All posts by Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is Project Cataloger at The Mariners' Museum library and currently working to describe a collection of approximately 14,000 photographs produced by the Army Signal Corps during WWII. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina and a Masters in information science from the University of Tennessee.

Coffee rituals and resistance to domination

Remember resistance to domination? This was a very popular theme in cultural studies in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Eventually it reached a saturation point where, like an overplayed hit on Top 40 radio, it elicited only eye-rolls. Change the channel, quick! Contributing to this was the fact that it was a snap to find pretty much anywhere plus it would lead to an easy Foucault citation. While in all honesty it did get a tad rote there were also authors who did it right like Scott or (my favorite) De Certaeu.

A spontaneous conversation at work cast my memory back there.

We drink a lot of coffee in the library, this was one of the first things I noticed when I started working here. There’s an upstairs pot and a downstairs pot, the campus cafe is here in the same building. Everyone brings a thermos from home too. And its a constant struggle, because being that we work with rare and archival materials we can’t have a cup at our desks at all times.

One day I had been the one to make the pot and before it was time to go (the archives is an alarmed space, so we all leave at the same time) I announced to my colleagues I was cleaning the pot, would anyone like another cup for the road? After all I had drank from pots they had made, taking a turn to do the dishes seemed the right thing to do.

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” tutted my co-worker Kit. “I’ll drink it in the morning.”

I scrunched up my nose in mock disgust. Seriously? Day old coffee in the morning?

“Yes. That’s just the way I like it.”

Okay, fine. I’m off the hook. Weirdo. My other co-worker Alison walks in the room and I relate to her what just happened. Can you believe Kit will let the coffee sit out overnight so she can drink it cold in the morning?

“Oh. Yeah. I do that too. Mostly because I’m lazy. It tastes just fine”

Apparently I was the weirdo and not ‘tother way round.
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Thinking about race like a cataloger

In librarian parlance entities, whether books or journal articles or whatever, can be said to have an “aboutness.” And as a cataloger its my job to describe that aboutness with subject headings. I’m working in an archives setting now and my job, essentially, is to sit down with photos such as the one below and, following strict rules, create a digital record that will help researchers find it in the future.

US Army Signal Corps Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Photographs

Because we place a premium on organization and arrangement only authorized subject headings are permitted, something called a “controlled vocabulary.” In the work I’m doing now our controlled vocabulary comes from the Library of Congress. One of the defining characteristics of the LoC subject headings is that they are hierarchical, broad terms are subdivided into narrower terms, which are further divided and modified in rather rigid ways.

So those are the basic rules of the game. The objective is to describe the item so that others will find it, but within the constraints set out by the LoC (typically there are in-house rules you have to take in to consideration too, etc). Alright, given all that: What is this picture about?
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Welcome to the Anthropozine

Back in the late twentieth century, when cut and paste still meant scissors and glue, desktop publishing opened many doors for a creative person with something to say. We dubbed  these homebrewed screeds “zines” and reproduced them by photocopier. They were distributed not by webpage and email but left stacked next to alternative newsweeklies or sold for cheap at record stores.  Drugs and sex and politics were the dominant themes, and their chaotic aesthetic served as witness to a strong DIY ethic inherited from our punk ancestors. They were cheeky and irreverent, occasionally they were even good. In many respects they were the analog precursor to the blogs of today.

Anthropozine.
Anthropozine | April 2015

With this nod to the past, let us turn now to the future for I am excited to announce the launch of a new venue for undergraduate authors, Anthropozine, lovingly inspired by the ’90s zines of yore. Sure its a PDF now, but don’t let that stop you from running off a few hard copies on the departmental printer while no one’s looking. The publication carries a Creative Commons license making it easy for you to share with your students by email, over listservs, or social networks. Anthropozine is published jointly with Anthropology Now, a peer reviewed journal from Routledge with a special vision to make available illustrated works from leading scholars that are written for a general audience. Think of it as something like a missing link between scholarly journal and a popular magazine. If you are a member of the AAA’s General Anthropology Division you already have electronic access to the journal, but there is a fair amount of free content available at http://anthronow.com. Continue reading

Dataverse: an open source solution for data sharing

When you think of scholarship you might think first of publications, articles and books, but that is just the final product. Yes it is polished through countless hours of research, writing, and responding to reviewers, however all that work is built on an even more time consuming foundation of collecting raw materials. In cultural anthropology this includes field notes, journals, marked up literature, audio recordings, transcripts, and maybe photographs and video. I think I even have a few 3-D objects squirreled away in banker’s boxes. Although we seldom refer to it as such all of this is “data,” it is information awaiting interpretation.

We take great pride in our finished products. Peer reviewed publications are still the coin of the realm. Our attitudes towards data in cultural anthropology are less clear. Are our data worth saving? What have you done with your data? How would you feel about sharing your data with others?
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Cinderella at the Big Dance

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past week you might not have noticed that the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is underway. My own fandom encompasses many different kinds of sports each for different reasons, but far and away the men’s tournament is the most entertaining televised event of the year. We’ll just have to set aside the irony of recognizing the problematic nature of elite-level college sports while enjoying it as faculty. Sorry! That’s a whole other post. Here I want to bring up a semiotic curiosity and get your feedback.

Non-sports fans, let me set the stage.

Over the course of the basketball season the teams play each other and develop reputations for their skill (or lack thereof), and the culmination of the season is a tournament in which only select teams are invited to play. There’s a lot of drama leading up to the tournament as a convoluted selection process decides which teams will play and in what order they will meet. As the anticipation builds and the media hype machine goes into overdrive we often hear the basketball tournament marketed as “the Dance” or “the Big Dance.” In this narrative the selection process is likened to a courtship ritual, with the teams as available women each of whom wants to make herself appear as desirable as possible in order to draw the most attention from suitors.

The selection process results in a numerical ranking for each team that represents their quality. The contest begins by pitting the weakest against the strongest. In theory this should give the strongest teams the best chance for advancing, but every year their are surprising upsets in which the underdog beats a heavily favored team.

If an underdog wins twice in row it is said to be a “Cinderella.” In this well known folktale, Cinderella, a girl in a structurally disadvantaged position in her family, undergoes a transformation in which she is revealed to be more beautiful and powerful than her mother (and sisters) who had previously tormented her. In the Disney version of this tale, the version most popular among young people in America, Cinderella goes to a dance with her identity masked and while she’s there she is courted by a Prince as her sisters and mother look on powerless to stop her.
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Anthropology’s Long Tail, or AAA 2.0

Does anthropology have a long tail? Maybe it does, but the head really is superior. Isn’t that the idea behind science anyways? The best ideas are the vetted ideas and the rejected ideas are put to rest for a reason. Or maybe its not there at all. But then again…

First a refresher is in order. “The Long Tail,” refers to the now classic article (2004!!) by Wired magazine editor, Chris Anderson. It gets its name from a particular kind of curve where one variable functions as the power of another. In Anderson’s classic example such curves are used to describe the business model of Amazon which trumped its competitors by selling “less of more.” Whereas bookstores had traditionally made their big bucks catering to customers in the green area of the graph, where more people were interested in fewer titles, Amazon is able to cater to the so-called Long Tail, the yellow area where products are more diverse and demand is low. Why does this matter? The yellow area is actually larger than the green area. Hence, cha-ching –> $$$

Long tail
‘Picture by Hay Kranen / PD’
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Digital Anthropology: You could get with this, or you could get with that

Last week I reported from #AAA2014 on the emergence of digital anthropology as a growing theme in our discipline and one in need of some legitimacy relative to anthropology’s traditional domains. Readers posed questions interrogating the worth of digital anthropology. What is it good for? What does it add? How should we define it?

I’ve been mulling over this question of what digital anthropology can do that is different from digital sociology or digital communications studies and the answer I came up with is problematic because it points back to these questions of jobs and disciplinary legitimacy. The next frontier for digital anthropology should be participatory design with the added challenge of translating participatory design into conventionally valuable works of scholarship.
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“The Digital” as major theme at #AAA2014

As I settled in to browse the conference program for the 2014 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (just hours before I was scheduled to leave, natch), I was immediately struck by a common thread running through a slew of paper panels and workshops. This year anthropologists convincingly demonstrated that they have wholly embraced the Digital, it was everywhere from topics to methodological choices, technologies and communications.

Here’s a sample of what conference goers had in store:

  • ACTIV(IST) DIGITAL SCREENS: THE POLITICS OF DIGITAL IMAGING ACROSS CULTURAL BORDERS
  • DIGITAL ANTHROPOLOGY GROUP (DANG) BUSINESS MEETING
  • DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES AND THE PRODUCTION OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL ETHICS
  • DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY, TRANSPARENCY, AND EVERYDAY FORMS OF POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT
  • CONFLICTED FANTASIES: ANTHROPOLOGY AND AFRICAN MEDIA CULTURES IN THE DIGITAL AGE
  • DIGITAL ANTHROPOLOGY AND CAREER MOBILITY: DO THESE GO HAND-IN-HAND?
  • SEEING ARGUMENTS: VISUAL ARGUMENTATION AND PRODUCTION IN THE DIGITAL AGE
  • DIGITAL DIASPORAS: AFRICAN MIGRANTS, MEDIATED COMMUNICATION, AND TRANSNATIONAL IDENTITIES
  • DIGITAL MEDIA AND THE PRODUCTION OF ANTHROPOLOGY: A DISCUSSION ON VISUAL ETHICS (PART 1: PRIVACY, ACCESS, CONTROL, EXPOSURE)
  • ANTHROPOLOGICAL KNOWLEDGE: ACCESS, CREATION AND DISSEMINATION IN THE DIGITAL AGE
  • DIGITAL MEDIA AND THE PRODUCTION OF ANTHROPOLOGY: A DISCUSSION ON VISUAL ETHICS (PART 2: ANONYMITY, VISIBILITY, PROTEST, PARTICIPATION, IDENTITY)
  • PRODUCING STORYTELLING IN THE DIGITAL AGE: NEW CHALLENGES
  • ON THINGS IMMATERIAL: DATA, USERS, AND PARTICIPATION IN DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES
  • THE LIFECYCLE OF ETHNOGRAPHIC INFORMATION – CHALLENGES IN THE PRESERVATION AND ACCESSIBILITY OF QUALITATIVE DATA
  • NAPA Workshop: (FREE) Software for Writing and Managing Fieldnotes: FLEX DATA Notebook for PCs
  • RESEARCHING ANTHROPOLOGY AND ORIENTALISM IN THE ERA OF BIG DATA: ROUNDTABLE ON THE ARAB STUDIES Institute’s KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION PROJECT
  • SMALL-SCALE, BIG DATA: A NETWORK SCIENCE APPROACH TO PRODUCING ANTHROPOLOGY IN SMALL-SCALE FOOD SYSTEMS
  • PRODUCING DATA, CRACKING DATA CULTURES
  • THE BIG DATA REVOLUTION AND THE FUTURE OF SOCIOCULTURAL WORLDS
  • MAKING ISLAM IN MULTIPLE MEDIA: INTERNET, THERAPY, ROMANCE, AND SCHOOLING IN THE FORMATION OF MUSLIM IDENTITIES
  • TEACHING ANTHROPOLOGY ONLINE: BEST TOOLS AND PRACTICES FOR E-LEARNING
  • Writing Ethnography: Experimenting on Paper, Experimenting Online
  • CASTAC BUSINESS MEETING (COMMITTEE ON THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND COMPUTING)
  • SOCIETY FOR HUMANISTIC ANTHROPOLOGY WORKSHOP ON UTILIZING FACEBOOK FOR ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH
  • SOCIETY FOR HUMANISTIC ANTHROPOLOGY WORKSHOP. BLOGGING BLISS: WRITING CULTURE IN THE BLOGOSPHERE

Add to this the #AAA2014 tweet-up, constant updates on social networks and blogs (not to mention the email and instant messaging we all take for granted) and it is clear — there is no part of our professional lives that is untouched by the online. Research, fieldwork, methods, teaching, scholarly communications. Digital anthropology is a major development in our discipline and rightly so, humanity, our bread and butter, is potentially redefining itself in relation to these technologies. We can’t not study this stuff!
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Where to publish in OA anthropology

Below is a list of open access English language cultural anthropology titles with general information about the journal’s policies and website for authors to consider when choosing a venue to publish their work. If you would like to learn more about the various Creative Commons licenses, check this link. Journal titles with some missing descriptive data have been contacted and updates will be ongoing as they respond. Note that the inclusive dates after the title are meant to describe what is available to read freely online, which may or may not represent the true life of the journal.

For a more comprehensive listing of titles, including multidisciplinary journals of interest to cultural anthropologists, see this earlier post. My plan is to update this post with those additional titles in the spring semester.

Africa Spectrum, 2009-2014
Affiliation/ Sponsor: GERMAN INSTITUTE OF GLOBAL AND AREA STUDIES
Scope: “current issues in political, social and economic life; culture; and development in sub-Saharan Africa”

  • Usage: CC-BY-ND
  • Peer review: YES
  • Author fee: NO
  • Abstracts: YES
  • Keywords: YES
  • Social network buttons: NO
  • Persistent ID for articles: URN
  • View open metadata: YES
  • Data preservation: Hamburg University Press & German National Library

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Anthropology Fluxx

I’m a big tabletop gamer and my wife has supernatural card playing abilities inherited from her mother. When our schedules synch up and we have a night off together we’re liable to put away a couple of bottles of wine playing Ticket to Ride after the kids go to bed. In my search for new games I happened upon the Fluxx series and now we’re hopeless addicts. I conceived this anthropology themed version of Fluxx in the haze of summer. It was printed and beta tested in the fall. Now I’m bringing it to the AAA’s. If anyone wants to play, hit me up!

Fluxx is a humorous card game of winning tricks that is very chaotic because the rules of the game are constantly changing. So there is a fair amount of luck involved, but the more you play the game skill can become involved as you learn how to navigate around the obstacles that randomly pop up along the way. Obviously you can get them on Amazon, they also carry them at Barnes & Noble and Target so run out and get a pack if this sounds like fun to you. There’s a bunch of titles in the series and they’re all great in their own way, but the best one to play with little kids is Monster Fluxx.

The core game concepts go like this. You have a draw pile, a discard pile, cards in your hand, and Keepers which are (green) cards played on the table in front of you. The object of the game is to match Keepers to (pink) Goals. There are also (blue) Action cards which give you different advantages and allow you to change the rules or attack your opponents. There are (purple) Surprise cards that you can play whether or not it is your turn. Finally there are (yellow) New Rule cards which define how each turn is played. The New Rule cards dictate how many cards you draw, how many cards you can play in a turn, how many Keepers you can have in front of you, and how many cards you can hold in your hand. There are lots of other weird things along the way that I’m skipping over for the sake of brevity.
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The kids from other neighborhoods

Halloween is a big deal in my house. Honestly it wasn’t anything I cared much about until I had kids. Having kids makes all the holidays more fun! Things really got out of control when we moved to Hilton Village, the “destination neighborhood” for trick or treaters in Newport News, Virginia.

People come from all over town to bring their kids to our neighborhood for Halloween. When folks move here I warn them: It’s like a street carnival! When we lived on a side street I’d go through 300-400 pieces of candy. We had a friendly rivalry with the retired couple across the street for most outrageous yard. A holiday I never cared about became one of the highlights of the year.

After my wife earned tenure and we bought a bigger house on Main that really upped the ante. It’s the first house on the right as you come into the neighborhood, making it ground zero for the Halloween onslaught. We are literally the gateway to the neighborhood. This year the party fell on a Friday, that only encouraged more folks to come out and stay longer. Last week I gave out 30 lbs of candy, 100 glow sticks, 200 stickers. It was a mob scene.

Gentle reader, this is an old post. I wrote it last year and hesitated for whatever reason. I quickly remembered it once I read this letter to the popular advice column Dear Prudence in which the correspondent feels put upon by the obligation of passing out candy to the kids from other neighborhoods. The original inspiration for the post came from this image, collected from my Facebook newsfeed via the reliably righteous Latino Rebels. I no longer have the link it came from (sorry), but my notes say it was first shared by ABC 15 Phoenix.

Kids from other
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“This brings me to another thing: the danger of kissing on the mouth”

This semester I am at the College of William and Mary completing a practicum in archives and special collections primarily focused on digitization, the whole point of which is to make items such as manuscripts accessible to users online. As is the nature of special collections the material is one of a kind and that means along the way I occasionally find treasures that catch my eye through the blur of metadata creation. I’ve already shared with you the pleasures of huffing nitrous oxide at Yale College in 1821 and today I have a new one, the dangers of letting people kiss your baby.

My current project is the digitization of a collection of romantic correspondence between a young couple in a small Virginia town in the early 20th century. First they are friends, then they are dating and engaged, and once they are married the correspondence stops and the remainder of the collection is Christmas cards. It was here that I found a three page form letter from the Women’s Home Companion Better Babies Bureau dated September 1939.

Initially I interpreted the moniker “Better Babies Bureau” as a play on the WPA alphabet soup of agencies, but according to this encyclopedia entry this series from Women’s Home Companion dates back to 1913 and links the to eugenics movement.
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OA anthropology, at a glance

I’m starting a research project on open access publishing in anthropology, specifically on the kinds of metadata different venues use to make their material findable by users. Along the way I’ve collected a running list of English language titles of interest to cultural anthropologists. The original list was started by anthropologi.info but it had a number of broken links and also included moribund journals I am excluding from my research. The anthropologi.info link also lists a number of multilingual journals that I haven’t gotten to yet but am working on currently.

In the meantime, check these out. The following titles have been updated at least once since 2013. Parenthetical notes are included to describe the titles if necessary.

Anthropology for a General Audience

American Ethnography
Journal of Indigenous research
PopAnth
Radical Anthropology

Anthropology for Scholars

Africa Spectrum (politics and economics)
Africa Studies Quarterly
Anthropoetics: Journal of Generative Anthropology (humanism)
Anthropological Notebooks
Anthropology & Aging
Anthropology of This Century
Anthropology Matters (student journal)
Anthropology of East Europe Review
Asian Ethnology
Compaso: Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology
Cultural Anthropology
Dhaulagiri Journal of Sociology and Anthropology (Nepal)
Durham Anthropology Journal
Global Ethnographic
HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory
Himalayan Journal of Sociology and Anthropology
Imponderabilia (student journal)
Irish Journal of Anthropology
Journal of Anthropological Society of Oxford
Journal of Business Anthropology
Museum Anthropology Review
NatureCulture (STS)
Nordic Journal of African Studies (language and literature)
Omertaa (applied anthropology)
Paranthropology (paranormal studies)
Structure and Dynamics (quantitative studies)
The Unfamiliar (student journal)
Vis-à-vis: Explorations in Anthropology (student journal)
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Is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge about structural inequality?

In case you have been living under a rock (or in the field, either is permissible for an anthro really) you may not have noticed that everyone and their mother is dumping ice water on their head in the name of ALS. Watching this fad unfold has provided Internet observers and other semi-employed persons an extraordinarily rich phenomenon to critique.

First of all, there’s a lot to like about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. By means of this fad I have learned that I have friends, Facebook friends, and friends of friends, who have loved ones or have lost someone because of this disease. It’s raised millions of dollars for rare disease research, which is inarguably a good thing. And it has done so by means of a viral marketing campaign that is, in essence, a short video clip of people acting silly. Wins all around.

It’s also interesting how, like the best of the Internet, the Ice Bucket challenge has spawned appropriation, reappropriation, and metacommentary. Here I’m thinking of Orlando Jones pouring a bucket of brass shell casings on his head to protest violence against Black youth in America, Matt Damon pouring toilet water on his head to draw attention to the lack of clean water around the world, and persons in Gaza pouring rubble on their head to draw attention to ongoing violence in Palestine. It’s really cool how the Internet allows people to riff on a theme and permutate established performances into something new.
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“O most magnanimous hat”

I’ve started an internship in the Special Collections department of Swem Library at the College of William and Mary, creating metadata for archival manuscripts. I ran across this one the other day and had to transcribe an excerpt to share, there are some ellipsis where the ink is illegible. It is a letter from a Yale College student to a family member, 1821.

Lewelyn is I believe as much pleased with college and I am as yet very much pleased with it. The tutor of my division is rather unpopular yet I have always found him polite and obliging. He has excused me every time I have made an application to him. The other day I even … him and told him that some of the students would inhale the exhilarating gas and that I had a curiosity to see them. He said that he would not wish it as a general thing but as I had been punctual I might be excused. I then went and the first that took it had no effect upon. The next as soon as they took the bag from him began to look wet and dance and jump about and pull the fellows about. One began to fight and chase the fellows all about the room. One jumped up and cried out two or three times and danced about and sung and talked about Miss Johns a lady he was particularly fond of and then ran up to a medical student and seizing him tore his pantaloons off just about the knee and left his great long hairy leg stretching out naked and then running up to another snatched off his spectacles. But the two most ludicrous were Cait and Robbins of the Senior class one of them Cait placed his hat in the middle of the floor (it was an old rus… hat which the fellows were in the habit of laughing at him about) and made an … to it “O most magnanimous hat. Super-incumbent on the bare floor! Rex Brainorum” And he laughed all the while fit to kill himself and the other one went about bouncing and scraping to the fellows and ran to … a fat fellow in the room and had to kiss him but he was too strong for him so he left him and very unexpectedly ran up to me and seizing me hugged me and kissed me very affectionately before I could disengage myself.

Ah, college.

Read more about early experiments with laughing gas, and the vogue it enjoyed among the privileged class, in this great post from The Public Domain Review.