When Joan Rivers passed away yesterday, the world paid far more attention than most people might have expected. A veteran of… well, pretty much everything, Rivers was someone who many more people took seriously than anyone expected. But anthropologists in particular were surprised and pleased (at least in my case) to discover that she had an undergraduate degree — and from Barnard no less, the mothership of American Cultural Anthropology. But, sadly, it is probably not true.
At the moment, the current wikipedia entry as earning “a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature and anthropology”. So if Wikipedia says it it must be true? Hmmm…
Wikipedia lists three citations for this assertion: Rivers’ New York Times obit, her (superbly named) memoir Enter Talking, and a Washington Post obit. In fact, the Times obit gives her major as English. This morning when I checked it the WaPo obit listed her major as anthropology, but now that has been removed for some reason and her major is not specified. In Enter Talking (which Wikipedia cites without a page number, tsk tsk) what Rivers actually says is: “I was an English literature major” (that’s page 55 of the 1986, NYC, Delacorte press edition).
It was with a genuine sense of loss that I read over the weekend that Stanley Tambiah had passed away. Tambiah was a model anthropologist, a person whose personal life and work exemplified everything that our discipline can and should be. He was an area studies specialist whose monographs on life in rural Thailand expanded our ethnography of this area. He was a theorist who knit together British and American theories of symbolism and ritual at a key point in anthropological theory. And he also became a public intellectual who published substantive work on pressing issues of the day in books and articles about ethnic violence in India and Sri Lanka. Above all, he will be remembered by his colleagues as role model of the generous scholar and human being. His generosity, kindness, and humility seemed to combine the best of all the different cultures he lived in, from English gentleman to humble Buddhist to Sri Lankan Christian. His loss gives us a chance to reflect on the values he lived and that we, in turn, ought to continue to follow. Continue reading
Last night I received an email announcing that Gerald Berreman passed away on December 23rd. I never met him, and his work on India and the Himalayas was far outside of my fieldwork in the Pacific. But I — and everyone else — deserve to remember Berreman not only because of his ethnographic work, but because he was one of the first generation of anthropologists to politicize anthropology in the late sixties and early seventies.
If you are interested in learning more about Berreman, you may want to check out two of his better-known articles, both of which have been posted online at his website: “Anemic and Emetic Analyses in Social Anthropology” and “Is Anthropology Alive? Social Responsibility in Social Anthropology“. We have a new generation of anthropologists who know not Berreman, not this influential work doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.