NYAS @ WGF: Coastal Archaeology, the Anthropocene, and the Future of Island Ecosystems

Anacapa Island (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

PLEASE NOTE that Monday’s lecture (1/26) has been CANCELLED due to inclement weather. Stay tuned for more information regarding possible rescheduling or other announcements concerning the New York Academy of Sciences Anthropology Section lecture series. 

Our popular lecture series with the New York Academy of Sciences’ Anthropology section resumes for the new year next Monday, January 26, 2015, when we’ll welcome Torben Rick, Director and Curator of North American Archaeology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, to discuss the Anthropocene and the present and future challenges it poses to coastal archaeology and historical ecology.

We live in a time of rapid global ecological change and degradation, prompting many to speculate that we have entered the Anthropocene, a time dominated by human activities. Coastal archaeology and historical ecology provide an important framework for understanding contemporary environmental problems and can help guide future conservation, restoration, and management. Drawing on examples from California’s Channel Islands and other island ecosystems around the world, I explore the ways that archaeology can help enhance contemporary environmental management and chart a course for future collaborative research around the world.

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 Dr. Rick begining his lecture at 7pm.  The event is free, but registration with the New York Academy of Sciences is required.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Dina Makram-Ebeid

Location of the former Helwan Governorate in Egypt. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Dina Makram-Ebeid is Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. She joins us today to relate her experience working with our Engaged Anthropology Grant in her fieldsite south of Cairo.

In December 2013 a large factory occupation took place at the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company (EISCO) in Helwan. EISCO is Egypt’s largest fully-integrated public sector steel plant located in the south of Cairo. The December occupation was led by young workers that joined the plant from 2007 to work on temporary and daily-waged basis. The occupation lasted a month with demands raised ranging from receiving the unpaid sixteen months’ worth of bonus pay to the ousting of the CEO and the corrupt union. This was the largest collective action in EISCO since 1989, when workers staged a strike that ended with the state security storming the plant, killing one worker and detaining and torturing many, including members of the public who stood in solidarity. As a post-doctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany, I returned to my doctoral field site in Helwan, Egypt from August 2013 to May 2014 to conduct more fieldwork on labour politics during the revolution.  With the support of the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant I co-organised two workshops and an exhibition with my previous informants and with young members of the community.

The first workshop enabled the young generation of workers that led the recent occupation to exchange thoughts on their experience with the older workers who led the 1989 strike and to reflect on their demands, strategies and tactics. The exchange highlighted how each generation had different views on doing politics, which opened the space for more deliberation on the differences in opportunities and challenges each group had. Local academics, labour journalists and labour activists were present in various panels.

The platform allowed me to share with workers and others present in the workshop the findings of my PhD research, whose fieldwork I conducted on the shop-floors of EISCO and in the surrounding company town between 2008-2010. My PhD thesis focused on the place of the tenured work contract in public sector factories of Egypt, and how this form of contract comes to be a kind of potential property that crosses the boundaries of common understandings of “private property” and the “public sector.”  I looked at the fragmentation of the labour force along the lines of access to permanent employment and how it was central to the state’s reproduction of dispossession. My work highlighted how EISCO jobs were primarily bequeathed to children of existing workers, thus denying ‘outsiders’ access to stable work and conditioning them to a perpetual proletarian condition. I argued in my research that this ability to bequeath positions to children enabled steel workers to consider themselves part of the middle class, intensified conflicts between tenured and untenured workers in the locality and undermined the solidarities in labour movement. The thesis showed how the immaterial labour of expanding networks and relations is made into a resource that is part of calculations regulating labour regimes that turn what I called ‘the politics of stability’ into norm.

The research findings were thus discussed in the workshop hand in hand with strategies to build solidarity among workers. During the sessions we discussed how the legal modifications made by the state, including the new Labour Law of 2003, which introduced temporary and daily employment in public plants for the first time, created a politics around permanent work contracts and continued to affect collective politics in the plant. We also discussed the challenges in countering the practice of bequeathing permanent jobs to one’s children. The closing sessions located alternatives to the labour regimes that were instated under Mubarak and reflected on organising with more precarious workers outside EISCO. Together we learnt about the mechanisms of labour governance over the longue durée and came up with ideas on how to counter them in practice. During the workshop I also shared with workers documents that I had gathered for my PhD research and which could aid them in their struggle. The documents ranged from bylaws of the plant, to a book collectively edited by workers on the 1989 strike, to various legal and media documents around the 1989 strike. These proved quite helpful to those engaged in organising workers in the plant.

The second workshop included film makers, workers and young members of the community in Helwan. The members of the community were introduced to the basics of film-making, from filming with small devices to film editing and were encouraged to do their own films. Talented members continued to work on a low-budget film project about work politics in Egypt. The experience gave the participants the tools to document the injustices around them and to connect with those who have some access to mainstream media. A final photo exhibition of the plant was placed around the space of the first workshop. It enabled reflections by the group on labour histories, collective memories, and alternative imaginations. Overall the workshops and exhibition were a success, they acted as platforms for knowledge sharing, for reflections on the current predicaments and for imagining alternative futures.

Interview: Michael Chazan on “The Harvard Kalahari Project”

Dr. Michael Chazan is professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto and director of its Archaeology Center. Dr. Chazan’s history with the Foundation goes back to 2007, when he received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research at Wonderwerk Cave in Northern Cape Province, South Africa, which helped establish it as one of the most important archaeological sites in Southern Africa. In 2011, he and colleague Dr. Susan Pfeiffer co-organized the 2012 Meeting of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA) at UToronto with Wenner-Gren support. During the meeting, Chazan and Pfeiffer took the opportunity to organize a retrospective of the Harvard Kalahari project, commemorating its wide influence on the field, and saving for posterity the reflections of the scholars involved.


What is/was the Harvard Kalahari Project and why was it important in the development of archaeology and anthropology in Africa?

From 1963 to 1976 a team of researchers led by Richard Lee and the late Irv Devore studied the Ju/’hoansi of the Kalahari. Their collective work gave rise to insights about diverse topics from child care to nutrition.  For archaeologists this project, including the archaeological and ethnoarchaeological research by Allison Brooks and John Yellin, has been a critical resource for understanding hunter-gatherer societies.

What are the main legacies of the Harvard Kalahari Project? How does it relate to the Kalahari Peoples Fund, which is one of the oldest anthropological advocacy groups in North America?

There is of course a tremendous scientific legacy that stretches across the social sciences.  There is also the literary legacy left by Margerie Schostack’s book, “Nisa: the Life and Words of a !Kung Woman, and the many other books and articles written by the members of the project.  What is clear in the film is that the research team collectively saw the need for social advocacy, leading to the establishment of the Kalahari Peoples Fund – still very active today.  This linkage between a strong program of empirical research and social advocacy is the hallmark of this group’s work. I think quite an interesting model for anthropology as a discipline.

Why was it important to hold a retrospective of the project 2012, who participated, and what were the outcomes of the meeting?

Susan Pfeiffer and I felt that the meeting of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists in Toronto would be a great opportunity to bring together members of the Harvard Kalahari Project to talk about their experience.  Brooks and Yellen are active members, while Richard Lee and Nancy Howell are emeritus U of Toronto faculty. We thought that this would be a natural venue for a reunion. Once we suggested it, momentum arose within the group. All we had to do was secure a venue and arrange for the taping. Part of the motivation for me was the sense that there have been high profile negative stories emerging about anthropological fieldwork, so we can benefit from a reminder of how collaborative research teams can make a fundamental, positive contribution.  We also felt that the so-called Kalahari Debate that had swirled through the 90′s had simmered down to an extent where it would be possible to get a more balanced perspective on the experiences  of the members of the Kalahari Project.
What can we learn from the Harvard Kalahari Project as anthropology and archaeology move into the second decade of the 21st Century?

I think we learn quite a bit from the Harvard Kalahari Project and the initiatives it started.  The project shows the rich potential of collaboration. What we see in the film is how human this collaboration is.  For me, the film is quite inspiring.  We see a group of senior scholars who have been profoundly shaped by the experience they had doing fieldwork. At the same time, we see their deep conviction that research matters– that there is an empirical reality and that gaining new scientific insight is in and of itself important.  Their experience reminds us of the vastness of human experience and the vital contribution that anthropology can make.

WGF in the News: Grantee Habiba Chirchir Leads Important Study

Habiba Chirchir is a biological anthropologist and currently postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. A native of Kenya, Dr. Chirchir received the Wadsworth Fellowship which enabled her to complete her graduate education at New York University and George Washington University’s Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology. A specialist in human bone density and skeletal anatomy, Chirchir is the lead researcher in this newly-published study tracing shifts in bone density in human populations and their relation to parallel changes in lifeways.

Lightweight Skeletons of Modern Humans Have Recent Origin

Decrease of “Spongy” Bone Related to Adoption of Sedentary Lifestyle

New research shows that modern human skeletons evolved into their lightly built form only relatively recently—after the start of the Holocene about 12,000 years ago and even more recently in some human populations. The work, based on high-resolution imaging of bone joints from modern humans and chimpanzees as well as from fossils of extinct human species shows that for millions of years extinct humans had high bone density until a dramatic decrease in recent modern humans. Published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the findings reveal a higher decrease in the density of lower limbs than in that of the upper limbs, suggesting that the transformation may be linked to humans’ shift from a foraging lifestyle to a more sedentary agricultural one.

“Despite centuries of research on the human skeleton, this is the first study to show that human skeletons have substantially lower density in joints throughout the skeleton, even in ancient farmers who actively worked the land,” said Brian Richmond, an author of the study and curator in the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Anthropology.

Modern people (right) have unusually low density in bones throughout the skeleton, including the hand bone joints (metacarpal heads) shown here. This study shows that bone joint density remained high throughout human evolution spanning millions of years, until it decreased significantly in recent modern humans, probably as a result of an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. From left to right: modern chimpanzee, Australopithecus, Neanderthal, and modern human. (© AMNH/J. Steffey, courtesy of Brian Richmond)

Compared to our closest living relatives—chimpanzees—as well as to our extinct human ancestors, humans are unique in having an enlarged body size and lower-limb joint surfaces in combination with a relatively lightweight skeleton. But until now, scientists did not know that human bone joints are significantly less dense compared with those of other animals, or when during human evolution this unique characteristic first appeared.

“Our study shows that modern humans have less bone density than seen in related species, and it doesn’t matter if we look at bones from people who lived in an industrial society or agriculturalist populations that had a more active life. They both have much less bone density,” said Habiba Chirchir, lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. “What we want to know now is whether this is an early human characteristic that defines our species.”

To explore this question, Chirchir, Richmond, and an international team of researchers used high-resolution computed tomography and microtomography to measure trabecular, or spongy, bone of the limb joints in modern humans and chimpanzees, as well as in fossil hominins attributed to Australopithecus africanus, Paranthropus robustus, Homo neanderthalensis, and early Homo sapiens. Their results show that only recent modern humans have low trabecular density throughout limb joints, and that the decrease is especially pronounced in the lower joints—those in the hip, knee, and ankle—rather than the upper joints in the shoulder, elbow, and hand. The appearance of this anatomical change late in our evolutionary history may have been a result of the transition from a nomadic to a more settled lifestyle.

“Much to our surprise, throughout our deep past, we see that our human ancestors and relatives, who lived in natural settings, had very dense bone. And even early members of our species, going back 20,000 years or so, had bone that was about as dense as seen in other modern species,” Richmond said. “But this density drastically drops off in more recent times, when we started to use agricultural tools to grow food and settle in one place.”

This research provides an anthropological context to modern bone conditions like osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disorder that may be more prevalent in contemporary populations due partly to low levels of walking activity.

“Over the vast majority of human prehistory, our ancestors engaged in far more activity over longer distances than we do today,” Richmond. “We cannot fully understand human health today without knowing how our bodies evolved to work in the past, so it is important to understand how our skeletons evolved within the context of those high levels of activity.”

In future studies, the researchers will explore the ways in which the bones are less dense than those of our evolutionary relatives.

This work was supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation Wadsworth Fellowship, The Leakey Foundation Baldwin Fellowship, Smithsonian’s Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the National Science Foundation grant #s BCS-0521835 and DGE-0801634.

WGF Symposium #150: “Integrating Anthropology: Niche Construction, Cultural Institutions, and History”

Front: Leslie Aiello, Cristina Moya, Doug Bird, Ashley Grimes, Kathryn Coe, Mary Shenk, Maurice Bloch, Polly Wiessner, Beverly Strassmann, Laurie Obbink. - Back: Agustín Fuentes, Greg Downey, Pierre Lienard, Ben Purzycki, Alan Barnard, Lee Gettler, Barry Hewlett, Scott Atran

Wenner-Gren Symposium #150, “Integrating Anthropology:  Niche Construction, Cultural Institutions, and History” was held this past October 17-23 in Sintra, Portugal. Like all of our symposia, the work presented here will be featured in a future special open-access issue of Current Anthropology!

All anthropologists, no matter their subdiscipline or field, are interested in why humans do what they do.  In past decades, anthropologists, and particularly those in North America, worked across disciplines drawing on many applications of evolutionary, economic, and cultural theory.

In the 1980s and 1990s a broad diversity of new theoretical approaches emerged.  More humanistically oriented anthropologists, rejecting metanarratives, focused on how humans create complex cultural meanings and realities. Scientifically oriented anthropologists focused on evolutionary and biological influences. Hostilities grew and even in North America, where the Boasian tradition of broad-based anthropology was the norm, some departments split and the discipline divided.

These divisions are devastating to anthropology’s ability to confront the many critical problems in the world today.  There are pressing issues that demand generous engagement between ethnography, social theory, evolutionary theory, biology and socioecology.  These include globalization, environmental degradation, growing inequalities, the impacts of new technologies, and social strife.

The many methodologies and theoretical investments of our diverse practitioners have led to rich understandings of human beings and being human, but at different explanatory scales. To integrate these perspectives we need a starting point. The goal of this conference, and the special symposium issue of Current Anthropology to follow, is to assemble researchers working across sub-fields and theoretical orientations and invite them to collaborate on developing ideas for integrating anthropology that run deeper than many current “biocultural approaches,” and realize these ideas via concrete case studies and innovative methodologies.

The framework we are seeking to build will include evolutionary influences, ethnographic realities, ecological niches, technologies, and cultural institutions. We need to explain gene-culture interactions as well as the sources of enormous cultural diversity in human societies. Research strategies to address the big questions require theoretical plurality and diverse methodologies. This mode of integrating approaches in anthropology will have much to offer the discipline, the academy, and society.


Engaged Anthropology Grant: Matthew Walls

A screenshot from Adobe Premiere of a young kayaker learning to throw a harpoon.

Matthew Walls is SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in Arctic Archaeology at the University of Oxford’s Institute of Archaeology, and a recipient of the Engaged Anthropology Grant. In 2011, while a doctoral student at the University of Toronto, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Frozen Landscapes, Fluid Technologies: Inuit Kayak Hunting and the Perception of the Environment in Greenland,” supervised by Dr. Max Friesen.

“To me, it makes sense, and the meaning is there” one participant tells me, after reviewing a sequence of footage we have been working on (above). The scene we were watching is from 2010, and it shows him teaching harpoon throwing. This was is a typical moment in my engagement project, this summer, and we were in the final stage of editing a documentary film on Inuit kayaking. Using video clips from my doctoral project, the idea is to adapt my research and co-produce something of value to the community. It has been in production since 2011, and the Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to return to the towns of Ilulissat and Sisimiut in order to ensure that participants can hear their own voices in the final cut by opening the editing process to them.

The community I worked with, from 2009-2011, build kayaks and practice traditional skills as a way of exploring Inuit heritage. Specifically, they find meaning in the persistence of kayaking because the physicality of the skill involves forms of cultural and environmental knowledge that can exist only through practice. As an archaeologist, I was interested in the theoretical implications this idea has for understanding the relationship between people and materials through time. I conducted three seasons of ethnoarchaeological fieldwork which documented the process through which Inuit become skilled kayakers. In my dissertation, I argued that understanding how sensorimotor knowledge is constructed between generations allows for archaeological narratives that better emphasize the agency of skilled practice through time.

Co-editing the arrangement of a sequence.

As a partnership project, it was important for the community to have a voice in interpretation, and to produce materials they find meaningful and accessible. The film was one of several initiatives[i] to accomplish this, and the idea was originally proposed by an Elder as a way of creating something that would be valuable to future generations. Visual media was a prominent part of the research methodology, and this resulted in many hours of footage from interviews, community events, kayak construction, and training which could be used with informed consent. However, as I discovered, editing a film is a matter of weaving image and sound to create a narrative that smoothly conveys an intelligible message to the viewer. A challenge in assembling the film from excerpts was to ensure this process of selection and arrangement did not change the context of what participants had said or demonstrated. To navigate this, the film has been in a process of community review – as sections of the film were edited and sequenced, I showed them to participants via online streaming, which gave them the opportunity to comment and make suggestions for how it should be adjusted. This was a very slow but tremendously useful process, and over distance, it was possible to create a rough cut of the film.

So the Engaged Anthropology Grant gave me the opportunity to complete this process of co-production in person. Returning to Greenland this summer allowed me to show participants an assembled rough cut, to open the editing process to them by demonstrating how the software works, and to make changes together. This resulted in a number of significant developments in the film, ranging from small matters of arrangement to selecting new scenes of kayaking practices to match narration. In one case, a participant opted to re-record an interview to better capture his meaning. Language is a very important feature of the film – it will be in Kalaallisut (Greenlandic) with English subtitles – and during the visit, I reviewed the translations with participants who speak English, who helped me to refine them.

Opening the editing process to the community was also a chance to help develop their capacity to produce their own films. Through participating in the project, several community members became interested in the process of filmmaking and the possibilities it offers them for exploring and preserving kayaking heritage. For example, two participants are now making a film that documents different construction techniques, and another wants to make his own instructional videos about emergency rolls. During the visit, I spent some time helping them to get started with learning Lightworks – an open source video editing program. Returning to Greenland was also an opportunity to archive project materials in local museums, renew personal ties, and discuss possibilities for future research projects.

There are now some small edits and formatting necessary to complete the film[ii]; when it is finished, the community will be able to stream it in Kalaallisut online, and copies will be given to the kayak clubs and local museums.  I think that the finished film will achieve the goal of co-producing something with the community that will have value for future generations in Greenland. In reflecting on the project, it is interesting to see how important the film became as a way of doing the research. The collaboration and refinement it entailed was an important part of co-constructing an understanding of the knowledge involved in the skill. It was my first experience in creating a film, and I’m very excited to include it as a feature of future collaborations.

[i] Other initiatives included a new media project website in Kalaallisut and English (www.qajaq.utoronto.ca).

[ii] Sample scenes from the film can be viewed on the project website: http://www.qajaq.utoronto.ca/english_site/film_trailer/film_trailer.html

Wenner-Gren Sponsored Events at AAA 2014

If you are planning to attend the meetings, please join us at the following Foundation-sponsored events:

  1. Thursday, December 4, and Friday, December 5, 2014:
    Current Anthropology
    Office Hours
    (10:00 AM to 12:00 PM, Exhibition Hall, University of Chicago Press Booth)
    Stop by to meet Current Anthropology Editor Mark Aldenderfer and Managing Editor Lisa McKamy.
  2. Friday, December 5, 2014:
    How to Write a Grant Proposal: An Introduction to Grants and Programs at the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the National Science Foundation (8:00 AM-10:00 AM, Maryland Suite A, Marriott Wardman Park Hotel)
    Featuring Leslie Aiello (Wenner-Gren), Deborah Winslow (NSF), and Jeffrey Mantz (NSF). The workshop is free but please pre-register at the AAA website or stop by the Wenner-Gren or NSF tables in the exhibition hall.
  3. Friday, December 5, 2014:
    Wenner-Gren Foundation Reception (8:00 PM-10:00 PM, Palladian Ballroom, Omni Shoreham Hotel)
    Public reception with an open bar for the first hour. Come to meet other anthropologists and celebrate the Foundation’s ongoing support for anthropology.

Please stop by and visit us in the Exhibition Hall (Booth 518). We look forward to seeing you! Our staff will be there to answer questions about our grant programs and introduce some new initiatives leading up to our 75th anniversary in 2016. These include:

  1. The Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in Ethnographic Film. Next deadline: May 1, 2015.  More information can be found at: http://www.wennergren.org/programs/fejos-postdoctoral-fellowships .
  2. Innovations in the Public Awareness of Anthropology. To be launched in 2015. This new grant program is designed to fund innovative projects to raise public awareness of anthropology.

The Foundation is pleased to announce the publication of the following 2014 open access Wenner-Gren Symposium Supplementary issues of Current Anthropology. These supplementary issues highlight important and emerging themes in anthropology across the four fields and we congratulate the guest editors and contributors.

  1. Crisis, Value, and Hope:  Rethinking the Economy (Current Anthropology, Wenner-Gren Symposium Supplementary issue 9, Eds. Susana Narotzky and Niko Besnier). No. S9, pp. S1-S154 (http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/675941).

The Anthropology of Christianity:  Unity, Diversity, New Directions (Current Anthropology, Wenner-Gren Symposium Supplementary issue 10, Eds. Joel Robbins and Naomi Haynes). (http://www.jstor.org/stable/curranth.ahead-of-print)

Follow and friend us on Twitter and Facebook — and stay tuned to Wenner-Gren!

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

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

Challenges to collaboration

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

Other routes to collaboration

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

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


About the author

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

NYAS @ WGF 11/17: Audio Now Available

Monday evening saw November’s installment of our popular ongoing lecture series done in conjunction with the anthropology section of the New York Academy of Sciences. Audio from this panel discussion, featuring Daniel Goldstein of Rutgers University and Alyshia Gálvez of Lehman College, CUNY is available here.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Douglas London

Douglas London is Assistant Professor of Medical Anthropology at Adelphi University. In 2009, while a doctoral candidate at Arizona State University, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Hunter-Gatherers and Dietary Double-Edged Swords: Food as Medicine among the Waorani Foragers of Amazonian Ecuador,’ supervised by Dr. Takeyuki Tsuda. In 2013, he was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to follow-up on his research with two Ecuadorian indigenous groups and the complex interactions linking their diet, health, and local economic activities. 


Engagement Grant Follow-Up to Study:

I.The Problem: The study, started in 2009, compared the diet and the health of the Kawymeno group of Waorani hunter-gatherer population still engaged in full-time foraging outside the modern food system with neighboring subsistence agricultural indigenous rain forest populations. The study focused on the pharmaceutical aspects (plant phytochemical content of their diet) rather than the nutritional aspects of their diet. There were major differences in health outcomes across the board; most of the infectious and chronic diseases present in neighboring indigenous farmers were completely absent among the Waorani hunter-gatherers. When confounding factors are controlled for study evidence demonstrated that particular aspects of the Waorani traditional diet protect against certain chronic and infectious diseases. Waorani that have abandoned their traditional diet now experience these dietary related diseases. Maintaining a traditional high dietary phytochemical intake has been discouraged by policies of oil companies, non-profits, government health and education institutions and Westernizing Waorani institutions themselves. However, many phytochemical-rich foods, such as rain forest fruit varieties, still exist near the Waorani but are just simply ignored in favor of processed and imported food. Unfortunately, westernizing Waorani are encouraged through example by their new Western role models, to discontinue their supposedly “primitive” diet. Informal dietary advice and food given to the Waorani by local Ecuadorians negatively affects health outcomes. This underlines the importance of making those institutions who provide dietary advice and food aid aware of the particular characteristics and striking health benefits of the native Waorani diet that is high in wild varied phytochemical and nutrient content that is lacking in a Western diet. Waorani are losing their foraging lifestyle due to the intrusion of oil companies and oil drilling in their rain forest homeland in previously protected Yasuni National Park.

Implementation: We were given a Wenner-Gren grant to disseminate study results with the overall goal of returning in person to the study site to start an ongoing dialogue with the Waorani, as well as Ecuadorian regional influencers and stakeholders in that region of the Amazon rain forest, regarding preservation of the tradition food system of the Waorani. Maintaining a traditional diet has been discouraged by policies of oil companies, non-profits, government health and education institutions and Westernizing Waorani institutions themselves. The Ecuadorian government has very recently giving the green flag to begin oil drilling in Yasuni national park one of the most bio-diverse regions of the world and our study site, a blow to global conservation efforts. However, armed with a small budget we wanted to make the oil companies, as much as possible, a part of the solution as oil companies officials pay for many Waorani schools, teachers, health clinics and health providers and provide limited food and employment while drilling. We had already participated in negotiations between the oil companies and the Waorani nation as a whole and through this process built up some trust with the overall Waorani population as a whole beyond our small Kawymeno community we focused our research on.

Regional visits and meetings took place in 32 remote Waorani communities, and attendant schools and health centers, as well as with local and national officials who oversee these regions. For almost two months study results were disseminated to remote Waorani communities and people most influential in affecting Waorani dietary decisions: oil companies, non-profits, indigenous representative groups, health and education providers and government officials. The goal was to encourage the preservation and recognize the value of the native Waorani diet. This also meant measures to provide continued access to the rain forest where the native food comes from. The practical emphasis of the meetings was on planting the seeds of potential future collaborations and projects with multiple stakeholder participation. Our regional “workshops” used food demonstrations, role-playing/theater, and a brief PowerPoint show where possible. In general we avoided lecturing as a medium as it is not effective with foraging communities and has less impact than more dynamic approaches for other stakeholders as well. We often had to perform on the spot with no preparation time. Our Waorani assistants and promotors often accompanied us

All these regional meetings disseminating study results and discussing the value of the Waorani native diet culminated in a conference to which both indigenous leaders and Amazonian regional and national influencers and stakeholders were invited. We set a tentative date early on during these regional meetings for a final conference to bring all the people we talked to together to form a blueprint as to how each stakeholder might participate in preserving and promoting the native Waorani diet. The conference took place in the regional capital Coca in the Hotel Auca, a hotel named after an earlier name given to the Waorani and generally sympathetic to Waorani concerns. Many indigenous leaders and regional educators, health providers, oil company and government officials, academics, non-profits and other stakeholders came.

Our goals were first to create awareness of the value of the Waorani food system and culturally appropriate ways to preserve the Waorani food system, second to generate respect for the Waorani culture via the food system and promote Waorani pride in their native diet, third to plant the seeds for future collaborations among the stakeholders to preserve the native Waorani diet. We felt we did create awareness of the value of the Waorani food system where there was previously little understanding or interest in the native diet. We also made some headway with arranging collaborative for future projects through bringing together stakeholders that rarely meet on the issue of food system preservation. Stakeholders we contacted are now more aware of the health value of the Waorani diet where before it was not considered an important issue. In reality we needed more time, money and a longer more permanent presence to make lasting change to avert the destruction of the food system that is occurring. Beyond this grant lifespan we plan to continue research, dissemination and building relationships in this Amazonian region of Ecuador

Conclusion: Wenner-Gren funds anthropological projects that go beyond studying the indigenous group and get to what matters in real life, making use of what is learned in way that really helps the people studied. An academic product discussing the lessons learned from the study returned in a written form to indigenous leaders and stake holders is a culturally inappropriate vehicle to create positive change in the local region. While benefiting the anthropologist this method of research dissemination often has no immediate useful impact on the actual indigenous participants in the study. Wenner-Gren engagement grants go the next step and give back something tangible to the indigenous participants who so generously give time to the researchers. It is hoped that more researchers will dedicate time to giving to as well as receiving from their indigenous partners and Wenner-Gren will continue to be a leader in making anthropology more relevant to the real world problems and issues.

Bottom Line: We personally feel for anthropologists to fare well in what is a changing world and appear relevant to our audiences and supporters at home and abroad we must move with the times and practice more community development along with research. We are grateful Wenner-Gren is taking a leadership role and hope more funding will be available for community development component of research. Anthropologists will move with the times to go beyond being “activists” to becoming implementer of the things we hold dear such as the preservation of global human diversity. Paid to work closely with indigenous groups we have a unique opportunity to make a difference. Our upcoming article funded by Wenner-Gren describes a pilot methodology we hope is useful in helping other anthropologists to become implementers in the preservation of diversity.


  • London D. (2014) Melding data collection methodology with community assistance: benefits to both researchers and the indigenous groups they study. Journal of Ecological Anthropology (in print)