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.

As professors and instructors we all must navigate the obstacles of the classroom, advising, and departmental politics. Kerim put together a nice primer on how to become an expert in less than an hour, handy whenever it is necessary to cram a new topic you know nothing about. I wrote about the pros and cons of using the Blackboard test course tool to deliver assignments.

Obviously as bloggers we at Savage Minds are interested in the Internet, particularly how it can be harnessed to advance our professional and scholarly interests. Carole wrote on the academic benefits of Twitter. Kerim shared his love of Sente as a tool to Get Things Done and he reviewed seven IOS apps useful for researchers. 2013 was the year Open Access advocate and Internet pioneer Aaron Schwarz took his own life. Sara Perry wrote about her experience of sexual harassment and abuse in online communication with her peers. Taz Karim offered a synopsis of the training in digital literacy offered at MSU’s Cultural Heritage Informatics program.

Kerim let his geek flag fly in his return to the annals of there-is-no-word-for-X in a piece critiquing David Brooks, one of our favorite punching bags, via Star Trek references. Read more from him about Star Trek and modernity here. Matthew Bradley was not to be outdone in geekiness with a post on Superman and kinship.

Savage Minds was also a venue for us to share pieces of original research and discuss the research of others. Ryan blogged about his dissertation fieldwork and how cultural explanations can obscure and conceal. Glenn Shepard upended notions of the “primitive” and “uncontacted” in his communique on some tribal peoples in Peru. Rex started a new project he calls SMOPS, where he edits an essay from the public domain for student consumption and discusses how it might be taught. Check the whole series with the SMOPS tag here, he promises more to come in the new year. Ayla Samli wrote a book review of Healing Secular Life: Loss and Devotion in Modern Turkey and I wrote a review of Colonial Entanglement: Constituting a Twenty-first Century Osage Nation. And Carole shared a story she had left out of her book on Tibetan resistance fighters and the CIA about a trip to the CIA gift shop where she bought a coffee mug made in China.

Jared Diamond pooped out another book in 2013 and anthropologists around the web had to weigh in. Rex blogged about it extensively, starting with this piece on human variation and continuing with links to reviews by Ira Bashgkow, James Scott, Stephen Wertheim, and others.

Kerim deconstructed the Dove “Real Beauty” commercials not to make a familiar point about the irony of beauty product selling itself by pointing out the manipulations of beauty products, but to illustrate an anthropological lesson on ideology. And Rex linked to a piece by Rosemary Joyce on the cultural diversity of marriage and household partnerships.

Ryan became a parent in 2013 and wrote a thoughtful piece on breastfeeding in public and the cultural politics of appropriateness. In one of the more creative pieces of the year, Numbers, Ryan jotted down a list and some questions about becoming a professional anthropologist — from fieldwork, to funding, and writing a dissertation.

In the fall I started my journey towards becoming a professional librarian with an online Masters of Information Science program through the University of Tennessee. I found there to be many provocative similarities between anthropology and library science and I wrote about using Optimal Foraging Strategy to describe information seeking behavior.

Among current events nothing commanded our attention like the acquittal of George Zimmerman, AAA President Leith Mullings was swift to respond on the important contribution anthropology can make to discussions of race. Kevin Karpiak wrote about using the tragedy of Trayvon Martin to teach the anthropology of policing. In her wide ranging reflection on the Zimmerman verdict Dana-Ain Davis brought it all back to the erosion of democracy and the consolidation of power to the detriment of the weak. Following the bombing of the Boston marathon, Carole reflected on writing about bad, sad, hard things. Zoe critiqued the paternalism of the Obama administration’s declaration that “something must be done” about Syria. Megan Tracy found her research had become a political football as the conservative House Science Committee of the U.S. Congress sought to cut funding to the NSF. This was, no doubt, a direct result of Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith’s social science witch hunt.

2013 was the year that Marshall Sahlins resigned his position from the National Academy of Science in protest over Napolean Chagnon’s membership, breathing new life into one of the great academic firestorms of the last quarter-century. You can read more about Sahlins’ dispute with Chagnon here.

The future of scholarly communication and advocating for Open Access remained one of our central concerns. Rex found cause to cheer SAGE’s commercialism. Ever ready to show us how the sausage is made, Chris Kelty wrote about the success of converting the University of California system to OA. Lindsey Bell, associate editor for North American Dialogue, wrote about her journal’s recent conversion to OA and the challenges of using social media for promoting scholarship. The AAA’s new “open access” journal received only partial credit from Rex as it consisted entirely of previously published articles, which are then placed back behind a toll-gate after a time limit. Then Ryan pulled everyone’s leg on April Fool’s Day rescinding his support of Open Access.

The affairs of the American Anthropological Association demanded our attention for many reasons. Rex’s post on the pervasiveness of “ontology” at the annual meeting was our fourth most viewed piece of the year. Also at the annual meeting the Commmittee for Labor Relations presented a resolution on adjunct rights, read the report on the Executive Committee’s vote from Andrea Morrell here. The Digital Anthropology Group (DANG), which started here in pages of Savage Minds, yielded its first conference panel at the 2013 meeting. Lavanya Murali Proctor suggested that media and technology could be used to make the conference more accessible to anthropologists who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to attend. And Kerim made light of his changing perceptions of conference attendance as he developed as a professional.

A primary concern for most bloggers is communicating with broader publics and the role of the Internet in forwarding public anthropology was the topic of many of our most popular pieces. Ryan responded to an op-ed about anthropology’s promotion problem with a piece about how academic culture and values diverge from those that value communication with the public. Our third most popular post of the year was inspired by an xkcd cartoon. Rex wrote a on the value of explaining anthropology to the public and the challenges and pitfalls that come along with that monumental task, particularly when it comes to undermining people’s intuitive explanations of the universe. Rachel Newcomb wrote about anthropologists engaging with the media and writing op-eds. And I expressed my own engagement with the public by delivering a sermon at my local UU Fellowship.

It was a breakout year for anthropologist and Al Jezeera correspondent Sarah Kendzior, as she turned her critical eye on current events in Central Asia and working conditions in the American academy in equal measure. Ryan’s interview with Kendzior was the second most viewed post of the year.

The number one post of the year, shattering all records for page views in the history of our blog, was Carole’s meditation on the fashion choices of anthropologists at the AAA conference. Scarves seem to be kind of a big deal…

What will the future hold for Savage Minds? Stay tuned gentle reader! We look forward to continued contributions in the comments section, on our Facebook page, and via Twitter @savageminds.

Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is Project Cataloger at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, and currently working on a CLIR ‘hidden collections’ grant to describe the museum’s collection of early 20th Century photography. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina and a Masters in information science from the University of Tennessee.