NYAS Lecture 10/7: 21st Century Plantations and the Sustainability Fix

On October 7th the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series returns when Dr. Tania Murray Li, University of Toronto, will present “21st Century Plantations and the Sustainability Fix”. Dr. Jerome Whitington, New York University, will act as dissusent. This event will be held at 6:30 PM at its new location, Pratt Manhattan, Lecture Hall Room 213, located on 14th St. between Sixth and Seventh Avenues on the south side of the block, closest to Seventh Avenue.

It is the 21st century and plantations are back. Colonial-style large scale corporate monoculture of industrial crops is again expanding in the global south. The land dimensions of this renewed expansion were thrust into public debate in 2008-9, when there was a spike in transnational land-acquisitions dubbed a global “land-grab.” Plantation proponents stress the need for efficient production to supply food and fuel for expanding populations, and to bring jobs and development to remote regions. Critics highlight the loss of indigenous lands, flexible rural livelihoods, diverse ecosystems, and carbon-absorbing forests. Implementing product-based sustainability standards seems to be favored as a win-win solution that enables plantations to expand but checks their worst excesses. Drawing on ethnographic research on Indonesia’s massively expanding oil palm plantations, this lecture explores the human dimension of 21st century plantation life and explains why sustainability standards cannot fix it.

About the Speaker:

Tania Murray Li teaches in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, where she holds the Canada Research Chair in the Political Economy and Culture of Asia. Her publications include Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier (Duke University Press, 2014), Powers of Exclusion: Land Dilemmas in Southeast Asia (with Derek Hall and Philip Hirsch, NUS Press, 2011), The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics (Duke University Press, 2007) and many articles on land, labor, development, resource struggles, community, class, and indigeneity with a particular focus on Indonesia.

Meet Our Wadsworth International Fellows: Weldeyared Reda

The Foundation would like to introduce you to Weldeyared Reda, who recently received a Wadsworth International Fellowship to continue training in paleoanthropology at the University of Chicago, supervised by Dr. Callum Ross. Read the previous entry in this series here.

Growing up in Ethiopia, I was fascinated by the many world-renowned paleoanthropological discoveries made there. This motivated me to pursue a BA in archaeology at Aksum and MSc in Paleoanthropology and Paleoenvironment at Addis Ababa Universities, both in Ethiopia. During my study, I have gained a great deal of research and field experience in the Afar Rift, the Blue Nile highways field school, and the Koobi Fora Field School. These hands-on experiences coupled with coursework in human evolution were instrumental in further strengthening my interest in human origins. My training also included a 5 month research visit to the California Academy of Sciences which was a great opportunity. Subsequent to completing my masters, I worked as a lecturer at Aksum University for two years.

The PhD program I have enrolled in at the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago is ideal to further my knowledge and skills in human evolution. The department’s focus on an integrative approach including human evolution, and the professors’ diverse expertise and in-house research facilities are some of the best in our field. The diversity of the faculty and the possibility to train or take relevant courses in the Departments of anthropology, human genetics and geosciences is also a great attraction.

My research aim is to expand our understanding of morphological character polarity by investigating their developmental underpinnings and functional significance, with a special focus on fossil hominins and great apes. Specifically, I am interested in the link between morphology and function in fossil hominins and great apes and associated developmental processes underlying morphological changes with implications for craniofacial development and function. I will investigate craniofacial ontogeny and function in Australopithecus afarensis and contemporaneous hominins within the context of the great apes and modern humans. This will be accomplished using cutting-edge imaging techniques and statistical methods.

After the completion of my study, I expect to return to Ethiopia and work at Aksum University. I have a keen interest to work in a multi-disciplinary paleoanthropological project and open new research avenues while paving the way for the next generation of paleoanthropologists.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Christopher Morehart

Chris Morehart giving a presentation of the book to attendees.

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

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

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

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

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

Plan of the book

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capítulo 6. Las chinampas de Xaltocan, by Christopher Morehart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distribution of the book

Kristin De Lucia and Enrique Rodríguez Alegría signing autographs

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

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

Meet Our Wadsworth African Fellows: Theogene Niwenshuti

In addition to highlighting our Wadsworth International Fellows the Foundation would also like to introduce one of our newest Wadsworth African Fellows, Theogene Niwenshuit. Funded through the Wadsworth African Fellowship Theogene Niwenshuti will continue his PhD training in social cultural anthropology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, supervised by Dr. Susan Levine.

I earned a BA (with distinction) from National University of Rwanda and a MA (cum laude) from Wits University School of Arts in Johannesburg before enrolling in the PhD program in at the University of Cape Town (UCT). I travel extensively facilitating, lecturing, performing and campaigning for peace, healing, human rights and the prevention of genocide, war and other violent conflicts and have been the recipient of several awards, prestigious scholarships, medals and honors for my community, artistic, leadership and academic contributions.

I was born and grew up in the hills of Kanombe and Ndera in Gasabo, Rwanda, the Great Lakes – East Afrikan Region. Like other children of my generation, my studies were disrupted by war and genocide. After missing a few years of study I managed to complete high school and earn an undergraduate degree at the National University of Rwanda (NUR). I have been pursuing my academic, artistic and community engagements in various post-conflict African regions and communities. My current research is concerned with contestation over the interpretation of memory and heritage of violence. While trying to identify mechanisms and strategies developed by individuals and institutions in response to the legacies of violence, my study also attempts to make sense of the impact of this violence on mental health and the general wellbeing of individuals and communities.

In my study of memory and trauma I am interested in the relationship between body, space and memory, and understanding how it helps inform healing and recovery in a post-conflict / post-genocide context. My approach consists of interrogating how the body intervenes in the process of mapping and translating private, difficult memories from an intimate space to a public one. I hope to build on past research and gather and make use of local stories, memories, interpretations, and individual and collective experiences to make a contribution in the fields of memory, (mental) health, art, culture, performance, heritage, academia, institutional practice, governance and violence.

Since October 2018, I have been facilitating a unique academic platform entitled “Contested Spaces” Seminar Series. Several scholars, artists, health, education, heritage and museum practitioners of local and global repute have attended and engaged in critical and creative conversations during these seminars.  With the support of local communities and institutions, artists, students and scholars, the 2nd series of “Contested Spaces” Seminar will be launched in the coming months.

Meet Our Wadsworth International Fellows: Camille Louis

This month we return to our series spotlighting Wadsworth International Fellows as we introduce you to Camille Louis, who received a Wadsworth International Fellowship which has given him the opportunity to train in archaeology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, supervised by Dr. James Cameron Monroe.

I received my undergraduate degrees in Art History, Archaeology and psychology from the Université d’Etat d’Haïti.  Later I spent a year at the University of the West Indies (Mona Campus, Jamaica) where I received archaeological training organized by members of the Department of Archaeology at Monticello (Virginia, USA), one of the preeminent groups exploring the archaeology of slavery in the New World. I earned a Master’s Degree in Cultural Resources Management from Taipei National University of the Arts in Taiwan. Following my master’s degree, I received specialized training in underwater archaeology from UNESCO and the University of Leiden team in St-Eustatius.

The Haitian Revolution created a total cultural and social “rupture”. Slaves, free blacks, and some mulattoes united against and overthrew the colonial system. During the revolution, opposing armies of the French and the enslaved destroyed innumerable colonial settlements and plantations, the remnants of which can be studied archaeologically.  My academic interests are to study the nature of Maroon settlement and the organization of plantations in Dondon region Northern Haiti, and the cultural memory of such communities in the region today. This area was a hotbed of maroon settlement in the colonial period, and played a determinative role in sparking the Haitian Revolution in 1791. Rather than viewing Maroons as isolated and removed from the plantation world, I seek to explore how they were intensely entangled in colonial world-making processes, revealing the active role these “people without history” played in the making of the modern world. This research has the potential to provide new insights into the communication networks that fostered revolution in Saint-Domingue, and provide a valuable perspective on archaeologies of power and resistance more broadly. Finally it focuses on the relationship between Dondon’s community and heritage of the colonial period.

The University of California at Santa Cruz provides a unique professional development opportunity to acquire expertise in Historical Archaeology based in Haiti. Since 2015 Dr. Cameron Monroe of the Department of Anthropology at UC Santa Cruz has been carrying out research in Milot the Northern region of Haiti, which has afforded me the opportunity to pursue my PhD program at this University.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Sophie Chao

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 7. Workshop participants with grantee.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Asher Rosinger

Dr. Rosinger and research team travel on the Maniqui River.

While a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, Athens, Asher Rosinger received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2013 to aid research on “Hydration Strategies, Nutrition, and Health During a Lifestyle Transition in the Bolivian Amazon,” supervised by Dr. Susan Tanner. In 2019 Dr. Rosinger had the opportunity to return to the field when he received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Water and Hydration in the Bolivian Amazon: Reinforcing Traditional Strategies to Reduce Water-Related Morbidities.”

The Wenner-Gren Dissertation Grant supported my doctoral research examining hydration strategies, nutrition, and health during lifestyle transitions in the Bolivian Amazon among Tsimane’ forager-horticulturalists. The search for safe water has been and continues to be a critical problem facing humanity. The majority of this indigenous population, like 884 million people worldwide, currently lacks access to clean water and consequently has high parasite loads and high rates of dehydration.

Handing out food after the end of a workshop in the close dissertation community he worked in.

The overarching aim of this engagement project, building on findings from 12 months of dissertation fieldwork in 2 Tsimane’ communities in Lowland Bolivia, was to return to the research communities to provide hydration and water treatment educational and training workshops which will be reinforced through radio programs disseminated to all Tsimane’ communities. Through these workshops and radio program, I hoped to increase awareness and training to reduce water-related morbidities, specifically diarrheal diseases and dehydration, suffered by Tsimane’ children and adults. This engagement project had 3 main components and took place in May 2019 over 3 weeks.

First, I held a meeting with the Grand Tsimane’ Consejo, the governing Tsimane’ council which holds political power and is based in the town nearest the Tsimane communities (San Borja), to discuss the engagement project. During this meeting, I revisited the results I provided them at the conclusion of my dissertation fieldwork (preliminary findings and water quality analysis results, which indicated that the river and streams were heavily contaminated with pathogenic bacteria) with updates on new results and discussed all facets of the proposed workshop. At this meeting, the Consejo requested that instead of posters, they and the communities would rather have radio programs translated into Tsimane’ about these findings, rather than posters since these radio programs are far-reaching and they re-play them and people simply enjoy them more. Therefore, I felt it was a critical component of the engagement project to make this change.

Dr. Rosinger and his translator, Manuel Roca, discussing traditional hydration strategies during a workshop in the distant dissertation community he worked in.

Next, I visited the two communities where I conducted my dissertation research, including one community that takes two days of river travel to visit. At both communities, I conducted an educational workshop based on my findings that focused on safe hydration practices, how much water is necessary in this environment, and water treatment techniques. This workshop actively engaged in discourse with community members about additional challenges they face in cleaning water in their daily lives. It also reinforced these messages and information built on the 12 months of fieldwork, which included in-depth qualitative interviews on these topics, in a culturally-meaningful and understandable way. We did this in a fun workshop in which I also provided a community feast.

In addition, I provided starter kits and new jerry cans (the preferred means of water transport) with lids that people can not put their hands into since this is a key way that water containers become contaminated for families. I provided these new jerry cans to all households in the two communities with instructions of how to use and maintain the kits to clean water and where to purchase replacement materials in San Borja.

Dr. Rosinger working with Manuel Roca on a translation of the workshop for a radio program in Tsimane’.

Finally, I worked with a Tsimane’ translator to translate the presentation of the results from the workshop to a radio program. This translation was then reviewed and approved by the Grand Tsimane’ Consejo. It was then recorded at the Horeb Radio station, where they recorded the radio program and are playing it twice a week for the next month. The radio program was divided into three parts: 1) it discusses the importance of water, the symptoms of what happens when an individual does not drink enough water and they are dehydrated and how dehydration affects the body; 2) it discusses the best ways to rehydrate, including traditional, preferred rehydration practices of Tsimane’; and 3) it discusses different options to clean water, focusing on boiling water and using chlorine as well as appropriate dosages.

Overall, the Engaged Anthropology Grant provided me with an important opportunity to revisit the site of my dissertation research and re-engage with those communities. While I had been back once previously since my dissertation, and I had provided the results back to the communities as I was conducting my dissertation research, this trip felt different since it was all dedicated to the workshops. People were really happy to see me and happy for the opportunity to learn more about hydration and water issues and to tell me what they needed. I felt like what I was doing was as important as all the research I conducted. I think it will be critical to continue to build in these types of workshops in all future research I conduct as a way to stay engaged with the people who are most directly tied to the research.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Mary Elizabeth Schmid

Students’ drawings of “Global Farming Families of Southern Appalachia” historical narrative.

Dr. Mary Elizabeth Schmid received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2015 to aid research on “Global Farming Families of Southern Appalachia and the Mexican Bajio,” supervised by Dr. Ann E. Kingsolver. Building upon her fieldwork Dr. Schmid returned to the field after receiving an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2018 to aid engaged activities on “Anthropology in Schools: Diversity and Agricultural Change in Southern Appalachia”.

Who counts as a farming family in southern Appalachia? Which family migration stories are highlighted in agricultural histories and rural heritage programming? How do K-12 students learn these histories through narratives? What can anthropology do to enhance parity and equity in K-12 curriculums? These are a few of the questions that inspired this engaged project.

When considering Appalachia, the public imagination tends to erase and/or diminish the contemporary and historic diversity of cultures and perspectives that make Appalachia what it is today. Migration histories of families from Europe dominate the heritage lessons. These narratives can quietly teach people that “others” (deemed nonwhites and outsiders) do not belong. People in and of Appalachia know this and many contest it. For my dissertation, I worked with binational farming families in southern Appalachia and the Mexican Bajío. In the U.S., these families contribute to the food system as farmers, farm managers, packing house workers, brokers, truck drivers, and more. But, due to their racialized status in the U.S., their contributions are undervalued and mischaracterized. These Latinx-Appalachian farming families are making history as binational collective strategies. My dissertation tells their stories, counter- constructing stereotypes of Latinx in U.S. agriculture.

Students’ drawings of “Global Farming Families of Southern Appalachia” historical narrative.

Studies show that there is a need for disseminating anthropological knowledge in K-12 schools, for teaching diversity and inclusion in agricultural education, and for addressing racism within U.S. food system studies. This project addresses these needs. The active learning materials are built around a de-identified ethnographic text that weaves together the migration histories of two farming families in southern Appalachia – one from Mexico and the other from Ireland. I selected quotes that tell imagery-filled stories of what life was like for families in Mexico and southern Appalachia as they shifted from subsistence-focused agriculture to market-focused farming. The stories are woven together to both teach the history of the food system in southern Appalachia and the Mexican Bajío and to offer parity to migration histories of Appalachian farming families from Mexico and Ireland. The activities teach social science terminology (e.g., historical narrative, primary and secondary sources, technology, quality of life, and social transformation) as well as practical social science skills such as making kinship charts, interviewing family members, and reading maps.

The project addressed NC sixth-grade “common core standards” listed under History, Geography, and Economy through an integrated anthropological lens. The following are a few of the NC sixth-grade social studies core standards that guided me as I created the educational materials:

  • “Compare historical and contemporary events and issues to understand continuity and change” (6.H.2.2);
  • “Explain the factors that influenced the movement of people, goods, and ideas and the effects of that movement on societies and regions over time (e.g., location near rivers and natural barriers, trading practices and spread of culture)” (6.G.1.2);
  • “Explain how conflict, compromise, and negotiation over the availability of resources (natural, human and capital) impacted the economic development of various civilizations, societies and regions (e.g., competition for scarce resources, unequal distribution of wealth and the emergence of powerful trading networks)” (6.E.1.1).
Students’ drawings of “Global Farming Families of Southern Appalachia” historical narrative.

These enrichment lessons create an opportunity to celebrate diversity and promote intercultural belonging in public schools in rural southern Appalachia. The diversity in my sixth-grade classroom surprised even the students. Their family migration histories were often unknown to them until they interviewed a family member. Their families have come from countries like Russia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Moldova, Honduras, Ireland, Scotland and England. Students made connections to their lives through “text-to-self” writing assignments:

“Thanks for the help of getting my family to tell more stories.”

“The story of global farming families reminds me that my grandfather and me would go to the field to settle maize.”

“This story reminds me of me living in Moldova because we grow vegetables in a farm or at our house at your garden. And they used to carry vegetables with horse and now they carry by car and some still carry by horse and wagon.”

“Thank you for coming and teaching us about history and how food can tell our family history.”

Public anthropology can promote intercultural belonging through K-12 educational materials, especially those used in social studies classes. Social studies curriculums are bubbling with possibility for anthropological data and values. In the school where I worked, some students suffered from trauma due to their separation from deported parents while others expressed that they wanted their new nickname to be “build the wall”. When xenophobia is being publicly popularized, intellectuals must seek out opportunities to counter-act hate across generations. K- 12 classrooms are places where hate can be challenged, and intercultural belonging can be cultivated. As my collaborator Michelle Then, an ELA/Social Studies teacher, said, “I think its education, but it’s also social and emotional for them. From the heart. Seeing that we all came from someplace else and migrated to this place, this class. And for a lot of them, they are making connections to their families back in Mexico. They can see themselves in their school materials.”

Check out http://teachinglearninganthro.com/in the coming months for an article with a detailed account of the steps I took to transform my de-identified dissertation data into sixth-grade social studies curriculum enrichment materials.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Elena Sesma

Community history report cover.

In 2015 Dr. Elena Sesma received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “The Political Work of Memory in Collaborative Caribbean Archaeology,” supervised by Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptiste. Three years later Dr. Sesma was able to return to the field to share her results when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Living Memory and Changing Landscapes in Eleuthera, Bahamas: Developing a Community-Based Archive”.

The Wenner-Gren’s Engaged Anthropology Grant enabled me to return to my dissertation field site in Eleuthera, Bahamas for several weeks to continue collaboration with local research partners and participants from my dissertation research. My dissertation, titled “The Political Work of Memory in Collaborative Caribbean Archaeology” was framed around the principles of community-based, participatory research, and explored the ways in which descendants of a nineteenth century Bahamian plantation constructed and employed a collective memory around the historic and contemporary cultural landscapes of the former plantation acreage.  Through a combination of archaeological and ethnographic methods, the research revealed how descendants materialized memory on a living landscape that many politicians, developers, and foreign corporations prefer to see as vacant and therefore ideal for development.

Poster announcing a public community meeting in Wemyss Bight settlement, May 23, 2019.

This engagement project was intended to build on the community-based nature of the dissertation project by 1) sharing research findings, copies of data, and a written community history report to participants, 2) working with collaborators and local organizations to determine possible future projects and how best to manage heritage sites, and 3) beginning to develop a local archive of island history and collective memory. During the fall of 2018, I expanded a short report of my research that I had originally composed immediately after completing my dissertation fieldwork into a much longer report that included the general history of south Eleuthera, excerpts from oral histories, a discussion of key sites of memory that might benefit from further research or conservation, and copies of historical records regarding the former plantation estate. << https://scholarworks.umass.edu/anthro_digs_reports/1/>> Additionally, I began uploading 360-degree panoramas of several significant south Eleutheran historical and cultural sites to Google Earth at the request of several former participants. << https://goo.gl/maps/MYxDMHFztpEuDWY99>>

Elena Sesma with community partner, Clara Williams, librarian at the Wemyss Bight Community Library.

One of the keys to community-based research, as I have learned over the process of a 5-year long collaborative project, is the need for flexibility and respect for the wishes, needs, and availability of my collaborators. This can, of course, delay the process of research or entirely reshape a well-thought out research plan, but is nonetheless an essential component of doing meaningful and productive community-based research. This engaged anthropology project, conducted in May of 2019, used the same framework, which meant that the first step was to connect with my various collaborators and partners to determine their availability and interest in proceeding with my proposal to run workshops and planning meetings around the development of a community archive. Interest was high but availability in people’s schedules was not. Instead of large-group planning meetings, I met with many of my collaborators and past participants on an individual basis to share research findings and begin discussing the potential for a locally-held and community-controlled archive. In Nassau, I met with the director of the Bahamas Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Corporation to deliver copies of the community history report I produced in the winter of 2018 as well as digital copies of data gathered during the course of my permitted dissertation research. We also discussed what the creation of a local archive might look like in terms of investment and sustainability. I also spoke with members of the descendant community in Nassau whom I had not previously been introduced to. These conversations added important nuance to my understanding of people’s relationships to the land, complicated some of my plans, but ultimately expanded the dialogue over the site’s importance and how best to care for it.

Elena Sesma documents a cemetery wall and grave stone on an eroding beach site, Bannerman Town, Eleuthera, Bahamas.

On Eleuthera, I met with representatives of local organizations and institutions, such as local librarians, non-profit directors, and the leadership of community associations. These research partners each received multiple copies of the community report and we had long discussions about how to translate this report and my dissertation into the basis for a growing community archive. I shared drafts of open access story maps that I had created based on the community report and dissertation, but together we decided to delay the publication of these maps online. Additionally, I met with almost all of my former participants who had been a part of the dissertation research, and in one case, the daughter of a participant who had died the previous year. With each person, I updated them on the status of the dissertation, shared a copy of the community history report, and in many cases, delivered hard copy transcripts of the interviews and oral histories I had done with them. As in the case of all research, it took time (sometimes years) to build rapport with some participants. In the case of southern Eleuthera, many residents have a substantial and well-justified suspicion of outsiders who show up with recording devices and paperwork. Even some of those individuals who had quickly warmed to me in the past were genuinely surprised to see me return and were taken aback when I provided copies of their interviews and a copy of the community report I wrote. It was clear then how unexpected but truly appreciated this kind of commitment and continued engagement is for communities that often feel forgotten by other institutions.

The culmination of these individual meetings and visits was a public meeting held at the Wemyss Bight Community Library. There, I shared a summary of my dissertation, some key findings outlined in the community history report, and presented several potential options for what a community archive might entail in terms of additional research and training, what form it might take, and how it might be accessed. This public meeting was both a chance for me to disseminate my research, as well as an opportunity to open the door to new questions, new participants, and ongoing dialogue between local participants and institutional collaborators.

As this project wrapped up, I reflected deeply on the process and the point of engagement in anthropology, with its many varied meanings and methods. Engagement takes on different forms, and like any good anthropologist – like any good human – we adapt. Engagement is meeting with community partners and collaborators, giving updates and talking about how to build something even bigger and better with the work we’ve already done. Engagement is meeting with officials who manage and oversee heritage resources on all the Bahamas’ 700 islands. Engagement is talking with community members who haven’t previously been involved, absorbing their frustrations at having been left out. Engagement happens amongst large groups at public meetings, where residents and researchers dialogue, fill in holes that were maybe missed in earlier research, imaging a future where this work can continue. Engagement also happens individually, in the living rooms, kitchens, front yards, and shops of those who participated. One of the most profound confirmations of this trip was acknowledging that all of these activities count as engagement, especially if the intention to share and collaborate and dialogue is there.