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.

Who is a rioter?

As the community of Ferguson, Mo. reels from the shooting death of a young Black man, Michael Brown, at the hands of a White police officer it is worth paying attention to how the ensuing social drama that follows forwards conflicting interpretations by means of competing narratives. Shortly after Brown’s death a protest began to congeal, this was immediately met by police control.

The New York Times describes it:

At a candlelight vigil on Sunday evening, the heightened tensions between the police and the African-American community were on display. A crowd estimated in the thousands flooded the streets near the scene of the shooting, some of them chanting “No justice, no peace.” They were met by hundreds of police officers in riot gear, carrying rifles and shields, as well as K-9 units.

The Washington Post elaborates:

His death immediately sparked outrage, with protests and vigils beginning that day and showing no sign of abating on Monday. The reaction took a violent turn on Sunday, as some protesters began looting businesses in the Ferguson area over several hours, leaving a trail of broken glass and burned-out storefronts in their wake.

It sounds like there was a confrontation between protestors and police as well as loss of property later on. Is this a riot?
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Minority Report

Last week I sent out a job app, well, internship app to be truthful. After all I’m a grad student again. But its significant to me because it was the first one I have applied to in the field of archives. I am just now wrapping up an internship at a museum library and being that this is the first time I’ve written a cover letter for an archives position I sought out one of the senior archivists for advice. We talked about what sort of language to use, making sure I could describe the work I had already accomplished with the proper jargon.

Then he said, “And you should say something about your heritage. You’ve probably already got a couple of lines you’ve worked out. Make sure you put that in there too.” I knew exactly what he was talking about.

I think, maybe this is a defining quality of white ethnicity in the US: in certain circumstances you have the option of unlocking minority status or else opt to coast on white (male) privilege. Which version of “me” do I want to deploy in such-and-such a context? In the case of a job letter without a name that marks you as “other” it is your privilege to have the agency to chose the minority identity. Such as it is.

I did, indeed, have a couple of lines already worked out from previous letters. But to be perfectly honest I haven’t really used that language in years. This was a letter writing strategy that I employed very reliably as an ABD, particularly in the days when I was applying to everything. As time passed, I changed, my letters changed. I had other things to say.
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Classified information

I had a delightful day at work yesterday. It started with a two hour long debate with my colleagues about method and theory. Once we exhausted the possibilities we put our ideas into practice. After I made my contribution a senior scholar reviewed my work and directed me to make some changes, the end result was pretty good. I love this environment of collaboration and shared decision making!

This summer I am volunteering at The Mariners’ Museum as part of my training in information science. I help them with grunt work necessary to meet a funding deadline, they give me work experience and expand my professional network. I get three credit hours towards my Masters to boot. The museum library is housed on the campus of Christopher Newport University and we have one of the most expansive collections of ship’s registries and nautical themed rare books in the US.

My current project is working in the library’s archives creating catalog records for individual items. This is unusual because archives are typically only described at the collection level, who donated the collection and what sorts of materials are included. Its rare for an archive catalog to index each and every thing present in a given collection.

The work I’m currently engaged in is an accrual to an existing collection of pop culture items, all donated by the museum’s vice-president who enjoys perusing eBay, flea markets, and antique stores for anything that references ironclads, the Monitor, or the Battle of Hampton Roads. In 1862 the local waterways hosted a major Civil War naval battle, it was the first encounter between metal ships heralding the end of wooden navies. So this local historical event is of global significance, at least to Navy people anyway. Continue reading

Album Art for Anthropology

Shortly after I bought my wife a Kindle and started moving all my iTunes stuff over to Amazon Cloud Player I discovered that ACP had captured a bunch of podcasts I’d forgotten I had subscribed to. Maybe they were off of iTunes U or something, I don’t know. I listened to four or five and got into something else. In the meantime iTunes went on dutifully downloading them and I went on ignoring their existence.

Anyway, I have ACP import all my iTunes stuff it grabs these lectures and gives them all random cover art. The results are pretty weird.

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A continuum of peer review

Open Access venues need a business model and long term planning if they are to achieve sustainability. The perennial question of “Who pays for OA?” can be answered in a variety of ways. Each method of financing OA has its pros and cons, and not every path is equally feasible for every discipline. PLoS was able to grow to world-wide prominence fairly rapidly because it was funded with generous grants at infancy and now it sustains itself with high author-fees (n.b. these can be reduced or waived in some cases).

What worked for PLoS isn’t necessarily going to work for cultural anthropology, generous funding is less abundant in the humanities and social sciences. One option that should be given more thought is library supported publishing as a variety of green OA. I will describe some publishing models from China and Japan that produce publications through a different kind of peer review process. This will be a challenge for some readers who hold that peer review as we know it is the defining quality of serious knowledge production, if something is not peer reviewed than it must be of less value or no value at all. In fact there are shades of peer review, if we see peer review as existing on a continuum new possibilities for OA publication present themselves. Continue reading

The Soul of Anime [book review]

What happens when dedicated people come together to work on a project they care about? Where do good ideas come from? How is it that some creations start off in niche markets and grow into global brands while others fade into obscurity? In his latest foray into Japanese popular culture, The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story, Ian Condry offers ethnographically grounded theory for the study of creativity. The work can be read as a synthesis of the best practices in the field of pop culture studies from anthropology and cultural studies.

Soul of Anime

Condry describes the efforts of dedicated artists and producers working in a “crucible” atmosphere of “collaborative creativity.” Their collective social energy is the “soul” of their shared engagement with the project. Therefore this study offers something other than a follow-the-money investigation, anime as Japanese national culture, or an interpretation of the content of anime, reading the text. Rather Condry seeks to follow-the-activity and commitment of small groups of people (mostly men) as they exercise creativity. It is the dynamic social relations, the connections between people in a working group that shine through here. Anime is emergent from the social practice of creativity and the collective values of that group as they define the importance of their own actions within a context.
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The curse of the moveable stacks

This year my wife was elected to the faculty senate. I already know her friends and enemies in her department, but since this puts her in contact with new colleagues it gives me perspective on different parts of her school. Now I’m privy to a whole new level of gossip and hearsay.

One running joke between us is that I’ve been to her campus library more than she has. For the most part she uses electronic resources, but on occasion she will need a book from my campus. Her campus has a smaller collection and all of it is set in moveable stacks. It seems that one of her secret fears is getting trapped between the moving walls of books and crushed as another person is shifting the stacks. I shake my head and tell her that’s not possible, but she insists that it is and so on the rare occasions she needs a book she fetches it under a cloud of distress. Quickly she dashes in and out without lingering.

Real estate on her campus is tight and the library is popular, so to expand the library will be hugely consequential because there is not much space. Or, I should say that the library is popular but the stacks are not. All of this is fodder for discussion in the senate. Students come to the building to use the coffee shop and commons more than the books. In discussion with her fellow senators about how to get more students to use books it was suggested that the proposed library expansion intersperse work areas throughout the stacks, so that students would have to enter that space in order to get to the desks and carrels.

Then one senator addressed the elephant in the room. If the library was to expand the stacks would that mean there would be more moveable stacks? He had always been afraid to go in them for fear of being crushed. And a second person rose to agree, she too never went in there. What if someone rolled the stacks on top of her?

See! My wife declared, other people are afraid of the moveable stacks too. It’s not just me.

Apparently this is a thing? Be honest. Are you afraid to go into your libraries moveable stacks?

Inside baseball with Tim Elfenbein, managing editor of Cultural Anthropology

Recently I Skyped with Tim Elfenbein, managing editor of Cultural Anthropology to talk about the journal’s transition to open access distribution. Elfenbein, 39, took over the position of managing editor in July 2013 after a stint as assistant managing editor in Duke University Press’s book division and switching from the UNC – Chapel Hill Anthropology program to Information Science. The first OA issue of Cultural Anthropology debuted earlier this month.


­When did the SCA decide to go the open access route and what was motivating them?


Cultural Anthropology may have been one of the earlier AAA journals to start our own website. Kim and Mike Fortun were responsible for the initial site. They wanted to know what extra materials they could put up that would supplement the journal’s articles. I think that experience probably spurred the idea that there is some of this publishing stuff we can do ourselves. The Fortuns are also heavily involved in science and technology studies (STS), where discussions about open access have been occurring for a long time. When Anne Allison and Charlie Piot took over as editors of the journal, they continued to push for an open access alternative in our publishing program. The Crow report is what really spurred the AAA into action. Last year, the AAA decided to put out a call to all the sections to see if anyone would want their journal to go open access. The SCA formed a task force to evaluate the AAA’s proposal and the feasibility of shifting the journal. At the time, we were the only ones who put our hands up and I think it is probably because we were the only ones who had been already been seriously thinking about this. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest

Having survived the Arctic Vortex (twice) and any number of ridiculously named storms my Southerner’s imagination is already trained to warmer weather. So while I’m composing this blog post to wind and rain, in my brain its already Easter and we’re eating fajitas and drinking beer in the sun. The Spring may seem like wishful thinking considering all the work that needs to be done between now and then. The deadlines flutter about and the crush of midterms is just around the corner. If you can, take the time out of your busy day to share with me the interesting links you find in your Internet travels, email me at I’d be happy to put them out over Twitter via @savageminds. The Facebook page has all the same links and you can leave comments too.

About once a month I collect the links we shared in a digest. Check it out. Maybe you’ll find one you missed.

How to ruin your students' weekend in three easy steps

I live just far enough north to catch some snow and ice a couple of times a year, but far enough south that people still panic when it happens. So when we got 2-3 inches this Wednesday my university administration shut the whole place down for two days. This is problematic for me because my class meets once a week for a 2’40” block, meaning my students just lost a week’s worth of content. And in the second week no less! I was going to cover evolution by natural selection in order to set up the next three weeks of study.

I have already got my semester totally planned and I don’t want to mess with it. How am I going to get at least a modicum of the lecture to my students remotely? In this blog post I’m going to  share with  you my work around strategy. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest

As we slip into the spring semester (tomorrow is my first day in the classroom) and return to pace of life on campus — commuting, parking, shaving on a regular basis — we’re all no doubt looking for that most invaluable resource… some links to click on during coffee breaks. Well fear not gentle reader! Around the Web Digest is here to collect for you all the links you might have missed from our Twitter feed @savageminds. If you’re not the tweetin’ type you can get the same stuff by liking our Facebook page. And please feel free to send me resources, current events, and blog posts you would like to share with the Savage Minds community by emailing me at

Now without further ado, the links!

  • RT @anthroprez: @savageminds @Liebow4 sending letter and AAA statement on HTS
  • Mandela inspired generations. Help him inspire the next generation — Teach him in your next class. -Rx

2013 – Year in review

What a year it was for Savage Minds!

This was the year our site went down and stayed down. It was a perfect storm of poor planning and technical failure, but we do expect all of our old posts to be resurrected eventually (although we don’t know exactly when that will be). In the meantime we created a new site and you can find many of our old posts are still available through the Internet Archive. A few from late January through early March seem to be still lost at sea… Life is impermanence, little blog posts.

We had a lot of great guest bloggers this year and hope to feature more in the year to come. If you already have experience blogging and would like to share your talents with Savage Minds please check out our guidelines for contributors. If you haven’t tried blogging yet, get a free account and put yourself out there! What have you got to lose?

The top twenty posts of the year are in bold.

Professionalization, academic culture, and the labor of teaching remained among our most pressing concerns. Steven Tran-Creque wrote about the Absent Future of jobs in academia and the anger it inspires in him. I got interviewed for the Chronicle of Higher Education where I talked about moving on to Plan B when being an adjunct doesn’t work out. I also wrote about surviving trick questions in job interviews. And Rex paused to skewer an op-ed calling for a shake-up of the social sciences. Hint: it’s all about the Benjamins and I’m not talking about Walter.
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Anthropological New Year's Resolutions

All day today has felt like Sunday, but really its Wednesday. I can’t say that New Year’s Day or making resolutions is a big thing for me. I think the last resolution I made was a few years ago. I said I would go to a play at the community theater that is one block away from my house and I never went. Still haven’t been!

Why write a blog post about making resolutions in anthropology? My kids are playing with their Kindles they got for Christmas so I have a moment alone. So why not?!

  1. Finish what you started. Last summer I was going to read Frazer’s Golden Bough and didn’t even make it half-way. I’m gonna finish that! And I’m going to stop picking up projects and not see them through to the end.

  2. I’m going to begin designing a website for my Master’s thesis in Information Science at UTenn. If I work on it a little bit every day its going to look awesome by the start of the fall semester. By this time next year I want to be ready to write up the thesis.

  3. The AAA’s are in DC and I’m going to go! I can’t really afford to go to conferences anymore, but DC is as close as they come. Maybe I’ll do a paper on my MA thesis project and maybe I’ll host some DANG event.

Okay, kids are all up in my face now. It’s the last vacation day before they’re back to school so I’m going to go play with them.

What are you going go to do with your year?

Report on AAA adjunct rights resolution

[Savage Minds welcome guest columnist Andrea Morrell, Assistant Professor of Urban Studies at Guttman Community College in NYC. Andrea was our eyes and ears at the AAA business meeting as the Executive Committee received the Committee on Labor Relations’ resolution on contingent faculty. Ironically underpaid adjuncts are the very group least likely to afford to attend professional conferences, so we are very grateful to Andrea for her contribution that a more inclusive audience might learn about our Association’s ongoing efforts.]

It will likely come as no surprise to readers of Savage Minds that the number of adjunct and contingent faculty (a group that includes part-time or adjunct faculty, grad students and teaching assistants, postdoc appointments, and full-time non-tenure track faculty) teaching courses in U.S. colleges and universities has nearly doubled since 1975. The predominance of contingent and adjunct academic faculty has serious implications for the integrity of college teaching and for academic freedom, but for adjunct and contingent faculty members the most pressing issue is often the material difficulties of making only $2500 per course. Teaching a full load—at many colleges three courses per semester—an adjunct would earn a mere $15,000 a year. Sometimes it is far less.

In addition to the poverty of these wages, the nature of the adjunct or contingent academic’s relationship to their employer is by definition precarious: wages cannot always be relied upon semester to semester and year to year. This precarity is hard for our families, it is hard on our bodies, and it is, quite simply, hard to pay the rent.

So what does this mean for us as anthropologists and for our largest professional organization, the AAA?
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