putting the research behind by a couple of days. These quick examples—a successful communication and adjustment, and a communication failure—highlight the importance of establishing a check-in schedule that addresses the needs of the PI and the research collaborators.


8. Make yourself available

Being flexible and making yourself available outside of the context of the research schedule is an important part of collaboration and building lasting relationships with collaborators. My students were interested in learning English, and offering a time to practice with them was important.  I ended up teaching a short-course in English at the local community center, which the students attended, as well as speaking in English with the students during shared mealtimes. I also implored the students to immediately correct my Kreyòl whenever I made a mistake, in order to help me improve not only my pronunciation, but also grammar and the contextual appropriateness of certain common Haitian expressions.

Two of the three students requested my assistance with the memoirs they were writing for their degrees.  Due to my Fulbright placement the year prior—specifically my position on the taskforce convened to overhaul NGO registration, monitoring and regulation—I was able to provide one student who studies NGOs in Haiti with important documents that he otherwise didn’t have access to. In the case of another student who studies the contradictions between rural and urban life in Haiti, I was asked to participate in an interview of my impressions, having just spent one year in the city followed by a second year in the countryside.  I was also able to connect this same student with a senior anthropologist for an additional interview, and provide him with a newly published summative anthropological research document of which he wasn’t yet aware.

Toward the end of our time, I became aware of a higher education fellowship program to study in France, and encouraged the students to apply. I was able to help two of the students craft their applications to the program, and provide solid letters of recommendation that detailed our collaborative efforts and presumably strengthened their applications. Another student asked me to produce a certificate—an important component of the Haitian CV—that specified the research he helped collaborate on. These examples are but a few of the ways in which we were able to mutually cooperate outside the immediate parameters of the research.


9. De-brief and meet afterword

Debriefing is important from both a personal and research standpoint.  I conducted exit interviews with each student, to try to glean any final insights they had gained from nine months in the field.  Debriefing also gave students a chance to offer constructive criticism of the overall experience and to suggest ways I might improve the process of collaboration in the future.

Meeting in a new context after the research is completed is important as well.  Doing so demonstrates that the PI is interested in the students beyond what they helped the PI achieve.  I’ve met several times with students once they returned to the capital, both at their homes and at local restaurants.  It’s a nice way to bring closure to the entire process in a less formal way.


Works Cited


Murray, Gerald F. 1987. The domestication of wood in Haiti: A case study in applied evolution. In Anthropological Praxis. R. Wulff and S. Fiske, eds. Pp. 223-240. Boulder: Westview Press.
Murray, Gerald F. 1991. The Tree Gardens of Haiti: From Extraction to Domestication. In Social forestry: Communal and private management strategies compared. D. Challinor and M. Hardt Frondorf, eds. Pp. 35-44. Washington, D.C.: School of Advanced International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University.

Schooling, Urgency, and Hope For Movement Ahead of The Ebola Crisis in Liberia: Perspectives from Recent Fieldwork

[Eva Harman is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University and received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation in 2011 to aid research “Desire for Education and ‘Ties that Lift’: Schooling, Movement, and Social Regeneration in Post-War Liberia,” supervised by Dr. Carol Greenhouse. This post originally appeared in “Ebola In Perspective”, a Cultural Anthropology Hot Spots series.]

In this essay, I discuss the importance of schooling, in light of the Ebola outbreak. The Liberian President’s order to suspend schooling in August had significant impact even though regular classes were not yet in session. “Vacation schooling,” or summer school, is attended by many young people in Liberia. Parents send children to vacation school for various and often-interconnected reasons: They are invested in their children’s education and an extended break from school could be an interruption to their children’s progress. Violence is a concern that many parents address through the act of sending their children to school, both in the summer and during the regular school year. Parents are concerned that their children could become victims of violence or that they could be drawn into violent practices. They hope to bring up a person who will enable them to die feeling proud of the accomplishments they achieved as a person and a member of society.

Summer classes and sessions make education more flexible. Many students I worked with dropped schooling, or came and went from schooling, in order to make money through entrepreneurial activities, to help family, to have and nurse children, to care for ill or aging relatives, or to respond to other sharp needs. A difference between a colloquial American and a colloquial Liberian expression is suggestive: In the United States, “dropping out of school” carries with it an assumption that the person will not return. When narrating their education histories, young Liberians mentioned “dropping” school while also often expressing their intention to continue.

Summer or vacation schooling can make it possible to advance more quickly. In part due to the war, and in part due to accumulations of periods when schooling is interrupted, ages range fairly widely in Liberian classrooms, from kindergarten to university. It is not uncommon for young adults to attend primary school with children. Some young people who had fought in the war or had travelled along with those fighting emphasized their desire for continuing educational and professional advancement within civilian life.

A journalist spoke with a grandmother who pulled her grandson out of vacation school shortly before the state of emergency was declared in Liberia. The grandmother said, “He cried, but no child will control me. It will be better for him to live and attend many more vacation schools than get sick from Ebola.” In the news report, the grandmother is communicating her response to images on a highly graphic Ebola campaign poster that inspires fear. Agency is also expressed; she will not allow a grandson to control her. She conveys the grandson’s distress at having to interrupt his schooling and her hope that he can return to school later. Schooling allows people to say something beyond “I am complying with global public health orders.” They can also express the interruptions that Ebola and global public health orders are causing in their lives and insist upon a better future. They can also directly, or more subtly, signal disagreement or their will to continue living.

A friend of mine, who gives informal instruction in reading and writing, wrote that she is continuing to meet with a few women students. They still want to learn! They are also discussing “Ebola in town,” she added. Official educational institutions remained closed in Liberia, though some people are continuing schooling in private settings. The children of a Liberian, who works at an NGO, set up a classroom on the family’s front porch. The administrators of the play school asked pupils to pay a tuition fee—a reminder of the tight connection between schooling and money in Liberia. Money is required for attending both public and private school. Public primary schooling is tuition-free, but resources to repair, expand, or improve educational infrastructure are often demanded from students, parents, and teachers. Through schooling, people may be able to put something in between themselves and a crisis.

Schooling is also a location for conversation and engagement on different levels. The National Teachers’ Association in Liberia is calling for schools to be re-opened. An editorial in the Liberian press examines issues impeding the re-opening of schools that extend beyond logistics and health. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education is preparing radio broadcasts that will include not only Ebola awareness but also limited academic subject content. The Liberian Minister of Education has objected to the use of schools as Ebola holding centers or facilities on the grounds that this may “create fear among students when classes shall officially resume in the not too long distance future.”

It matters tremendously that medicine and treatment should be made available to those who are sick right now with this deadly disease. An emergency medical-humanitarian intervention is necessary; yet, it is important to keep in mind that perspectives on health care can become vehicles for people to express their discontent with economic or political matters, including global inequality. Although the formal educational infrastructure in Liberia is weak, Liberians I worked with had confidence in the power of schooling to materialize their engagement in building a better life for themselves and the next generation. The United States government and global corporations with direct or indirect ties to Liberia have made commitments to the fight against Ebola, but they should also increase their investment in the existing national educational infrastructure. Scholarships for Liberian students to pursue advanced degrees and specialized training, particularly in the under-resourced fields of medicine and education, are greatly needed. My recent fieldwork convinces me that moving ahead of the Ebola crisis in Liberia will happen with less violence, terror, and mistrust when people feel supported in their aspirations for the future.

A Case Study of Dissertation Research Collaboration in Rural Haiti – Part 2 of 4

In the previous installment of this 4-Part series on research collaboration in rural Haiti, Florida’s Andrew Tarter discussed the benefits to social scientists of collaborating with research counterparts at Faculté d’Ethnologie (Department of Ethnology) at L’Université d’État d’Haïti (State University of Haiti). Here he continues with a list of steps that provide a blueprint toward successful collaboration.

3. Connect with a wide range of potential collaborators.

Connecting with students and having discussions with faculty members from Faculté d’Ethnologie provides several advantages, even if you don’t have expendable funding to employ students (see ‘Why Collaborate?’ in the previous post). Just be certain to be explicit that you’re conducting interviews to acquire data or for purposes of collaboration, and not for a paid position. Connecting with multiple people follows classical sampling logic: you increase variability, and by extension increase potential fields of collaboration.

I conducted my interviews entirely in Kreyòl (Haitian Creole), though many of the students demonstrated strong command of both French and English during the interview process. While some students had clearly read the research synopsis I had circulated, many had not; a substantial portion of the interviewing period was spent explaining the research. Be prepared to give multiple explanations of your proposed research.

The simple fact that the paid research collaborator positions I was recruiting for were to last 9 months was a major deterrent for some students. To top it off, the research was in a remote part of the southern peninsula, far from capital city.  The extreme physical challenges of the research—walking many miles into remote woodlots under an unrelenting Haitian sun—was another deterrent for other students. One student declined during the interview, stating that these woodlots were home to any number of wild animals, including dangerous snakes. More than one student mentioned that the daily stipend was well below what they might expect to receive as a per diem from USAID, or any number of NGOs conducting research in the country. I agreed. But I also explained that researchers would have their room-and-board covered, and with very little to spend money on in the countryside they would have an opportunity to reliably save the lion’s share of their stipend.  Furthermore, each research collaborator would receive a field laptop, chosen for its 12-hour battery capacity—a major advantage in a country with sporadic and unreliable electricity.  The laptop would be theirs to keep at the end of the research period.

By and by the 20 CVs were narrowed down to approximately five candidates, three of which accepted positions. All three students were memoran—the equivalent to undergraduates who have completed their coursework, had their memoir (thesis) topic approved, but have not yet written nor defended their memoir.


A research collaborator takes notes in a 'rakbwa' (managed woodlot).

4. Establish a research contract

After the three students successfully relocated to the research site, we got to work. One of the first items of order we tackled as a team was the creation of research contracts. I submitted a blueprint contract that reflected my concerns, objectives, priorities and stipulations as the principal investigator; the students in turn added stipulations of their own and some wording corrections to make the contract clearer.  In the end we co-created a concise 1-page contract that outlined the perimeters and parameters of the research to be conducted and the expectations of all parties involved. I highly recommend that researchers entering into collaborative endeavors with other scholars conduct this exercise. It ensures a clear understanding of the research to all parties involved, provides a template of expectations, and can serve as a roadmap in the event of future miscommunication or conflict. In hindsight, the exercise of establishing a contract should have been completed prior to the students relocating from Pòtoprens.  Luckily it went off with a hitch, but future researchers should consider collaboratively drafting contracts before arriving to their respective field sites.


5. Start slow

Pòtoprens’ notorious traffic isn’t the only thing that moves sluggishly in Haiti; things seem to move even slower andeyo (the Haitian countryside). Intense afternoon heat with no fans to sit in front of and no air-conditioned rooms to escape to in ensures that many tasks come to a grinding halt during the middle hours of the day. No electricity also means that things get pretty quiet after the sun goes down. Meetings must often be rescheduled if rain falls as farmers must tend to gardens. A cautionary si Dye vle (God willing) is frequently added at the end of verbal commitments, indicative of the tentative nature of many temporal arrangements in Haiti. Researchers should recognize and adapt to this reality.

Student research collaborators from the Faculté d'Ethnologie at the L'Université d'État d'Haïti consult satellite photos before conducting training exercises with GPS units.

Many people seem to be romantically enamored of andeyo—at least for the first couple of weeks.  It’s everything their first experience of Haiti’s capital city isn’t: clean, quiet(er), green, and less densely populated. While perhaps a cliché rural-urban dichotomy, the people of the countryside seem gentler and more engaging than urbanites.  The countryside offers a sense of security absent in the capital; everyone knows or recognizes most everyone else they encounter, adding a degree of accountability to everyone’s actions. As one village leader told me: Nou pa gen vòlè isit, nou pa gen dezòd isit (We don’t have thieves here, we don’t have unrest here). For me, this reassurance was a breath of fresh air; the year prior in Pòtoprens I had an attempted break-in at my apartment, I was robbed at gunpoint in front of my house while nearby armed guards silently watched, and in another instance I outran a group of four men on motorcycles that tried to mug me in the street. While Pòtoprens is less dangerous than many major US cities, what anthropologist Mark Schuller has titled “[T]he incredible whiteness of being (an anthropologist)” sometimes results in a degree of unwelcomed negative attention (Schuller 2010). The countryside seems to nullify some aspects of this reality: In five years of visiting my research site I have never once been threatened, stolen from, or felt any risk for my life.

Andeyo can also seem a bit boring, especially if you’re more accustomed to the fast pace of a city.  For the most part, the students adapted marvelously well to their new surroundings.  While two of the students had been raised in the countryside, one had never been out of Pòtoprens for more than 10 days in his entire life—a reflection of the increasing urbanization of Haiti, a country with a traditional 2/3rds rural majority. The other students gently teased him about his lack of experience andeyo, though he later confided that he now prefers the country to the city.

Some members of the community were particularly open to the students, who were initially strangers in their presence. Other members took time to warm up to the students.  Again, patience was the key, and allowing time for students to integrate into the community was important. We allotted ample time to meet and explain our research to community members, attending church, soccer games, the two weekly markets, and going for long walks in the area. I also met and explained the research to the local minister of environment from the nearest city. At the urging of the students, we also made a point of meeting with the area kazèk—the local magistrate. After visiting this community for over five years, I had no idea this position even existed. My students mildly rebuked me for not meeting with the kazèk a long time ago. Unbeknownst to me this is the standard operation of order in rural research in Haiti, and provides a fitting anecdote to advocate for the benefits of research collaboration with in-country scholars.

In addition to allowing time for adequate community integration, starting slowly allowed the necessary time to properly train the students in use of GPS technologies.  A major component of the research rested on my insistence on a random sampling strategy that would increase external validity and allow me to extrapolate research findings beyond our sample. This insistence required the research team to physically locate hundreds of randomly selected plots of land using GPS units.  This was a difficult task, as many of the plots fell far from established roads and paths.  It took us all a while to get the hang of things and become confident in orienting ourselves with the GPS units. Starting slow in the short-term ended up saving time in the long-term by reducing serious errors we might have otherwise made.

Starting slowly also allowed us to develop, test, refine, and finalize the survey instrument and open-ended questions in an iterative fashion, rather than rushing out with a predetermined question list.  Starting slowly will present a different set of challenges for researchers working in urban or peri-urban areas—working in partnership with the right collaborators will ensure these challenges can be properly addressed.

A Case Study of Dissertation Research Collaboration in Rural Haiti – Part 1 of 4

Andrew Tarter is a Ph.D. candidate in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Florida. He received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on ‘The Tree Farmers of Haiti: Understanding Factors that Influence Farmers’ Retention of Forest Land in Southern Haiti,’ supervised by Dr. Gerald F. Murray. Tarter is also a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow and his research has additionally been supported by the Fulbright Program and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Over the course of his fieldwork in Haiti, Tarter has worked extensively with students from L’Université d’État d’Haïti (State University of Haiti) a recipient of the Wenner-Gren Institutional Development Grant. Andrew joins us today to guest-blog the first of a four-part series reflecting on his collaboration with Haitian students and the myriad benefits and challenges of collaboration within the field setting.

Student research collaborators from the Faculté d'Ethnologie at the L'Université d'État d'Haïti conducting interviews in rural Haiti.

Haiti is a hotbed of social science research. As a subscriber to Google Scholar Alerts on anything related to Haiti, I am continually astounded at the sheer volume of Haiti-based research that continues to be produced.  Anecdotally I know of no less than six anthropology doctoral students currently in Haiti, collecting data for their dissertations. I have received numerous emails over the past few years from new or incoming anthropology graduate students who intend to work in Haiti.  Several recent PhDs and senior anthropologists continue visit Haiti every year, usually during the summer months. At least two well-known anthropology PhDs have made Pòtoprens (Port-au-Prince) their permanent home—one for the last 40 years. Several universities lead undergraduate study-abroad trips to Haiti every year. I recently hosted a tenured associate professor of anthropology who is interested in shifting his research to Haiti. Suffice to say, Haiti has no shortage of visiting anthropology undergraduates, graduate students, doctoral students, senior researchers, and resident anthropologists. In all cases numerous opportunities exist for collaboration with counterparts at the Faculté d’Ethnologie (Department of Ethnology; FE) at the L’Université d’État d’Haïti (State University of Haiti; UEH).

Sorting through CVs at Faculté d'Ethnologie at the L'Université d'État d'Haïti, in preparation for interviewing potential student research collaborators.

My own recent experience working alongside three anthropology and sociology undergraduates from UEH was both a dream-come-true and a challenge. I had previous experience leading an interdisciplinary team of students from the University of Florida to Haiti on a 10-day expedition to conduct research on plant diversity and local plant uses. But this was different: I was embarking on new terrain in an effort to recruit three Haitian scholars to leave the capital and go work in a remote part of the country—under physically demanding circumstances—for nine months. When reviewing my initial research proposal, more than one of my academic advisors cautioned against working with educated urbanites. Rather, they suggested, I should hire assistants from the rural research site, as they are locally integrated and know the land better.  I wrestled with these two options, but ultimately chose to recruit and collaborate with students from UEH for two primary reasons: (1) they have training in social theory and methods absent in members of the village; and (2) the experience, while just a temporary job to villagers, could serve as a springboard to future academic opportunities for the UEH students.

In this first post of a four-part blog series, I begin a sequential reflection of the entire course of events, from connecting with faculty and students from FE, to some of the challenges faced in the rural countryside by our research team. While I advocate for continued research partnerships—contextualized through the exemplar of my interactions with faculty and students at FE—I also provide a blueprint of collaboration through a series of suggestions that could be applicable to future social science researchers from other disciplines who wish to collaborate with corresponding researchers and departments at UEH.

The Costs of Collaboration

I am painfully aware of the challenges many anthropology doctoral students face in securing funding. My own initial dissertation grant applications were all turned down, but with persistence and guidance during the Summer Institute in Research Design, I was able to craft a compelling research proposal. In the end, I was very fortunate: my dissertation research was supported by both the Wenner Gren Foundation and the National Science Foundation. This public-private funding collaboration allowed for long-term research and partnership with three students—a unique situation that may not be available to all researchers visiting Haiti under a variety of different circumstances.  Nevertheless, there are multiple opportunities and advantages to collaborating with members of the Faculté d’Ethnologie, irrespective of funding status, which I touch upon in the paragraphs that follow.

The Benefits of Collaboration

Collaborating with faculty and students from Faculté d’Ethnologie is not a requirement.  I know several anthropology doctoral students who have conducted research in Haiti, successfully collecting data and returning to write their dissertations without ever visiting the Faculté d’Ethnologie campus.  Likewise, many senior researchers do not collaborate with FE. Not all research designs or research objectives require collaboration; however, collaborating provides numerous advantages for researchers, including:

  • New friendships and meaningful relationships;
  • Income from research positions that provide a stipend, per diem, or salary;
  • Collaborating on short- and long-term research projects or initiatives;
  • Collaborating on funding projects;
  • Receiving letters of recommendation from researchers that students can use to pad CVs and leverage further opportunities;
  • Assistance in translating important documents;
  • Assistance applying to foreign universities;
  • Assistance applying to foreign funding sources;
  • Accessing important or hard-to-find documents;
  • Feedback from non-Haitian anthropologists on their research; and
  • The opportunity to practice and improve their language skills, depending on the language(s) of the PI.

This is hardly an exhaustive list; benefits to research collaboration don’t end here. Each case of collaboration is unique and will present its own challenges and benefits. Furthermore, none of these benefits are guaranteed: they rely to a large extent on good-faith efforts by all parties involved. Below I highlight some steps to ensure fruitful collaboration, contextualized through anecdotes from my own personal experience. This is not a recipe that needs to be followed step-by-step, nor a guaranteed roadmap to attainment, but rather a tentative schedule for collaborative success.

1. Reach out to faculty

It is entirely probable and quite likely that another researcher has come before you, and has experience and relationships with faculty members in an affiliated UEH department. My initial introduction to anthropology faculty at UEH was facilitated by another anthropologist—Dr. Mark Schuller.  Reaching out to UEH faculty through another researcher is a good strategy depending on that researcher’s relationship with said faculty.  Luckily, Mark has great rapport with Faculté d’Ethnologie—he’s been an affiliate since 2003, and has taught multiple courses there.

Mark introduced me via email to Drs. Jhon Picard Byron (Chef Département Anthropologie-Sociologie), Ilionor Louis, (Chef Département des Sciences de Développement), and Jean-Yves Blot (Vice-Recteur à la Recherche).  After initial introductions and a series of phone conversations, I passed on a synopsis of my proposed research, which was circulated among students who are finisan (finished with their coursework) or memoran (students who have had their thesis proposal approved). A date and time was arranged to visit campus to meet faculty and conduct interviews with interested students.

2.  Visit the campus

My experiences during a Fulbright placement within the Haitian government the prior year wrongly led me to imagine the Faculté d’Ethnologie campus as a perilous place.  I distinctly remember the expression of horror on the face of my point-of-contact in the US Embassy at my suggestion of collaborating with Faculté d’Ethnologie for the academic component of my Fulbright placement. She claimed the campus was the starting point of many violent protests, and that a volley of rocks greeted a recent visit by the Haitian President. I was forbidden to collaborate with Faculté d’Ethnologie.

Main building of the Faculty of Ethnology. At the front stands a bust of Dr. Price-Mars, founder of the institute, who became faculty in 1958.

A year later, and a few moments after arriving on the campus, I was reminded how out-of-touch the US Embassy can be. I was not greeted by any rocks, but instead by a courtyard of relaxed students gathering here and there under the shade of a leafy green canopy, engaging in impassioned debates about politics and history, or shuffling off to attend class.  No one even seemed noticed me.  Eventually Jean-Yves Blot spotted me and we made our introductions.  He handed me a large stack of manila envelopes containing CVs of approximately 20 students interested in the three research positions. Blot led me to an empty classroom, and told me that the students would soon meet me there for interviews.  As he left he asked me to give an impromptu presentation of my research to his class when the interviews were over.

After the interviews I sought out Blot to honor my agreement to present my research to his class of anthropology students. As an academic, the opportunity to discuss one’s research comes up often enough to have polished sound bites on hand. What I hadn’t expected was the loss of my voice; after about 3 hours of interviewing, during which I often had to give a presentation of the research, my voice had nearly left me.  Luckily it held together long enough to give a 30 minute presentation. Researchers interested in presenting or attending presentations at UEH can connect through the department’s Facebook page listing colloquia and other events: Faculté d’Ethnologie Colloque Et autres activités.

I highly recommend taking the time to spread interviews out over a few days.  Both you and the students will feel less rushed, and you’ll have more time to thoroughly review CVs and ask important questions.  In spite of my rushed experience, I left Faculté d’Ethnologie happy and wondering why I hadn’t connected with faculty and students long ago.

Guest Blog: Evernote and Anthropology

We here at the Wenner-Gren Foundation are fascinated by the new  technologies that anthropologists are constantly tinkering with, bricoleur-style, alongside their tried-and-true research practices. From iPad-mounted rigs for ethnographic filmmaking to apps for digital audio recording, we’ve come a long way from Malinowski’s spartan Trobriand tent.

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about one little app in particular: Evernote, a piece of notemaking/archiving software that first appeared on the scene as a beta in 2008 and since has become something of a cult item for the digitally-inclined anthropologist. Today, we welcome guest blogger Danielle Carr, a Ph.D. student in anthropology at the University of Minnesota. Carr studies the somatization of trauma and is currently working on an ethnography of Deep Brain Stimulation therapy for depression and PTSD, and has become something of an “evernote evangelist” in her own words. Let’s turn it over to her to learn more about Evernote’s use in anthropological fieldwork and her experiences with the product.


I never intended to become an Evernote evangelist. I’ve long held that  when someone establishes intense eye contact and tells you excitedly that something will absolutely change your life,  the best policy is to nod and continue your adequate existence, bereft as it may be of juice cleanses or Infinite Jest or gel insoles. When the first of my friends began preaching the starry-eyed  gospel of Evernote to me, I humored them. I smiled over coffee as they waxed rhapsodic about infinite syncing across devices, much as I imagine Marco Polo’s friends smiled over the 13th century equivalent of brunch as he spluttered about this wonderful new trading route that they simply must try. Reader, I admit it: I was patronizing.

I didn’t think more of it until I began preparing for fieldwork. I had been advised to keep a running word document of field notes, to save everything else in folders, and to back the whole caboodle up daily, nay, twice daily. Perhaps this strategy works for Bowflex-bodied ubermenschen, but as my file organization tends to quickly descend into a situation resembling a Bosch painting of Russian nesting dolls, I was apprehensive.  It was in this dark moment of despair that I gave Evernote a try. That, it turns out, is how they get you.

My friends, I write to you a reluctant convert. I know how this sounds, but hear me out. Here are three reasons Evernote was the perfect tool for my participant-observation based project.

1.       It allows you to create any sort of archival file.

The most groan-inducing aspect of ethnographic research is that you must keep assiduous track of every picture, audio recording, or scan you encounter. Normally, this would require uploading all the files from your sundry devices and weeping quietly as you label them by hand each night. Evernote allows you to make any sort of file (be it a scan, recording, picture, or video) and label it from within the application. Each file is saved in a “note”, or an entry resembling a notecard, to which you can add as many types of files or text as you like. The program then syncs all files across any device linked to your Evernote account. I carry an iPad during active fieldwork, and label all the notes as I create them. At the end of the day, I switch to my laptop and add tags to the notes, and write additional comments in each note.

2.       It creates your archive for you.

Ethnographic research requires that you remember not only what you learned, but when you learned it, since you are yourself a character in the emerging narrative. Evernote’s design allows you to input data in bite-sized chunks as you come across it, merging the textuality of a blog with the archival sensibilities of citation management software.  Each note you create is collated into “notebooks” and you can keep as many running as you wish. Each note is automatically inserted into this archive, which allows you to build a very precise narrative. In my case, I keep one notebook with websites, articles, and academic articles related the field I am studying, and in another I keep the documentation I am myself collecting, including my field notes.

3.       It syncs across all of your devices.

While this feature may not work so well for fieldwork in rural areas without wi-fi, using two devices has been ideal for my purposes and Evernote allows me to switch between them as desired. During the day, I carry a small satchel with an iPad, spare consent forms, and a notebook. I keep running notes on pen and paper, using the iPad if I need to take a photo or a recording, and write everything up at night using my behemoth of a laptop. Using an iPad for fieldwork is the topic for another blog post, and my own deep ambivalence and guilt about owning said iPad is another still, but speaking from the strangling embrace of the global capital’s tentacles I must admit: only having to tote one device that automatically organizes all of my data has been dreamy.

There are a few considerations worth mentioning. Using any program to organize your data binds you, in sickness and in health, to their platform. You can ameliorate this by keeping your data backed up elsewhere, as you can download any file you collect in Evernote and save it wherever you like. The other issue is that Evernote is free unless you go above a certain monthly upload limit. I have used it for two months now without being forced to shell out the five bucks monthly, but it is worth bearing in mind. There’s also the issue of confidentiality. While there have been no Evernote-hacking scandals to date, it’s probably best to anonymize your data before you put it in their system.

At the heart of these concerns, of course, is the question of ethnography’s complicity with neoliberalism. I don’t pretend to know the answer on that one, but I do think it is an issue digital projects and methods must bear actively in mind as we incorporate new tools. Considering our position in the nexus of research, technology, and capital may not be the most important conversation for anthropology, but it is a necessary one all the same. And so, dear reader, I share with you the system I’ve cobbled together that seems to be working well for me.  I remain open to comments of all sorts. Though not to comments about juice cleanses. As Levi-Strauss once commented (probably), you have to draw the line somewhere.

Are you interested in guest-blogging for us? You don’t have to be a grantee! Send your pitches to