Last week I went quickly to New Orleans. I had not planned to go to the American Anthropological Association meetings this year, but my friend Candace Greene called a meeting of the Advisory Board for the Smithsonian Institution Summer Institute on Museum Anthropology. Candace direct’s this important NSF-funded summer training program (more about it soon) and I have been involved in its development since its formative stage. This coming summer will be the program’s third year of providing a month-long intensive training program in the use of systematic museum collections for advanced research in cultural anthropology and neighboring fields. The program attracts graduate students from across the United States and really fills an important need.
I arrived in New Orleans in time for an all-afternoon SIMA advisory panel meeting. The program is preparing plans for its next three year cycle and our conversations focused on assessing what has been accomplished and building out for the future. The meeting ended in time to catch up with fellow Oklahoma-ists Dan Swan, Michael Jordan, Jessica Walker and John Lukavic.. After dinner, I was able to attend one of many solid museum anthropology and material culture studies panels on the conference program. John was a presenter on this panel (Making Meaning with Objects: Community Processes and Museum Practices) and presented a talk titled “Circulating Property and Knowledge: Intellectual Property and Cultural Knowledge Systems of the Southern Cheyenne.” John’s paper was one of many fine contributions to this panel.
The next day, before heading home, I was able fit in several meetings and a couple more excellent panels. Two of my meetings were with journal editors eager to trade notes on the changing world of scholarly communication, including the practical possibilities of shifting to open access strategies. The paper panel was “Museum Ethnography in Theory and Practice” organized by Jennifer Shannon and Christina Kreps. I was not able to hear all the papers, but all that I did hear were excellent, as was the commentary provided by Eric Gable and Ann McMullen. I also went quickly to see the poser session organized by Dan Swan–“Applying New Theories to Old Things: Museum Research Today.” The posters (and the projects that they represent) were all great.
Getting caught up in open access talk, I had to race to catch my plane with a real sense of anxiety. I took the most impressive cab ride of my life. The driver had no choice but to take me into some terrible rush hour traffic on I-10 going to the airport. He used so many tricks to get there fast that it was mind boggling. On many occasions, he bypassed long stretches of gridlock by exiting and then creatively cutting from off-ramps to on-ramps thereby getting back onto the interstate ahead of big blocks of stopped and slowed cars. Had I been a driver in the vicinity I would have been out of my mind with irritation at his antics, but as a passenger worried about missing a flight, I was full of admiration. It really was movie-quality cab driving. It took an hour to get there and I know that he saved me 30 or more minutes. NOLA has flat rates from downtown to the airport and this instance was the first time in which I thought that a taxi rate seemed way too low for the work done. Needless to say, I was a generous tipper. This cab ride may be the thing I remember most about the trip.
I left way early in the meeting and missed tons of promising panels and missed seeing scores of friends and colleagues. Perhaps I can make a longer trip of it next year.