Engaged Anthropology Grant: Jessica Barnes

Discussion with farmers in Fayoum

Jessica Barnes is Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Environment & Sustainability at the University of South Carolina. In 2007, while a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Farming Fayoum: The Flows and Frictions of Irrigation in Egypt,’ supervised by Dr. Paige West. We welcome her to the blog to share her experiences working with our Engaged Anthropology Grant and returning to the field to share her insights with the community.

Over the past years, I have become increasingly comfortable talking about my work in academic contexts. Presentations at the AAA meetings no longer scare me, talks to other colleagues are fun rather than alarming, lectures to undergraduates are not a cause of anxiety. I feel a sense of belonging in the academic world. It is a familiar cultural space in which people “think through” ideas, “work with” certain theorists, say “right?” a lot, and do a funny rotating motion with the thumb and forefinger of one hand as they talk. In my research site within Egypt, I feel a different sense of belonging. I am comfortable walking through the fields with farmers who I have known for years, talking with irrigation engineers, meeting with government officials in the water ministry, and hanging out with international consultants who run water projects. Yet giving a formal presentation about my ethnographic research in these spaces? To be honest, the thought initially terrified me. Would anyone find it interesting? Would it seem abstract and irrelevant? Would it be politically sensitive? Thanks to the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, I had the opportunity and encouragement this summer to step outside of my comfort zone and bring the results of my academic research to my fieldwork site. It ended up being an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable experience.

During my doctoral fieldwork in Egypt, in 2007-8, I conducted ethnographic research on water with farmers, irrigation engineers, government officials, and international donors in Fayoum Province and Cairo. This work culminated in a book, Cultivating the Nile: The Everyday Politics of Water in Egypt (Duke University Press, September 2014). In the book, I argue that Egypt’s water is not a given object of management, but rather, is made as a resource by day-to-day practices that take place across multiple scales. Some of the most active political contestation around water, I propose, occurs not in the realm of international treaty negotiations and large dam projects that has received so much attention in the literature, but rather, around these everyday practices of making the resource in quantity and quality, space and time.

In my engagement project, which I conducted in May-June 2014, my goal was to share the results of my work with people in Egypt who have an interest in the Nile, and to open up some spaces for discussion. Arriving in the midst of the presidential election, it was a fascinating time to be in Egypt. The “CC” graffiti all around Cairo and Fayoum by the time I left reflected the optimism of many about the newly elected President Sisi, but also, the marginalization of many others. While people’s political positions seemed to be deeply divided, a constant refrain I heard was concerns about poverty, livelihoods, and governance of the nation’s resources – issues that my work, with its focus on one of Egypt’s most fundamental resources, speaks to.

Audience at event hosted by the Water Institute for the Nile

I gave my first presentation in Fayoum Province to a group of 20 farmers. I started my talk by explaining that what led me to this research topic was an observation that much of the literature on the Nile gives scant consideration to farmers, even though it is farmers who use 90% of the river’s water. In my opinion, to understand more about what is happening to the water of the Nile, we have to look to the sites where water is actually being used on a day-to-day basis. This idea resonated with those present, who are well aware that they are often marginalized when it comes to water management debates. We had a lively discussion about the practices of farm-level water management that I discuss in the book. I also talked about some of water management practices that are taking place at other scales, which most farmers are not so familiar with. For example, I explained how in times of high Nile flows, when the Lake Nasser reservoir gets too full, the Ministry of Water uses a spillway to divert water into the desert. The evaporation of this water from the desert is a powerful illustration of the irony that while many farmers face water scarcity, in some parts of Egypt the problem is actually one of excess.

Live twitter feed by Nahdet el-Mahrousa during my event

I gave my next two talks in Cairo. The first was hosted by the Water Institute for the Nile and Nahdet el-Mahrousa; the second by the Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment at the American University of Cairo. Each event attracted audiences of around 30 people, comprising Egyptian and international researchers, development practitioners, journalists, irrigation engineers, activists, civil society representatives, academics, government officials, and students. Many of these people work on water-related topics and are familiar with Nile issues. Being based in Cairo, however, most of them only have a limited knowledge about the day-to-day practices of water management along canals and in the fields. This was the part of my work that I think they found especially interesting. Many were also unfamiliar with ethnographic research and were struck by my different approach to looking at these issues. My argument that charging farmers for irrigation water and educating farmers are not the best approaches for dealing with water scarcity sparked particularly heated discussion.

Overall, this was a valuable challenge for me to think about the parts of my work that might be relevant to non-anthropologists. I was pleasantly surprised at the interest people expressed and at the vibrancy of the discussions that my work generated – discussions from which I learned a great deal. The engagement project inspired me to continue these sorts of interactions as I move forward in my next ethnographic study of food security, wheat, and bread in Egypt.

Interview: Nomi Stone

Wound Kit, War Simulation.

Nomi Stone is a published poet and doctoral candidate in cultural anthropology at Columbia University. In 2011, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Human Technologies in the Iraq War’. Recently, we spoke to Stone to learn more about her fieldwork in the US-built “Middle Eastern” mock villages used for combat training, and the complex lives of the people used to anthropologically construct “the adversary” in the 21st-century American warscape.

 

Let’s begin with a brief summary of your WGF-supported project.

As an entry point, I offer a scene from the field: a young American Major asks “Ahmed” to remove his shirt and applies a mock wound to the Iraqi role-player’s back and ribs. The insects simmer around the pots of fake blood, and a wasp nearly nicks Ahmed’s new welt. “Rowena”, a local woman who is assisting with the make-up, belly-laughs: “The bees like blood. Beaucoup blood, baby!” In forests, fields, and deserts across America, in what has been called a “hidden archipelago of mini-cities”[1] American soldiers arrive to train their bodies and imaginations for war, before deployment. To habituate the American soldier, Middle Eastern role-players, many of them recent refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan, are salaried for their labors and repetitively act-out the contingencies of war. To this end, role-players embody a spectrum of cultural roles and modes: the Mayor; the Villager; the Interpreter; the Local Proxy Soldier; the Mourning Mother. They are called upon to simulate bargaining, fighting, and even dying, like the adversary.

In a new contribution to contemporary scholarship on war, my project explores the ethical, epistemological, and affective ramifications of collaboration and mediation in theaters of the 2003 Iraq War.  I focus on individuals I call “human technologies”:  local wartime proxies, mediators, host nation interlocutors, translators, and pre-deployment role-players employed by the US military as embodied repositories of Middle East knowledge. Drawing on 26 months of fieldwork, my cross-regional, multi-site research spans the extended Iraq warscape, from mock Middle Eastern villages above described; to the Iraqi refugee neighborhoods of Amman, Jordan; and crisscrossing through elite political and military institutions of Washington DC and its satellites.  Focusing in particular on the 2003 Iraq War context, I examine the US military employment of human techne, like Ahmed, within a 21st century posthuman technoscape, and the ramifications of the outsourcing of particular labors to these wartime intermediaries.

Like in the case with my previous research, I am writing a collection of poetry in tandem with pursuing ethnography.  As I write my dissertation, I am writing poems on the lifeworlds of the Middle Eastern role-players who inhabit the simulacra.  From the outset, I have invoked the anthropologist self and the poet self in tandem to read these haunted spaces. I draw upon the lens of the anthropologist to think about, for example, how “authenticity” is referenced by the military through the construction of the sets.  Which gestures – a prayer rug; Arabic graffiti; the call to prayer; and in some simulations, even odors designed to mimic mass graves – generate a sensory apparatus for both the training soldiers and the Middle Eastern role-players inside?  Meanwhile, it is my poet-side who inflects these spaces with the affect, emotion, and sensation that a cursory observer perhaps would not glean. In this recent interview, I further discuss the crucial link for me between ethnography and poetry.  Also, there are several poems at the end of the interview from my new manuscript on the simulations.

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Engaged Anthropology Grant: Alicia McGill

Alicia McGill is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at North Carolina State University. In 2008, while a doctoral candidate at Indiana University, she was awarded Wenner-Gren’s Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Students, Teachers, and Community Leaders Negotiating National and Local Heritage Ideologies in Belize,’ supervised by Dr. Bradley Levinson. Five years later, she became one of the very first recipients of the WGF Engaged Anthropology Grant, which enabled her to return to her fieldsite in the Central American country to share the results of her original research.

I received a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant (EAG) to present the results of my cultural heritage-based dissertation research in Belize in summer 2013. In my dissertation research, I examined how constructions of heritage are promoted through public venues including archaeological practice, tourism, and education and how these shape the cultural production of young citizens, specifically in two Belizean villages (Crooked Tree and Biscayne). Through my work, I learned about state efforts (especially in education) to emphasize certain forms of archaeological heritage and cultural diversity over others to reinforce national identity. I also observed ways that messages about the past are interpreted and negotiated by community members as they navigate contemporary identity politics. My research connected with many public issues, especially education policy, archaeological practice, and heritage management, which is why I applied for an EAG.

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In Memoriam: George Armelagos

L-R: Brooke Thomas, George Armelagos, Alan Swedlund, Alan Goodman.

The Wenner-Gren Foundation is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. George Armelagos, the Goodrich C. White Professor of Anthropology at Emory University. Dr. Armelagos received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in 1968 and was a major contributor to 20th-century biological anthropology, notably in the fields of paleopathology, bioarchaeology, and evolutionary medicine.

Dr. Armelagos was a long-time friend and contributor to the Foundation, supervising numerous grantees and participating in several Wenner-Gren Foundation symposia, including one, “Health and Disease of Populations in Transition”, which he co-organized with University of Massachusetts colleague Alan Swedlund.

In 2005, Dr. Armelagos received the Viking Fund Medal in recognition of his influential role in the development of biological anthropology. He was the most recent recipient of the award, which has been awarded to distinguished scholars in the field since 1946.

From the 2005 Viking Fund Medal:

Dr. Armelagos is a biological anthropologist whose contributions and numerous publications span the broad field of Anthropology. His special interests lie in the interaction of biological and cultural systems within an evolutionary context. Through his research in the 1960s and 1970s with Sudanese Nubia, Dickson Mounds, and elsewhere, he revolutionized the study of ancient disease in human populations by promoting an epidemiological approach and highlighting the evolutionary and ecological factors that are instrumental to the disease process. He has also done influential work on the evolution of food choice and the impacts of the agricultural transition on human populations in terms of health and disease. This work has resulted in a general theory of the evolution of human disease and the epidemiological transitions that have taken place throughout the course of human history. Through his work he has also encouraged a new generation of skeletal biologists to think about disease in prehistory in complex theoretical ways and back it up with good, empirical research.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Joanne R. Nucho

Joanne R. Nucho with students, Beirut

JOANNE R. NUCHO is a postdoctoral scholar in anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. In 2010, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Producing the Neighborhood without the Nation: ‘Trans-Municipal’ Urban Planning in Lebanon,’ supervised by Dr. William Michael Maurer, aiming to study the relationship between urban infrastructure and cultrual politics and identity in post-Civil War Beirut. She recently received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to follow-up her research with a return to the city to conduct a filmmaking workshop.

I conducted my dissertation research between 2010-2011 in a working class neighborhood outside of Beirut, Lebanon called Bourj Hammoud. Bourj Hammoud is an area full of workshops, mostly small-scale shoe and clothing manufacturing as well as jewelers. It is also a bustling commercial center where many Beirut-dwellers come to shop. Bourj Hammoud is known throughout the greater Beirut area as an “Armenian quarter,” it is, in fact highly diverse with members of various Lebanese sects as well as migrant workers living and working there. My dissertation focused on the ramifications of various urban planning initiatives as well as infrastructures and social service institutions on the formation of sectarian identity and a sense of belonging. During the course of my dissertation research, I used photography and videography to document the ways in which people accessed resources and services like education, medical care, electricity and water in various ways, both through sectarian institutions as well as informal networks.

One of Nucho's students

My plan during my fieldwork research was to make an ethnographic video documenting the networks that people navigate in order to access the services so vital to everyday life. However, while filming, I quickly realized the potential for the process of filmmaking to be much more collaborative in nature. At the time, I taught English at a local social service center to a group of young adults. After I arranged some documentary film screenings at the center, the students expressed interest in making their own films, and it was with this group that I realized the potential for ethnographic filmmaking to serve both as a collaborative research methodology, as well as a means for these young people to conceptualize the ways in which urban infrastructures perpetuate sectarian forms of belonging and facilitate discussion within the community through a screening series.

Still from a student film on public and private transportation

I returned in December 2013 to conduct a filmmaking workshop in Bourj Hammoud with 8 students. The workshop was designed to provide technical training in videography and basic editing skills. However, and perhaps more importantly, I envisioned it as a forum to discuss issues raised by the various film projects. Lebanese artist and photographer Rosy Kuftedjian served as a guest lecturer and allowed us to use her studio space, which enabled us to meet outside of the regular hours of the social service center where I had initially planned to conduct the workshop. Many of the workshop participants worked or attended classes, so flexibility in meeting hours was crucial. We spent the first several sessions on a number of individual assignments whereby each student documented a typical day in their lives. This initial exercise proved to be invaluable both in terms of allowing the students to become more accustomed to shooting handheld video, as well as encouraging conversations about the role of urban infrastructures in creating a sense of meaning and belonging in various social worlds. For example, one of the students documented two journeys across town using different modes of transportation. In one journey, she took a private, informal “van” service and in another, she took a semi-private “bus.” Filming her journey across town and back made her reconsider all of the ways that peoples’ daily experience of transportation, whether in a private car, a van, a bus or on foot, changed profoundly their experience of the city. Navigating her way across Beirut by bus, using routes that were not printed on a map through neighborhoods that she was not necessarily familiar with was a very social experience that involved asking bus drivers and other passengers for ways to connect to other locations. Our conversation around this preliminary exercise helped demonstrate how the camera was much more than a recording device or a mode of documentation. Rather, it could enable moments of reexamination where the mundane was interrupted by looking again, or “freezing time” through the camera’s lens.

Still from a student film about the family history of a workshop owner in Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon.

Once the students were comfortable using the cameras and were familiar with basic editing techniques, they collaborated to produce 3 films in the remaining weeks. Each group selected a different topic – informal electricity services, the history of a local shoe workshop, and the memories of an eighty-year old resident of Bourj Hammoud. After each group screened some of their rough footage, we discussed how the films could visually communicate the connections between urban space and urban infrastructures and a sense of belonging to a particular community or even a sense of identity. The two films that dealt with various histories helped challenge some assumptions about Bourj Hammoud as a monolithic Armenian neighborhood, even as they highlighted the history of the first generation of Armenian refugees of the genocide in former Ottoman lands who initially urbanized the area. We compiled many of our thoughts from these discussions into a booklet about how the filmmaking process profoundly transformed the students’ experience of their neighborhood.

Lebanese artist and photographer Rosy Kuftedjian, who assisted Nucho with the project.

At the end of the workshop, the students and I organized a screening of the three edited films in Bourj Hammoud. The screening was a great success, and many of the students felt encouraged to continue to make more films and distribute them online. Rosy Kuftedjian has agreed to serve as an ongoing coordinator for the students, allowing them to store and access the equipment in her studio. I also plan to continue my organizing role in the workshop with participants that I maintain long-term correspondence with who would like to continue their filmmaking practice. I hope to return to Lebanon by the end of 2014. The students also expressed interest in training other students in filmmaking techniques. We are collectively planning to show their films in different venues in the greater Beirut area. Thus, the workshop will have an ongoing impact, with the participants continuing to make and share their work with a wider public.

NYAS @ WGF: Audio Now Available!

Left to Right: Brian Boyd and Genese Sodikoff (Co-Chairs, Anthropology Section, NYAS), Speaker Sarah Croucher (Wesleyan), and Discussant Mandana Limbert (Queens College, CUNY)

Recently we hosted the final New York Academy of Sciences Anthropology Section meeting for the 2013-2014 academic year, deliciously entitled “Capitalism and Cloves: Islamic Plantations on Nineteenth-Century Zanzibar”. Now you can listen to Wesleyan University’s Sarah K. Croucher walk us through race, capitalism, and the complex landscaping of clove plantations, followed by a brief comment by discussant Mandana Limbert of Queens College CUNY.

Listen to the talk, discussant portion, and audience Q&A.

…and thanks again for joining us for another great season of NYAS programming!

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Daisy Deomampo

Women discussing the surrogacy industry in Mumbai, India

Dr. Daisy Deomampo is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Fordham University. In 2009, while a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘The New Global ‘Division of Labor’: Reproductive Tourism in Mumbai, India,‘ supervised by Dr. Leith Mullings. Last year, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite in Mumbai and share findings from her research on kinship and race in the context of transnational surrogacy.

In December 2013 I returned to my fieldsite in Mumbai, India, where I studied the social, cultural, and ethical implications of transnational surrogacy. The practice of transnational surrogacy forms part of a broader phenomenon known as fertility tourism, transnational reproduction, and cross border reproductive care, involving the travel of prospective parents in pursuit of assisted reproductive technology (ART) services such as gestational surrogacy, egg donation, and in vitro fertilization. When I began this research in 2008 I was especially interested in how various actors—including commissioning parents, surrogate mothers, and egg donors—understand and articulate notions of kinship and race as they undergo assisted conception across national, ethnic, and class boundaries. Since then, my interests have expanded to include questions related to power and agency for all actors involved, but especially for the Indian women who become surrogate mothers for foreign clients and wealthy Indians.

Seminar at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences

These questions are important to consider, particularly as surrogacy remains unregulated in India and the Draft ART (Regulation) Bill and Rules awaits decision in Parliament. As debates continue around how to legislate the flourishing fertility industry, various groups have argued that major gaps exist in the protection of surrogate mothers and children in the current draft bill (Sama 2010). Yet the voices and perspectives of Indian women who participate in commercial surrogacy remain largely absent in ongoing discussions around ART policy and legislation. Because of this, I wanted to return to India to share my research findings, which illustrate the ways in which Indian women do not conform to simplistic stereotypes and binary oppositions between agent and victim. Indeed, these findings demonstrate how women resist dominant constructions of surrogates as powerless victims and express forms of individual and collective agency, albeit within larger structures of power.

In this engagement project, then, my goals were to disseminate research findings and to provide a forum in which Indian women involved in surrogacy could voice their hopes, desires, and visions for the future of surrogacy in India. The aim was to provide an opportunity for surrogate mothers and egg donors to articulate their concerns around the health, medical, social, and contractual aspects of commercial gestational surrogacy. Thus, this engagement project encompassed several activities, carried out in December 2013 and January 2014 in Mumbai, India, including a participatory workshop with surrogates and egg donors and a research presentation with the local scholarly community.

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NYAS @ WGF: Sarah K. Croucher and “Capitalism and Cloves”

We’ve just had another great season of NYAS Anthropology Section lectures here at the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and this upcoming Monday, April 28th, marks the final meeting for the 2013-2014 academic year. On this occasion we will welcome Wesleyan University’s Sarah K. Croucher, a historical archaeologist focused on race and colonialism in the 19th century, to present a talk entitled “Capitalism and Cloves: Islamic Plantations on Nineteenth-Century Zanzibar”

Plantation landscapes have been understood by historical archaeologists to be fundamentally part of the expansion of global capitalism. This talk explores this taken-for-granted assumption through the study of Islamic plantations on nineteenth-century Zanzibar. Through a combination of archaeological and historical data I explore how landscapes were understood by Omani settler colonists on the island during the 1800s, in the process questioning the manner in which capitalism and European culture are generally assumed to be synonymous.

This event will take place at the Wenner-Gren Foundation Building, 470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor, New York (at 32nd Street). Dr. Croucher will begin her lecture at 7 PM, and a dinner and wine reception, free to students, will precede the talk at 6 pm. The event is free, but registration with NYAS is required.

Interview: Kristen Pearlstein and “An Analysis of Immigrant and Euro-American Skeletal Health in 19th Century New York City”

Kristen with skeletal collection at the Museum Support Center, Smithsonian Institution

Kristen Pearlstein is a doctoral student at American University. In 2012, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘An Analysis of Immigrant and Euro-American Skeletal Health in 19th Century New York City,’ supervised by Dr. Rachel J. Watkins. We asked Kristen to answer a few question about her grant research working with the George S. Huntington Anatomical Skeletal Collection and exploring New York City’s lost social history through the marks it left on human remains.

Let’s begin with a bit of background. Could you briefly summarize the project you undertook with your Dissertation Fieldwork Grant?

My project compares the skeletal health of European immigrants to Euro-Americans from the late 19th and early 20th centuries in order to understand the biological impact of socio-economic inequality and poverty in New York City during this time period.  I evaluated the human remains of individuals who were unclaimed when they died and used as dissection cadavers for medical teaching purposes.  The subjects most likely to be unclaimed were individuals who could not afford the cost of a burial, and were generally from a very impoverished segment of the population.

Skeletal health indicators from three ethnic groups – Irish, German, and Italian – were compared to health indicators from indigent U.S.-born individuals in order to determine how perceived social and economic disparities within and between immigrant and U.S.-born groups differentially impacted their skeletal health.  Historical narratives show that different nationality groups had diverse experiences with discrimination and marginalization after migrating to this country.  One hypothesis is that groups which experienced more prejudice had a lower health status.  The Irish, for example, were maligned more than the Germans, and were more often relegated to occupations of manual labor.  Therefore, I expected to observe more indicators of adverse health events in the Irish skeletal remains than in the German or U.S.-born groups.  This physical evidence provides the basic data for my dissertation: the broken bones, herniated vertebral discs, tuberculous lesions, rampant systemic infections, severe arthritis, etc.  I am finding that the U.S.-born group has a similar health profile to the Irish, so an interesting aspect of this study will be discerning why those similarities exist and where there are subtle differences between those two groups.

 

How did you originally become interested in this particular research question?

My sub-field interest is paleopathology, so my research was going to involve some aspect of human health and history.  I was familiar with this particular anatomical skeletal collection from a long term rehousing project, but I did not envision the focus of this study until I took a history course on health and migration and spent time reviewing how 19th century immigrants were perceived in regards to social status and public health, with more prejudice directed toward some immigrant groups than others.  I became interested in evaluating how these diverse experiences were expressed not just in the historical records, but in the actual skeletal remains.  As I began my search for other studies of skeletal collections from that time period, I realized that hardly any literature expressly discussed immigrants.  So I am excited that my research can contribute to this ongoing conversation about inequality and health and the experiences of different groups.

 

Abnormal bone formation of the anterior spine due to tuberculosis

How did cultural anthropology and race theory influence your work with the physical anthropological archives?

Previous studies on anatomical and historical collections have utilized a biocultural framework to situate physical evidence within the context of the cultural environment.  This project builds on existing scholarship by combining the historical narrative of social and racial/ethnic bias with the physical documentation of skeletal health.  My research engages in the debate on the relationship between health and social status by examining the interactions between dominant and marginalized groups, and how these interactions are connected to health inequalities.  Much of the skeletal research undertaken in biocultural health studies focuses on ethnically generalized groups, and historical studies in the United States have been carried out on African-American population samples and Euro-American population samples.  These studies highlight the importance of the environmental and historical context for understanding patterns of morbidity and mortality in skeletal populations.

However, the implicit generalization of Black or White blurs additional aspects of marginalization or resistance that may contribute to health disparities within and between groups.  Studies addressing the skeletal health of Whites in a historical context have not considered the stigmatization of many immigrants as ethnic ‘others’ and therefore failed to critically examine all aspects of social marginalization as it relates to health and stress.  Additionally, successful studies have challenged certain assumptions we carry in regards to health and status by showing there is not always a direct correlation between skeletal health and social marginalization. So this study will seek to demonstrate how expected health outcomes in marginalized population groups are impacted by various aspects of resistance, social support, and localized stressors.

 

New York City, c. 1840.

What picture of 19th century NYC emerged along the course of your research?

The City of New York had a complicated relationship with its immigrants.  On the one hand, the city was totally unprepared for several million new occupants and could not provide adequate housing, sanitation, transportation, job security, or medical care.  On the other hand, New York quickly became the center of American trade and industry.  The immigrant and U.S.-born individuals who were migrating to New York were literally building the city from the ground up, and were producing more goods and services than just about anywhere else in the world.  However, these individuals were expendable.  There was very little incentive for factories or manufacturers to pay heed to occupational hazards and health consequences.  If workers fell ill, they were replaced.  For some occupations, unemployment was a common occurrence for several months out of the year, every year.  Housing often meant small, cold apartments with no windows.  Tuberculosis was still the leading cause of death, particularly among the poor.  So the image I have of 19th century New York City is a very large number of people just trying to survive.  But I may be biased.  I spend most of my time reading about impoverished immigrants, so I cannot speak to how the upper classes were living.

 

Bilateral osteoarthritis of the knee

What’s one thing about NYC that you think New Yorkers would be surprised to learn?

I think it would surprise many New Yorkers to learn that various ethnic groups tried to use race and ethnicity against each other to gain control of certain industries.  For example, the Irish tried to take control of the docks by claiming the Germans were not white enough to work there.  Both the Irish and Germans were quick to racialize the Italians as ‘other.’  We tend to idealize New York as one big ‘melting pot’ in which everyone who worked hard was quickly assimilated into the American culture.  We often forget there were periods when Eastern European Jews and Italians and Irish were heavily discriminated against based on their ethnicities.

Another interesting fact about New York is that the poor were assigned the same punishment as murderers and traitors after death.  Cadavers were, and are, a necessary part of medical education.  As the number of medical institutions in New York grew, so did the demand for anatomical remains.  Since body donations were not common, early physicians relied on illegal grave robbing and the legally obtained bodies of executed criminals to supply their anatomy classes.  In the mid-19th century, the Act to Promote Medical Science expanded the legal acquisition of bodies to include unclaimed individuals from hospitals, almshouses, and other public institutions who would otherwise have been buried in a potter’s field.  This meant that anyone who lacked the money for a formal burial could be used as a dissection cadaver.  Essentially, the Act targeted and exploited the poor of New York, most of whom were immigrants with no political power to object, and many of whom had a very real fear of the dissection table for social and religious reasons.

 

What’s next for this project? Do you envision it expanding in any way?

There is more that I would love to do at the individual level with biohistorical data associated with each set of remains.  I think the overall picture would be so much richer if we could find these individuals within hospital records and have a better understanding of when they were treated, what they were treated for, and how they were treated, both medically and socially.  I want to know where they lived, and for the ones without recorded occupations, I want to know what they did.  How big were their families?  Did they board alone?  It might be impossible to dig up this sort of information, but I would love to try.  In terms of the skeletal remains, there is definitely more that I plan on doing.  I particularly want to look at bone lesions in relation to activity.  These remains exhibit a higher rate of periostitis than has been reported in other anatomical collections, and often the location of the periostitis is along an insertion site, such as where the fascia attaches between the tibia and fibula.  It seems to me that inflammation in that area is more indicative of muscle activity than infection.  But why is that reaction more pronounced in this particular selection of skeletons?  What does it mean?  I think future research for this project will delve more into fatigue, muscle overuse, and skeletal stress.

 

 

Wenner-Gren Symposium #149: The Death of the Secret

L-R: Don Kulick, Cristiana Giordano, Gwyneira Isaac, Tanja Ahlin, Birgitte Sørensen, Robin Boast, Ravi Sundaram, Junko Kitanaka, Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Eglė Rindzevičiūtė, Susan Erikson, Mark Davis, Sverker Finnström, Lenore Manderson, Sarah Nuttall, Kimberly Theidon, Leslie Aiello, Laurie Obbink

Wenner-Gren Symposium #149, “The Death of the Secret:  The Public and Private in Anthropology,” organized by Lenore Manderson (U. of Witwatersrand/Monash U.), Mark Davis (Monash U.) and Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh (Denver Museum of Nature & Science), just recently wrapped up! It was held from March 14-20, 2014, at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais in Sintra, Portugal.

Read the organizer’s statement below, and stay tuned for a future Current Anthropology special issue featuring the papers of this symposium!

 

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