Archive for New York Academy of Sciences

NYAS @ WGF Returns! Fall 2016/Spring 2017 Monday Evening Lecture Series: “Framing”

This year our speaker series “Framing” highlights the multiple and contested processes of cultural construction, critique, and analysis that are part of the anthropological project. Framing can apply to the way in which a research problem is addressed, categories are delimited, theory is understood, and boundaries are drawn or transgressed.  Framing can also be a way of exploring the way we come to see their world in a particular place and time.  In all instances to raise the question of framing is to raise the question of the power, stance, and social position of anthropologists in relationship efforts to understand and explain what it means to be human.

 

September 26, 2016

Faye Ginsburg and Ruben Rayna

Department of Anthropology, New York University

“Making Accessible Futures: from ramps to #cripthevote”

Since the late 20th century, American medical, legal and cultural institutions have embraced a recognition of disability as a form of life worth living, in contrast to earlier 20th century eugenic ideologies that often removed people with disabilities from public space and from life itself. In NYC locations as diverse as schools, medical laboratories, film festivals, homes and religious institutions, we have learned how families form new kinship imaginaries around the fact of disability; how disability publics emerge through a variety of media forms and activism; how scientists are rethinking cognitive diversity; how schools engage with and too often fail in launching students with disabilities into the world. The number of disabled citizens, currently estimated at almost 20% of the US population, is predicted to increase significantly over the next decade. In our talk, we consider how these materialities place “accessible futures” in constant negotiation, most recently with the unexpected emergence of disability activism as an incendiary issue in the current presidential campaign.

 

October 24, 2016

Didier Fassin, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

Discussant, Andrea Barrow, Black Lives Matter

“Re-Framing Punishment”

Punishment has been studied for centuries by moral philosophers and legal scholars, with a particular emphasis on its definition (notably to distinguish it from vengeance) and justification (with the classic opposition between utilitarianism and retributivism). Based on ethnographic research conducted over the past ten years in France on policing, justice and prison, the lecture will challenge the normative and idealist approach, trying to analyze what punishment is and how it is justified in actual interactions between officers, judges and guards with their respective publics while illuminating what is often the blind spot of the traditional approach: the distribution of sanctions. This inductive method thus makes possible a critique of punishment that resonates with contemporary issues about law enforcement, the penal system and mass incarceration in the United States, and more broadly the punitive turn in most contemporary societies.

 

December 5, 2016

Dennis O‘Rourke

University of Kansas

“Ancient Genomes, Paleoenvironments, Archaeology and the Peopling of the Americas”

Traditionally, indigenous American populations have been viewed as descendants of a small subset of the Eurasian population that migrated to the Western Hemisphere less than 15,000 years ago from Asia via the Bering Land Bridge. Recent archeological discoveries indicate that humans occupied high-latitude regions in Northeast Asia and Western Beringia before 30,000 years ago, prior to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). The early settlement of Beringia now appears part of the broader dispersal of modern humans out of Africa and across Eurasia. Recent metagenomic evidence suggests the earliest migrants south of the glaciers likely followed a coastal route rather than an interior continental path between retreating glacial masses.  The merging of the increasingly rich and robust genomic (both ancient and modern), archaeological, and paleoecological records is proving to be challenging in elucidating the origin of a distinctive Native American genome in both time and space.

 

January 30, 2017

David Price

Saint Martin’s University

“Notes on a CIA Funding Front Autopsy: Using Archives and the Freedom of Information Act to Understand How the CIA Shaped Cold War Social Science”

 

Drawing on two decades of archival and several hundred Freedom of Information Act requests, David Price analyzes specific impacts from the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of funding fronts to influence social science research during the 1950s and 60s.  While most of the known two dozen CIA funding fronts were identified between 1965 and 1975 by investigative journalists and congressional investigations, relatively little scholarly work since then has focused on tracing the specific ways that these CIA fronts shaped the production and consumption of social science knowledge. The passage of time now allows access to CIA records as well as archival collections showing which projects were selected or rejected for funding, and establishing how these fronts connected witting and unwitting scholars with larger projects of interest to the CIA and defense establishment during the Cold War. The discussion of these materials sheds light on how the production of specific scientific knowledge was linked to the political economic systems in which it was embedded.

 

February 27, 2017

Timothy R. Pauketat

University of Illinois

“Water and the Big History of the Pre-Columbian Mississippi Valley”

In rethinking the ontological bases of pre-Columbian North America, water emerges as the primary substance through which people lived their histories. Simplistic climate change and flood-event scenarios aside, the atmospheric water cycle enmeshed peoples in ways that explain Mississippi Valley agriculture, astronomy, religious practice, political development, and historical ties to Mesoamerica. The linchpin of such arguments is the greater Cahokia phenomenon (AD 1000s-1300s). Beginning with new large-scale archaeological excavations and a refined chronology in that region, I trace water-human relationships through local-to-continent-wide genealogies of maize cultivation, mussel shell use, and American Indian sweat lodges and other “water shrines.” There are theoretical implications for how we understand history and humanity.

 

March 27, 2017

Glenn Shepard

 

 

April 24, 2017

Laura Nader

Department of Anthropology, University of California-Berkeley

“Unraveling Disciplinary Mind-sets”

The study of disciplinary mind-sets was in part stimulated by Thomas Kuhn’s book on paradigm shifts- The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) in which he distinguishes “normal science” from non-hegemonic science paradigm free science. The study of paradigm science revolution is a rich academic subject for contemporary anthropology as well as for philosophers and historians of science.

 

Location of the lectures:

Wenner-Gren Foundation

470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor

New York, NY 10016

 

Buffet dinner at 6PM. ($20 contribution for dinner guests/ free for students).

Lectures begin at 7PM and are free and open to the public.

NYAS @ WGF 4/25: Mummified Baboons and the Biology of Apotheosis [REGISTRATION REQUIRED]

This coming Monday evening at 7 PM, join us at the Wenner-Gren Foundation for the next installment of the New York Academy of Sciences Anthropology Section Lecture Series. Nathaniel J. Dominy, Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth College, will be presenting “Mummified Baboons and the Biology of Apotheosis”.

Please note that, while the event is free to attend, pre-registration is required for entry into the building. 

The Holocene fossil record of Egypt is devoid of baboons, and yet baboons of a distinctive species (Papio hamadryas) were elevated into the pantheon of Ancient Egyptian gods. The deification of baboons is practically unique in Africa, and this talk will focus on the underlying ecology of baboons to explain why, and from where, baboons were imported, revered, and mummified in Ancient Egypt.

There will be a dinner at 6PM: free for students; $20 for others.
The lecture will begin at 7PM.

Pre-registration is required to attend the lecture.

 

NYAS @ WGF: Eben Kirksey and “Hope in Emergent Ecological Assemblages” [REGISTRATION REQUIRED]

This upcoming Monday, March 28th, at 7PM, the Wenner-Gren Foundation will host another great New York Academy of Sciences lecture, with Princeton University’s Eben Kirksey sharing his work. REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED.

New generations are learning how to care for emergent ecological assemblages by seeding them, nurturing them, protecting them, and ultimately letting go. This lecture will explore a series of interrelated questions: How do certain weedy plants, prolific animals, and adaptable fungi move among worlds, navigate shifting circumstances, and find emergent opportunities? When do new species add value to ecological associations, and when do they become irredeemably destructive? When should we let unruly forms of life run wild, and when should we intervene?

Rather than remain anxiously focused on possible losses, the talk will explore the imaginative horizons of organic intellectuals who are sifting through the wreckage of catastrophic disasters, searching for hope within landscapes that have been blasted by capitalism and militarism. Focusing on a reforestation project in the highlands of Costa Rica, the talk will consider one mans’ efforts to recreate a forest in collaboration with a multitude of plants, animals, and students on eleven hectares of derelict pasture near the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Rather than focus efforts on preserving rare species, this initiative involves cultivating alliances with weedy trees that are helping generate convivial assemblages. Using found objects and organisms—gleanings from the detritus of industrial food production and the litter of leaves in the forest—this project involves fostering an ecosystem that will endure many possible futures.

There will be a dinner at 6PM (free for students, $20 for others) with the lecture to follow at 7PM. Once again, YOU MUST REGISTER PRIOR TO THE EVENT in order to be admitted to the building.

 

 

 

 

 

NYAS @ WGF [REGISTRATION REQUIRED]: Flying the Yellow Flag of Quarantine! Results of a Preliminary Archaeological Survey at the Philadelphia Lazaretto

This upcoming Monday, February 29th, 7PM, the Wenner-Gren Foundation will host another great New York Academy of Sciences lecture, with Monmouth University’s Richard Veit sharing his recent research in multispecies ethnography. REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED.

The Philadelphia Lazaretto, located on the Delaware River in Essington Pennsylvania, is the oldest surviving lazaretto or quarantine station in North America.It stands as a physical reminder of the horrific impact that yellow fever, an acute viral disease spread by the Aedis aegypti mosquito, had on society in early America. Construction of the grand Georgian edifice began in 1799, in response to the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793.That epidemic killed 5,000 of Philadelphia’s inhabitants; nearly ten percent of the city’s population. The Lazaretto was one of several public health initiatives undertaken by the Philadelphia city government in an attempt to prevent further outbreaks of disease.In 2015, Monmouth University began a long-term archaeological investigation of the site.Fieldwork is providing new information about the physical layout of the Lazaretto complex and has identified artifact deposits with the potential to provide new information about the lives of the individuals who lived and worked at the site. The Lazaretto is a powerful reminder of how human relationships with other living things, in this case, mosquitoes and the viruses they carry, have shaped and continue to shape society.

There will be a dinner at 6PM (free for students, $20 for others) with the lecture to follow at 7PM. Once again, YOU MUST REGISTER PRIOR TO THE EVENT in order to be admitted to the building.

NYAS @ WGF: “The strange case of Homo naledi, our newest extinct relative” [REGISTRATION REQUIRED]

**IMPORTANT NOTE**: Beginning with this meeting, interested parties will have to PRE-REGISTER with THE NEW YORK ACADEMY OF SCIENCES prior to attending.

Monday, January 25, 2016

NYAS returns for the first lecture of 2016! It’s a big one, folks. The New York Academy of Science and the Wenner-Gren Foundation welcome William Harcourt-Smith (American Museum of Natural History) and Scott Williams (New York University) to discuss one of the biggest anthropology stories of last year, and perhaps even this century. Our president, Leslie C. Aiello, will act as discussant.

The new hominin species, Homo naledi, was discovered in South Africa’s Rising Star cave system in late 2013 and announced to the world just a few months ago. Based on over 1,500 identifiable remains, ranging from infants to the elderly, H. naledi is known from nearly every bone, and represents one of the largest and most complete discoveries in the field of paleoanthropology. The combination of anatomical features demonstrated in this assemblage suggests to us that it is both a member of the genus Homo and that it represents a new species. The geological and depositional context of the remains is also highly unusual. The Dinaledi Chamber, where the remains were discovered, is both virtually devoid of non-hominin fauna and extremely difficult to access, which are probably related. We discuss the skeletal morphology and inferred evolutionary position of H. naledi, as well as the implications of the unusual context of this discovery.

There will be a dinner and reception at 6PM: free for students; $20 for others.
The Lecture will be begin at 7PM.

Once again, pre-registration is required to attend the lecture.

 

NYAS @ WGF, October 26th: “Persistence between the Longue Durée and the Short Purée: Archaeological Perspectives on Colonialism and Indigeneity in New England”

The second installment of this season’s New York Academy of Sciences Anthropology Section Lecture Series will take place this coming Monday, October 26th, at our offices. We welcome Stephen W. Stillman, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Historical Archaeology Graduate Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston, along with discussant Bradley Phillippi, Professor of Anthropology at Hofstra University.

An anthropological understanding of colonialism and indigeneity in the Americas requires confronting several important questions about the connections between time, materiality, place, and people. How do archaeologists and other anthropologists measure culture change and continuity and at what scale, and why is the question framed in that way? How do people engage their pasts to live through their present and anticipate their future, and why has that been harder to visualize for archaeologists than for cultural anthropologists? What are the implications of these concepts and interpretations on pressing political and heritage issues today? This presentation will explore some potential answers to these questions, using an example of a collaborative archaeological project since 2003 between the University of Massachusetts Boston and the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, a Native American community in Connecticut that has occupied its reservation lands since 1683. I argue that a notion of “persistence” may provide some relief to these questions (or more appropriately perhaps, dilemmas), not only as both an interpretive and a lived practice that resolves some tensions of the “longue durée” of indigenous history and the “short purée” of colonialism, but also as a perspective growing out of on-the-ground community engagement with indigenous communities today.

As always, the 7:00 PM lecture will be preceded by a reception at 6:00 PM. Registration with NYAS is not required.

NYAS @ WGF, September 28: “We are Not Red Indians” (We Might all Be Red Indians)

The NYAS Anthropology Section lecture series returns to Wenner-Gren for another great season of speakers! We kick off the 2015-2016 slate with Columbia’s Audra Simpson on Monday, September 28. 

Three Pueblo Indian women displaying their ollas for sale at the railroad tracks, New Mexico, ca.1900.

“We are Not Red Indians” (We Might all Be Red Indians): Anticolonial Sovereignty Across the Borders of Time, Place and Sentiment

Audra Simpson

Department of Anthropology

Columbia University

In a 2004 interview Yasser Arafat, in a state of near confinement and exhaustion, reflected upon his incapacity to move without the immediate threat of assassination, about the Palestinian right of return, about American elections, and his achievements. Among these achievements was the fact that “the Palestine case was the biggest problem in the world” and that Israel had “failed to wipe us out.” As a final mark of that success, he added the declarative and comparative and final point of distinction, “we are not red Indians.” This paper uses this point of comparison of a departure point to reflect upon the deep specificity and global illegibility of Indigenous struggle and life in the face of death and dispossession in North America. In order to do so I will choose a series of historical assemblages — of sociality, treaty-making, militarized pushbacks upon encroachment, spatial confinement (“reservationization”), and pushback for land, for life and for dignity within occupation to amend Arafat’s statement and reimagine “success.”  I argue that these assemblages are themselves a structure of political life that stand alongside and push against a “logic of elimination” – a logic that authorizes the removal, the attacking and “assimilating” of indigenous peoples for land. I consider these tangled processes in order to re-narrate the seemingly negligible political and corporeal life of Indigenous sovereignty within dispossession and settler occupation. This is an occupation that naturalizes itself through law and narrates itself as new, as beneficent and democratic atop the lands and lives of Indigenous peoples who persist, with sovereignties intact, in spite of this grinding historical and political process of settler colonialism. In order to put this point of comparison, and sentiment of Arafat’s achievement in relief the paper examines how is it that the very techniques of force, of pushback, of sociality and outright resistance receive the writ of dismissal within a global and comparative frame of resistance and (political life). At the end of the paper it is asked how these processes may be re-narrated and comprehended in a global, comparative frame of not only analysis, but struggles for justice.

As always, this event will take place at the Wenner-Gren Foundation Building, 470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor, New York (at 32nd Street). A dinner and wine reception (free to students) will precede the talk at 6pm, with the lecture beginning promptly at 7pm.

NYAS @ WGF: Anna Tsing and “Life in Past and Coming Ruins: On living in the Anthropocene”

Tonight we have a special treat for fans of the NYAS Anthropology Section lecture series at Wenner-Gren and anthropologist Anna Tsing, as the University of California – Santa Cruz joins us to present her talk “Life in Past and Coming Ruins: On Living in the Anthropocene” at 7:00 PM at our offices at 470 Park Avenue South.

Farming, fishing, and other human livelihoods have depended on the ability of forests, wetlands, oceans, and other multispecies ecosystems to rebuild themselves amidst repeated disturbances. I call such rebuilding “resurgence,” and I argue that humans as well as other species depend upon it. Yet industrial processes caninterfere with this kind of resurgence. This talk explores biological capacities brought into being by industrial processes—but outside human control. Think, for example, of industrially empowered pests and pathogens, from the virulent E. coli that emerged from beef-cattle feedlots to the algal blooms of sewage-saturated waterways. Thinking through fungi, my talk explores how industry sets loose feral forms that get in the way of the resurgence on which both humans and nonhumans depend.

Might it be useful to consider the forms of resurgence upon which we have historically depended “Holocene” forms now under threat from Anthropocene processes? Such Holocene resurgence is not over—but suddenly we have to fight for it. Furthermore, anthropological skills are needed. The threats I describe are neither universal nor limited to a single place; they travel. Anthropologists, I argue, are needed to investigate nonhuman as well as human Anthropocene travel, as this empowers still-mysterious feral biologies that are simultaneously local and global.

A dinner reception precedes the lecture at 6:00 PM. Registration is not required, and please DO NOT contact the New York Academy of Sciences or the Wenner-Gren Foundation regarding registration.

 

Next NYAS Lecture: Living in the Anthropocene

Join us in the Wenner-Gren Foundation offices on Monday, March 23rd at 7pm for the next installment of New York Academy of Science, Anthropology Section’s lecture series, when we welcome Dr. Sophia Perdikaris (Brooklyn College-City University of New York) presenting “Living in the Anthropocene: Long-Term Human Ecodynamics in Barbuda, West Indies,” with Dr. Pam Crabtree (New York University) serving as lecture discussant.

The island of Barbuda, on the outskirts of the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean, served in Colonial times as a provisioning island rather than a site of sugar cane agriculture. As a result, many archaeological sites on low-lying areas occupied by pre-Columbian populations have remained relatively undisturbed. Traditional archaeological studies in the Caribbean focus on pottery, stone tools and bones, all of which are frequently encountered on Barbuda, yet provide limited understanding of past people’s daily lives. Highly integrated archaeological projects using cross-disciplinary methodologies and techniques have been developed as an effective analysis model in mostly temperate latitudes, including Iceland, Greenland, the British Isles and Scandinavia, but they have rarely been applied in the Caribbean. For the last 4 years, cross-disciplinary teams combining archaeology and paleoecology have been working in Barbuda examining the people/environment interactions from peopling (ca. 6000 BCE) to modern day. Extensive research in Barbuda finds that Barbudans perceive environmental changes in less urgent ways than those found in western society. As sea levels rise and a new government pushes for economic development, many archaeological sites are threatened and some have already been destroyed.

This event will take place at the Wenner-Gren Foundation Building, 470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor, New York (at 32nd Street). A dinner and wine reception (free to students) will precede the talk at 6pm, with the lecture beginning promptly at 7pm.

NYAS @ WGF: The Energy and Climate Change Panel

After a winter-weather cancellation last month, the NYAS Anthropology Section triumphantly returns to Wenner-Gren for the next installment of this year’s lecture series this coming Monday, February 23rd, from 7-9 PM at the Foundation’s Park Avenue South offices. The Foundation and the Academy welcome David Hughes, Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and author of Whiteness in Zimbabwe; Gökçe Günel, ACLS Teaching Fellow and Lecturer in Anthropology at Columbia University; and Stephanie Rupp, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Lehman College, CUNY, to share their ideas regarding the intersections of anthropology and climate change.

A reception will precede the meeting at 6:00 pm. Please do not contact the Wenner-Gren Foundation with inquiries regarding registration.

 

David Hughes (Rutgers University)

How solar became “alternative”: slavery and the making of energy flows

Willem Blaeu's map of northwestern South America, 1635.

Experts who describe solar energy as an “alternative” – that contributes only a small fraction to our oil-driven economy – are measuring the wrong thing.   Every day, the sun gives us 20,000 times the wattage we consume in oil, gas, coal, and nuclear power.  Bizarrely, the entire conventional calculus of energy omits the overwhelming bulk of it, the elephant in a small room.  This paper examines an instance of such forgetting: the transition from solar energy to something like oil in the Orinoco Basin of colonial South America.  In the 1740s, the Jesuit missionary and geographer, Josef Gumilla marveled in the God-given fertility of the tropics. Solar rays and Spanish settlers, he hoped, would turn the Orinoco into a breadbasket for cacao.  Forty years later, the governor of Trinidad, Josef María Chacón proposed a second plan for colonization. On this island of the Orinoco delta, he identified tropical fertility with disease and overly dense vegetation.  Instead of solar rays, Chacón’s promotion of sugar required enslaved Africans, and lots of them.  The governor calculated employment rates per land area, death rates, and replacement rates through imports.  In so doing, he helped create the modern, narrow concept of energy: a transportable, storable commodity unrelated to either the landscape or to God.  One could almost squeeze exploited labor into barrels and sell it by the gallon.  When geologists discovered oil – on Trinidad, in fact, in 1859 – the energy experts were ready for it.  In cultural terms, slaves served as the bridge fuel from solar energy to petroleum.  Remembering this history adds a span to the bridge back in the other direction.

 

Masdar City under construction, 2012. Photo courtesy Jan Seifert via Wikimedia Commons

Gökçe Günel (Columbia University)

Spaceship in the Desert: Energy, Climate Change and Green Business in Abu Dhabi

At the face of growing concerns regarding climate change and energy scarcity, investors and governments started promoting smart and eco friendly urban developments as sites of value production and potential salvation from a seemingly apocalyptic future. As part of this trend, cities built from scratch offer a vision of technologically complex, eco-friendly, and enjoyable modes of living, and serve as engines for economic growth. In exploring this trend more closely, this talk centers on oil-rich Abu Dhabi’s eco-city project, Masdar City. Drawing on seventeen months of multi-sited fieldwork at Masdar, as well as at MIT and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, this talk demonstrates that the Masdar City project attempts to generate “an economy of technical adjustments,” a means for vaulting over to a future where humans will continue to enjoy technological complexity, without interrogating existing social, political and economic relations. Invested in an image of the future drawn from science fiction, the economy of technical adjustments serves as a method for concentrating on modifications that bring forth promissory capital, enabling a multiplicity of actions and nonactions to be taken in the face of global environmental collapse. Yet this talk demonstrates that professionals at Masdar not only advocated such market-oriented technological solutions for climate change, but also consistently crafted justifications for their projects in light of the various contradictions that they saw exist in such a perspective. Analyzing the metaphor of “spaceship in the desert,” which the producers of Masdar City popularized, it inquires into the forms of temporality and spatiality the eco-city engendered. In this way, the talk seeks to draw attention to the alternative futures rendered invisible by the dominant drive for an economy of technical adjustments.

 

Stephanie Rupp (Lehman College, CUNY)

Blackouts: Illuminating Structures of Power in New York City

power station on Staten Island, 1970s

Energy provides the underlying power of New York City.  Energy runs throughout our city, mediating our work through electricity and technology; connecting us socially to neighbors and networks; sustaining our lives in every more intricate, invisible, and seemingly inevitable ways. Thomas Edison designed the municipal electrical grid in New York City to ensure that urban consumers of electricity would come to consider its flow to be inexpensive and indispensable as the primary force of individual power in society.  Edison’s vision of inexpensive, irresistible energy fueling urban society has been realized to an extent that might have surprised even him.  It is in the context of the absence of energy and the disruption of infrastructure—during blackouts, for example—that lines of social, economic, and political inequality become suddenly visible.  This paper proposes that notions of energy as a physical force, as technological innovation, as political control, as social agency, and as cultural metaphor are intertwined.  Energy is a social, economic, and political issue, as much (or more) as it is a technological issue.  This project illuminates that it is in the darkness of blackouts that these otherwise invisible and ignored structures of power are abruptly made visible. And it is in the blacked-out context of a massive rupture that sedimented relations of agency, structure, and power rise to the surface of individual, public, and institutional awareness, giving us a chance to reconsider and even renegotiate our attitudes towards energy, towards infrastructures that are technical, economic, and social, and towards underlying structures of inequality.