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Posts from the ‘History of Anthropology’ Category

Excellent Symposium Concludes 2013 Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology

Many things have been happening lately–so many that keeping up with them here has been difficult. Many good things have gone unreported and some bad current events (global and national, not personal) have gone un-commented upon. I am pleased though to celebrate the conclusion of the 2013 Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology. I was invited to join the institute for its last week and a half and to participate in its concluding symposium at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) on the Mall in Washington. In the symposium, SIMA’s twelve graduate student participants presented the initial findings of their four-week research projects utilizing the (amazing) collections–both objects and archival materials–of the NMNH Department of Anthropology. The students came to SIMA from many different graduate programs and backgrounds and possessed a diversity of historical, ethnographic, topical, and theoretical interests. They did wonderful work and I learned a lot from their studies and from their careful and compelling reporting. While they have further to go, of course, with their projects, I think that it is pretty exciting to hear the results of four intensive weeks of research as the concluding act of that same four week process. Quite remarkable.

I am very appreciative of my continued association with this wonderful program. I am glad that I have been able to help it continue moving along so well.

SIMA will happen again next summer. Details will be posted here on the SIMA website in the months ahead.

On the Study of Shreds and Patches

Yesterday my work with the William C. Sturtevant collection focused on the material culture side of his efforts to document the history, practice, and significance of the unique Florida Seminole art form known as “patchwork.” Basically, I organized and quickly looked at a couple of hundred patchwork samples such as those arrayed in the image presented here.

I have done little work yet with documents, but a large folder of notes associated with Dr. Sturtevant’s patchwork studies were handy and I took a quick peak. There is a lot there. I hold off on talking about that and describe a single note that is very relevant to this website.

For its early years, this website was just associated with my name. A while back though, it started to seem clear (to me, at least) that it needed a more blog-like name. The name the I chose was Shreds and Patches. I should have explained the source of this name at the time, but didn’t. It was a soft re-launch, I guess. Anyway, the first thing that my eye fell on when peaking into Dr. Sturtevant’s patchwork notes folder was a single slip of paper that explains the source of my name.

It is a medium sized slip of paper in his own hand and it is a quotation–the very quotation from which the title of this blog comes. The source is a famous, oft debated passage from the conclusion of a book by Robert Lowie. I have not gone back to the source to check Sturtevant’s note, but here it is as he has it.

“Nor are the facts of culture history without bearing on the judgement of our own future. To that planless hodgepodge, that thing of shreds and patches called civilization, its historian can no longer yield superstitious reverence. He will realize better than others the obstacles to infusing design into the amorphous product; but in thought at least he will not grovel before it in fatalistic acquiescence but dream of a rational scheme to supplant the chaotic jumble.”–p 441 (concluding paragraph of Lowie’s Primitive Society (1947, N.Y., Liveright; 1st ed. 1920; on pp ix-x of the new preface to the ’47 ed, RHL [Lowie] complains that this famous passage has been misinterpreted)

Lowie was one of Bill Sturtevant’s undergraduate teachers at Berkeley. I can talk some other time about the significance and history of this passage from Lowie. Here it is interesting to think what it is doing in Bill’s patchwork notes. Two possibilities have occurred to me.

If he meant it to be there, it was clever because it suggested that he was going to draw upon anthropology’s most famous theoretical discussion of “patches” in his empirical project on patches (of the Seminole sort). Alternatively, and amusingly, it could have been filed in this place by someone else because a quick scan of the text could suggest that because it is about patches it needed to go with the patchwork notes. I’ll get to the bottom of it someday, perhaps. In any case, it provides the answer to the question of why I named the blog as I did. (Lowie was not the original source of the phrase Shreds and Patches, just the one who gave it anthropological resonance in theorizing the nature of culture and so-called “civilization.”

Note.  The patchwork samples shown above are not yet numbered, but they are part of the William C. Sturtevant Collection at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

On Museum Anthropology Review

I am very happy to report that the final material for Museum Anthropology Review 5(1-2) was published today, bringing the 2011 volume/issues to a close.

This was the first time that an issue was published with an initial bundle of content and then added to as the year progressed. This represents a kind of transitional strategy bridging older journal publishing norms, in which an issue is prepared and then released into the world as a fully prepared bundle, and the newer pattern in which content is prepared and released into the world as soon as it is ready, item by item. The older pattern has certain hallmarks that many are still fond of, including sequentially paginated pages (in paper-like PDF format) and a table of contents in which articles appear at the top and reviews appear at the bottom. For authors, this format makes for objects that look familiar (to custom-minded observers) on such things as C.V. and annual reports. The cost, of course, is delay in publication, as works pile up in preparation for being bundled up as issues.

The newer approaches leverages the advantages of digital publication platforms and get information in circulation as quickly as possible, something that helps the research community in many ways.

MAR is moving from the older to the newer framework and will probably use the approach adopted for volume 5 again at least for volume 6 next year. This means that volume 6(1) will appear as soon as possible and will initially contain a group of materials from the “top” of the table of contents. Additional reviews will be added to the issue’s table of contents up until the point that additional articles or other content from the top of the table of contents are ready. At that point the effort will switch over to issue 6(2).

Publishing a combined “1-2” issue for 2011 was a valuable step for me personally–beyond these considerations. It allowed me a bit more time this summer to work on other projects, something that I have sorely needed to do. While I had the help of a wonderful graduate student/editorial assistant through the middle of 2010, last academic year (2010-2011) was the first in which I handled the day to day editorial tasks on my own. This was fun and informative, of course, but there is only so much time in the day and it was nice to be able to focus this past summer on other obligations. The combined issue helped make that possible.

From a substantive point of view, 5(1-2) is full of interesting stuff and I am very thankful to the many authors, peer-reviewers, librarians, editorial board members, publishers, and other friends of MAR who have made it possible.

At 154 pages volume 5 is only #4 of 5 in terms of page length, but with 42 discrete contributions it covers a lot of interesting territory, from Captain Cook to the alternative globalization movement; from the history of shoes to the material realities of the current economic crisis. As has been true throughout the MAR experiment, contributions cover a wide diversity of world regions and theoretical, topical, and disciplinary concerns. I am especially proud of the ways that the journal continues to showcase work by the most distinguished senior scholars–generous colleagues such as Richard Bauman, Keith Hart, Marsha MacDowell, Edward T. Linenthal, and Aldona Jonaitis–alongside leading younger scholars, including folks like Karin Zitzewitz, Beth A. Buggenhagen, Elizabeth Hutchinson and so many others. I am also happy that the journal brings together, in what I think is a healthy way, the twinned and entwined concerns that are its focus—museum studies and material culture studies. Rooted in anthropology and folklore studies, MAR has been an effective meeting ground for scholars working in a great many fields. Alongside its folklorists and anthropologists, 5(1-2) features scholars representing the fields of comparative literature, history, art history, fashion studies, architecture, design, communications studies, and religious studies. This diversity is a great strength.

Also speaking to the journal’s diversity aspirations, 5(1-2) was the second issue to feature content in a language other than English. MAR 4(1) had included both French and English versions of Christian Bromberger’s commentrary on the Musée du Quai Branly and now, with 5(1-2) MAR has published a book review concurrently in Portuguese and English. Thanks go to author Lori Hall-Araujo and translator Roberta Crelier for the work on Lori’s review of Mestre Vitalino e artistas pernambucanos.

In conclusion, I wish to especially thank the authors of the issue’s peer-reviewed articles. Richard Bauman’s “Better than any monument”: Envisioning Museums of the Spoken Word is a great contribution to the history of the field, exploring the intersections of linguistic anthropology and museum anthropology. The paper continues his vital research work on the social history of early recording technologies and their intellectual and cultural ramifications. Thanks go to Carrie Hertz’ for her Costuming Potential: Accommodating Unworn Clothes. The article is a rich contribution to contemporary material culture studies, particularly relating to questions of consumption, circulation, reuse, and disposal.

The submission mailbox is always open. Please consider Museum Anthropology Review as a robust not-for-profit, gold open access publishing option for your work in museum and material culture studies.

Anthropologist Robert Reeves Solenberger (1916-2006)

In a paper that I published in 2002, I drew upon unpublished ethnographic notes compiled in 1940-1941 by then University of Pennsylvania graduate student Robert R. Solenberger. Solenberger was a student of Frank G. Speck and others on the faculty at Penn. The notes that I drew upon in my paper are part of the Speck Papers at the American Philosophical Society. I have today been working on a new paper that draws upon the same unpublished manuscript by Solenberger. In 2000, when I was working on the paper mentioned above, I was able to track down Professor Solenberger in retirement in Tuscon, AZ and to speak with him on the phone about his graduate studies and the materials that I was then drawing upon.

Taking up work on a new project based on his notes, I went online tonight to see what more I could learn about Solenberger’s career. I learned that he passed away (in his 90s) a few years ago. I found various bits of information on his life, work, and history, but did not find a professional obituary. Based on the information that I pieced together tonight, I offer the following brief sketch.

Robert R. Solenberger (1916-2006) earned a M.A. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1940 with a thesis on “An Interpretation of Material on the Anthropology of East Africa Based upon Mediaeval Arabic Writers.” and was on the faculty of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bloomsburg State College (now Bloomsburg University). He published a prominent series of articles focused on the Marianas Islands, where he worked in the 1950s. (These appeared in Human Organization, Anthropological Linguistics, and Oceania, among other outlets.) During his graduate training, he participated in archaeological research at Clovis, New Mexico in 1937 (under the direction of John L. Cotter). He was a Quaker and a conscientious objector during World War II.

My sources include published works discoverable via Google Scholar and the Internet Archive, as well as the following Google discoveries:

http://www.biblerecords.com/solenberger.html
http://www.fum.org/QL/issues/0709/passages.htm
http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/0302/0302notes.html
http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/0707/obits.html

He appears on the AAA Honor Roll of Donors in the last years of his life, but I could find no professional obituary in a AAA publication or elsewhere. A Society of Friends memorial sketch is available.

It was an honor to speak with this anthropology elder early in 2000. I record here my thanks for his kindness and his interest in my work. I also express appreciation for his work, including the six pages of Southeastern Indian ethnography that he compiled in 1940 while on a road trip with  through Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.

Rest in Peace.

(Additions and corrections to this sketch are very welcome.)

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