Thursday, March 31, 2011

Peggy Terry and Oral History of the Great Depression

In today's class, Dr. Dujovny lectured on Ethnohistory and the practice of oral history, what the Step-by-Step Guide to Oral History calls "the systematic collection of living people's testimony about their own experiences."

American author, historian, broadcaster, and actor, Studs Terkel (1912-2008) was one of the most well known collectors of human testimony. Although he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1985, he is better remembered for his recordings of the oral histories of common Americans, many of which were featured on his long-running radio program aired on WFMT in Chicago.

According to the Chicago History Museum website,
Turkel was interested in interviewing people in order to uncover "the relationship between their personal plight and values and their awareness of national issues and society’s values" [much like an anthropologist]. Accordingly, he interviewed people about their hopes and dreams and about their experiences of such events as the Great Depression and WWII. He also interviewed them about issues of race and civil rights, religion and faith, work, and many other topics of central importance to everyday people living in in the United States in the 20th Century.

"Terkel interviewed hundreds of people across the United States for his book on the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 1973, he selected several interviews that were included in his book to be broadcast in eleven parts on the Studs Terkel Program on WFMT radio (Chicago, IL)."

To get a sense of both oral history and Terkel's work, listen to one very powerful interview with Peggy Terry (in 2 parts):
File Name: terkel-a0a0l5-b.rm;


Interview with Peggy Terry, a migrant farm worker, on being unemployed, bread lines, soup kitchens, and homeless camps.

soup kitchens, Bread lines, Unemployed, Depressions -- 1929, Terry, Peggy, homeless camps
Interviewer(s): Terkel, Studs
Interviewee(s): Terry, Peggy

“You and your sister couldn't tell us apart. And we couldn't tell you two apart.”

I found this nice little Story Corps recording today. Its about 3 min. long. Do listen:

“You and your sister couldn't tell us apart. And we couldn't tell you two apart.”

Elliot Reiken remembers how he and his identical twin brother, Danny, met and married another set of identical twins, Hunny (L) and Bunny Feller.

To see a wedding photo, click here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Is Anthropology a Science?

Anthropologists have long debated whether the field should or should not be seen as a science. Recently this came to a head at the annual American Anthropological Association meeting that was held in New Orleans last November. At this meeting, the executive committee removed three references to the word "science" in its long range plan. Predictably, this caused a great deal of consternation among many anthropologists who felt that this was an attack on science.

The following is an excerpt from a discussion between two anthropologists (one cultural and the other biological) at Boston University. (To read the entire article, click HERE. You can also check out the New York Times article alluded to in this piece - click HERE.)

BU Today: Do you agree with the decision to delete the word “science” from the plan? Weller: I wouldn’t have done it. I don’t see what is gained. A lot rides on what we call “science.” If we mean scientific method—controlled experiments in laboratories with disprovable hypotheses and reproduceable results—lots of us don’t do that. I don’t do that. But there’s long been an anthropological line: let’s take the term in its German sense, which just means trying to put order on knowledge. I’m totally comfortable with that—I claim science.

But I don’t read the change as a real attack on the scientists, either. The critique of science isn’t from the majority of social and cultural anthropology, but it’s been a vocal piece at certain universities, of which ours is not one. I have no problem with the rewording, either, and I would say zero people in this department have a problem, one way or the other.

Cartmill: I see no reason why it should have been deleted. I think there are all sorts of things that are worthwhile for people to do that aren’t science. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing science. There are anthropologists who describe science as “cognitive colonialism.” I am outraged by people calling me a cognitive colonialist.

But I’m not outraged by people saying that they’re not scientists. Science is theorized, repeatable experience—I can go and check you, see if what you said is true. It is an extremely useful formula for getting at what’s going on in terms of nature. It’s less useful for talking about human motivations, desires, ambitions, psychology. I am also sensitive that there are people who treat science as though it were something handed down from Mount Sinai, authoritative. Science does not recognize the existence of authority; you’re always obliged to say, “Check me out.”

I have done things that weren’t scientific. I wrote a book that was an intellectual history of hunting.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Our Closest Relatives

Since we have been talking a lot about Human evolution over the past few classes, I thought you would appreciate the Daily Show's take on these issues.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The end of religion?

I recently read an article about a study which concluded that in nine countries (Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland) the likelihood of someone identifying themselves as religious was very low, and it's likely that fewer and fewer people will identify as religious in the future until there none at all.

Curiously, this was not an anthropological study, instead the research team was led by a physicist and a mathematician. They created a mathematical model based on the idea that the larger a social group is, the more attractive it is to join and the more social utility there is for being associated with that group. To me, that idea seems similar to way we talked about dialects earlier in the course, and how there is less prestige to be gained with a regional accent than if you can make your speech into a more neutral American style, like that of a T.V. news anchor.

Do you think the conclusions of this study might have been different if the research team had an anthropologist on board? What other factors of human behavior complicate the way we identify ourselves, other than a desire to be a member of the majority group?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Is there Free Will?

The New York Times has a good introductory article that debates the question of whether or not free will (or "Agency" as we call it in the social sciences) really exists. While this may seem to be a question that is properly debated in philosophy departments, Anthropologists have long debated the existence of free will. Specifically, they have been interested in understanding to what extent there can be free will when we are quite often constrained society and its cultural values. Overall, most Anthropologists follow in Schopenhauer's footsteps and are compatibilists who agree with the famous dictum that "Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills."

Though the article does not discuss the role of Anthropologists in researching this important topic, it points out that notions of free will are cross cultural. From the article:

Intellectual concepts of free will can vary enormously, but there seems to be a fairly universal gut belief in the concept starting at a young age. When children age 3 to 5 see a ball rolling into a box, they say that the ball couldn’t have done anything else. But when they see an experimenter put her hand in the box, they insist that she could have done something else.

That belief seems to persist no matter where people grow up, as experimental philosophers have discovered by querying adults in different cultures, including Hong Kong, India, Colombia and the United States. Whatever their cultural differences, people tend to reject the notion that they live in a deterministic world without free will.

They also tend to agree, across cultures, that a hypothetical person in a hypothetically deterministic world would not be responsible for his sins. This same logic explains why they they’ll excuse Mark’s tax evasion, a crime that doesn’t have an obvious victim. But that logic doesn’t hold when people are confronted with what researchers call a “high-affect” transgression, an emotionally upsetting crime like Bill’s murder of his family.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"I am not fat, I am big boned"

According to a recent article in PHYSORG.COM forensic anthropologists from North Carolina State University are able to determine for the first time if someone was overweight based on the dimensions of the femur bone. Bigger bones are correlated with heavier individuals because they must adjust how they carry their weight, which requires the femur to make changes such as a wider shaft.

“This research allows us to determine whether an individual was overweight based solely on the characteristics of a skeleton’s femur, or thigh bone,” says Dr. Ann Ross, an associate professor of anthropology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. However, Ross notes, this research does not give us the ability to provide an individual’s exact weight based on skeletal remains.

Researchers found that the heavier an individual was, the wider the shaft of that person’s femur. The researchers hypothesize that the femur of an overweight person is more robust because it bears more weight, but also because overweight individuals move and walk differently to compensate for their greater mass.

The researchers evaluated the femur bones of 121 white men for the study. They used the bones of white men exclusively in order to eliminate any variation that could be attributed to race or gender.

Researchers compared femur bones of 121 white males to determine the variation of the femurs within a particular racial or ethnic group. By focusing on only one group, the results would exclude any variation that could be attributed from race or gender. This research is another interesting example of how social science and anthropology contribute to understanding humans.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What we can Learn from Godzilla

As a film buff and someone who is currently teaching a course in Visual Anthropology, I thought that this article in the New York Times does a great job of demonstrating how intricately films are related to culture. Indeed, film is not only a cultural product, but it is also important to remember that for a film to resonate with its viewing public, it has to be attuned to its cultural context.

In light of the recent tragic events in Japan, the article discusses the Japanese disaster films of the 1950s and 60s and what they were really about.
This B-movie fare is widely mocked, often for good reason. But the early “Godzilla” films were earnest and hard-hitting. They were stridently anti-nuclear: the monster emerged after an atomic explosion. They were also anti-war in a country coming to grips with the consequences of World War II. As the great saurian beast emerges from Tokyo Bay to lay waste to the capital in 1954’s “Gojira” (“Godzilla”), the resulting explosions, dead bodies and flood of refugees evoked dire scenes from the final days of the war, images still seared in the memories of Japanese viewers. Far from the heavily edited and jingoistic, shoot’em-up, stomp’em-down flick that moviegoers saw in the United States, Japanese audiences reportedly watched “Gojira” in somber silence, broken by periodic weeping.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

After the Tsunami, Japanese return to Ancient Practices

Listening on the radio, I heard a strange statement concerning the anger of the gods from the Japanese Governor. The statement was thought provoking. Considering our modern day knowledge of science and plate tectonics, who would shout out the gods have rained down upon the Japan? But I recalled this also happened with hurricane Katrina from right-wing Christian extremists, who blamed the natural disaster on the "sin city". The difference here is that it was the government stating the heavens were angry and not religious devotees, as was the case with Hurricane Katrina. Here is what the governor said on Monday:
...Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara startled many when he said, "The Japanese people must take advantage of this tsunami to wash away their selfish greed. I really do think this is divine punishment."
In both cases the victims are blamed for the atrocity. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, one is left wondering why the most decadent part of New Orleans, namely the French Quarter, remained relatively unscathed.
In Japan, the Governor quickly apologized for his comments. The Japanese were shocked by this comment as it conflicts with their modern day beliefs rooted in science. While the country is widely secular, natural disasters often trigger a return them back to their ancient practices and beliefs in the supernatural. This is because the risk of improper burial can have lasting affects on the family.
In times of calamity, ancient practices of Shintoism are likely to be followed in order to restore harmony in the universe. While these practices are more about practice than belief, they are a reflection of Japanese cultural that continues to endure in times of great need.
A Time For Shinto

After the funerals, when people begin building new homes and their lives, Shinto will move center stage. If Buddhism deals with death in Japan, Shinto deals with life. At the center are kami — life forces that are a little like deities, and are ever-present.

"The deities have two faces," Nelson says. One face is benevolent, as the deities help people in their day-to-day lives. "But those same deities have this wrathful side," he says, "which can manifest itself at unpredictable moments." And people turn to Shinto priests and rituals, he says, to restore the balance between the human and the divine.

Read more about it at NPR.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Best slang

The best (and worst?) part of being a teaching assistant is that we get to read over all your assignments, which can be fun when the assignment is reading over lists of slang words fresh from the creative minds of the UGA undergraduate population.

So Heather and Rich and I put our heads together to identify the most popular and most interesting (the COOLEST, if you will) terms from all of your freelisting:

Cool beans
The bees knees (Surprisingly popular!)
Ain't no thang but a chicken wang
Fire as *uck (Am I allowed to drop the F-Bomb on the blog?)
The *hit

What I found most interesting was the question wherein you lot were all asked about guy slang and girl slang. For example, most guys thought Ballin' was a strictly masculine term, but most girls had no such reservations about throwing it around, and nearly everyone said that Bitchin' was primarily used by his or her own gender. So think on that!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Is Ardipithecus ramidus in the Hominid Line?

We will discuss Ardi in class today, so I thought you would like to read a recent article from Scientific American (Click HERE) that casts doubts on whether Ardipithecus ramidus really was in the hominid line.
Teasing apart the origins of shared features in closely related species is especially tricky, especially when DNA clues are not available. So when researchers spy skeletal similarities in the fossil record, they might be led to believe that species "are more closely related than they really are," wrote the authors of a new review paper. For example, rather than indicating a direct link to modern humans, the familiar features of some purported human ancestors, including Ardipithecus ramidus, might be explained by convergent evolution.

"We could actually place Ardipithecus in a lineage that's unrelated to humans," Terry Harrison, of the Center for the Study of Human Origins at New York University and co-author of the paper, said in a podcast with Nature (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Primate and Human evolutionary divergence may lead to long-term pairbonding in humans

A new article in Nature describes the genetic impact between primates and humans during the course of evolution. Researchers discovered humans lost DNA for "penal spines" allowing us to have larger brains and to have sex longer. The article suggests the significance of having sex longer leads to pair-bonding and eventually monogamy. Without which, human relationships would be very different than they today.
"Sex would be a very different proposition for humans if — like some animals including chimpanzees, macaques and mice — men had penises studded with small, hard spines. Now researchers at Stanford University in California have found a molecular mechanism for how the human penis could have evolved to be so distinctly spine-free. They have pinpointed it as the loss of a particular chunk of non-coding DNA that influences the expression of the androgen receptor gene involved in hormone signalling.
...Other molecular biologists praised the work for its clever approach and said it would open up new avenues of inquiry, particularly for those working on the evolution of the human brain."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Introspective Silence Befalls Bali, but Only for a Day

Over the weekend Indonesians in Bali (my field site) witnessed the Hindu holiday "Nyepi". According to a recent NYT article, entitled Introspective Silence Befalls Bali, but Only for a Day, the Balinese have been reinforcing their local customs recently in response to the increase in tourism that globalization has brought.

Globalization is a high profile subject in cultural anthropology these days, one that you will learn more about in future class lectures. But what exactly is meant by globalization? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has this to say:

"Covering a wide range of distinct political, economic, and cultural trends, the term “globalization” has quickly become one of the most fashionable buzzwords of contemporary political and academic debate. In popular discourse, globalization often functions as little more than a synonym for one or more of the following phenomena: the pursuit of classical liberal (or “free market”) policies in the world economy (“economic liberalization”), the growing dominance of western (or even American) forms of political, economic, and cultural life (“westernization” or “Americanization”), the proliferation of new information technologies (the “Internet Revolution”), as well as the notion that humanity stands at the threshold of realizing one single unified community in which major sources of social conflict have vanished (“global integration”). Fortunately, recent social theory has formulated a more precise concept of globalization than those typically offered by pundits. Although sharp differences continue to separate participants in the ongoing debate, most contemporary social theorists endorse the view that globalization refers to fundamental changes in the spatial and temporal contours of social existence...[emphasis added]."

Reading this short article, you can get a taste of the potential effects of globalization in a foreign context. Keep this in mind for future discussions.

Human Evolution 3-D Fossils

The University of California Santa Barbara has a website with several fossils important to human evolution. This website may provide some useful information on the dates, location and imagery of the early fossils. 3D gallery of modern primate relatives and fossil ancestors of humans. This gallery contains five modern primate crania, and five fossil crania. The crania can be rotated 360 degrees. Each cranium is accompanied by a short description of its relevance to human evolution, and a site map.
To view this link, you will need the shockwave plugin.

Understanding the coevolution of humans, simians, and the H.I.V. virus

You might already know that scientific types are in agreement that H.I.V. was originally spread to humans from monkeys and apes in Africa. The disease S.I.V. (Simian immunodeficiency virus) is prevalent in non-human primates, but unlike the human form of the disease, the mortality rate from S.I.V. is very low - only very weak primates die from this virus.

The theory goes that somewhere along the line, the virus passed from monkey to human, probably via some hunter that cut himself while butchering a monkey, and contaminated his (or her) self with infected blood. In the process, the virus mutated into H.I.V. and became much deadlier as a result.

The questions remain: when did the transmission/mutation event occur? And why are humans so vulnerable to a virus that other primates cope easily with?

New research suggests that African monkeys have been coevolving with the S.I.V. virus for much longer than previously thought, over 32,000 years. And even more primitive strains of the virus have been found in Madagascar lemurs (which we know from lecture are more similar to ancestral primates than old world monkeys and apes) suggesting that this virus may have been evolving with primates for millions of years.

Since H.I.V. crossed over from monkeys to humans relatively recently, our tragic susceptibility to this disease makes sense evolutionarily. However, understanding the evolutionary ecology and history of the virus may assist future efforts in treatment. (ARTICLE AT NY TIMES)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Primate Phylogenetic Tree

A student requested that I post this phylogenetic tree from yesterday's lecture to the blog. Please notice how Prosimians, Anthropoid, Hominoids and Hominds are related to one another. How they are related will definitely be on the test.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Rise of Mammals

"From scratching around in the dirt to deciphering DNA—how did we get from there to here?"

This line from the National Geographic article The Rise of Mammals is as good an introduction to the article as any. Covering the evolution of such incredible animals ranging from tarsiers to
wombats, as well as topics such as the impacts of technology, the use of DNA analysis, and whether or not humans killed off the giant mammals of the ice age, this fascinating article is a tour de force of mammalian evolution! A lot of what you've heard in past lectures, and will hear in future ones is presented in this entertaining article.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Scientist at Work

Takeshi Inomata, an anthropologist from the University of Arizona is maintaining a science blog at the New York Times on his fieldwork at the Mayan archaeological site of Ceibal in Guatemala. In his most recent blog post he explains how the discovery of an axe cache in the central courtyard of the compound may indicate cultural ties between the Olmecs and Maya.

A major question in the study of the origins of lowland Maya civilization is its relations with neighboring groups. Some scholars think that lowland Maya developed their remarkable society and culture in relative isolation. Others argue that the Maya received crucial influence from other groups, particularly, the Olmec of the southern gulf coast known for colossal head sculptures.

Did the Maya learn the idea of rulership, the ceremonial center, and esoteric ritual from them?

Read the article to find out more (Click here).

Also, check out the previous entry (Click here).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fossils including "Lucy" are now downloaded in 3-D scans

This is a really cool tool called DigiMorph reported on the Science Friday website. It can be used for observing and studying fossils. I think some of you will enjoy seeing the power of technology through new digital technology. This new function makes fossils much more accessible top the public than ever before. The University of Texas has a new project using CT scans of fossils and has
...compiled hundreds of 3-D visualizations of fossils, skeletons and other specimens. Tim Rowe, director of DigiMorph, and Richard Ketcham, director of the High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility at The University of Texas at Austin, share highlights from the collection, including the famous hominid fossil “Lucy.”
Check out this cool video here.