All posts by Matt Thompson

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.

Remembering the Mexican Revolution with Aunt Julia

Growing up in Austin, Texas, Diez y Seis — Mexican Independence Day — always seemed to hold an official, albeit minor, status in the state capitol. This was not a holiday that we observed in my family in any formal capacity. Much like Cinco de Mayo we might find ourselves at a Mexican restaurant that night just by happenstance. After all we ate Mexican all the time! As we waited for our enchiladas I would proclaim, “Today is Deiz y Seis,” as if realizing that the Longhorns were on TV. Unlike the Fourth of July, it never warranted parades of children on decorated bicycles and riding lawnmowers. More than likely it would be a human interest story at the end of the local nightly news.

While a student, and at the encouragement of my mother, I recruited my grandmother to help me collect ghost stories from her oldest sister, Julia, the most renowned storyteller and tamale maker in my family. In addition to learning a little bit about linguistics and a lot about transcribing interviews I also heard for the first time the tale of how her family came to Texas from Torreón, Coahuila. In honor of Diez y Seis and with all due respect to the still precarious status of immigrants and refugees in the United States I am retelling it to you today.

Special thanks are due to my mom Janis, Grandma Pauline, and Aunt Julia who guided me to that kitchen in south central Austin, January 1997, where I first heard this tale.  I had to exercise a little poetic license to weave that conversation into a single narrative but its really Julia’s story. Believe me, when its family holding you to account you’re going to do your best to tell the tale right!

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Illustrated Man #10: The Vision

I first started blogging about anthropology and comic books back in 2012 in an occasional series titled Illustrated Man. It lasted for about nine posts before petering out as other projects demanded my attention, especially going back to grad school to pick up a Masters after completing my doctorate. While I stopped blogging about them I never stopped reading comics.

Now a professional librarian, my engagement with comics is changing again as I begin serving on a graphic novel book prize committee for my state professional association. It’s time to shake off the rust and get to writing again! So welcome to The Return of Illustrated Man. For our first installment I’ll be taking up a subject neglected in the original run, superheroes, with a review of The Vision: Little Worse than a Man/ Little Better than a Beast (2016).

 

Marvel fans know Vision as one of the oldest characters of the Avengers, his Silver Age origins dating back to 1968. Despite his longevity Vision is not a heavy hitter among the superstar Marvel heroes and is typically only seen in the context of the Avengers group. I mean, he’s no Wolverine or Spider-Man. Casual fans may recognize him as a supporting character from the recent blockbusters Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and Captain America: Civil War (2016). Perhaps because of his status as a relatively minor character in the Marvel canon, Vision was ripe for a reimagining and his latest iteration, a twelve issue run from 2016 now collected in two trade paperbacks, is stellar.

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Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story – [Book Review]

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Vidula G. Khanduri. A STEM major at Wellesley College, Vidula enjoys dabbling in the crossroads of politics, science, technology, and society. She’s an avid reader of graphic novels and mystery books, is a skilled makeup artist, and loves to sing classical music.

Drawn & Quarterly

Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story.
By Peter Bagge
72 pp + notes. Drawn and Quarterly. 2017.

Review by Vidula G. Khanduri.

Author, anthropologist, and feminist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) stood out among her peers during  the Harlem Renaissance. She bent norms: denouncing communism, wearing unique clothing, and embracing social imperfections. Her books narrate black American life, “warts and all,” unlike the works of Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois and other black literary figures, who accounted for white perceptions of the black community. Hurston’s impact on literature was long forgotten until Alice Walker revived her works in the 1970s. Her grave was left unmarked and untended for years. Since then, Hurston’s novels, especially Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), have found spots in college syllabi all over the country. Named after an unsuccessful black literary magazine Hurston and her colleagues created in criticism of Harlem politics, Peter Bagge’s Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story narrates her life from start to finish in a graphic form as colorful as Hurston herself.

Bagge’s cover art turns the iconic Hurston – sitting, holding a cigarette between her fingers – on its head. The front cover is a composite picturing Hurston at a turpentine camp where she conducted fieldwork, donning the new Stetson hat, car, and shotgun she was notorious for spending her whole anthropological research grant on. Bagge consistently illustrates Hurston wearing bright yellow – homage to her commanding and bold personality. Episodes of dispute, frustration, excitement, and frenzy stand out as silhouettes in black and white panels.

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Artisanal Anthropology Workshop

Savage Minds is pleased to announce our first workshop in artisanal anthropology. As we imagine a future for our discipline that is both sustainable and ethical, it is necessary that we look to the traditions established by our founding mothers and fathers. Theirs was an honest scholarship that was based on a healthy respect for the process of crafting research by hand.

While this blog  has previously rushed to embrace new technology, we are now advocating adopting a “slow” or “craft” approach to anthropological research. An artisanal anthropology means valuing the hand-crafted labor that went into scholarship before social media turned everything into a meme. Workshop participants will learn how to record interviews on acetate disc and taking down observations in handmade notebooks using antique fountain pens. And what better way to slow down your research than to write it up on a Victorian era typewriter? (Please note all paper is direct sourced and patiently cut by hand.) Copying and pasting with scissors and glue ensures that proper care is given to each edit. Once your draft is prepared, it will be lovingly wrapped in kraft paper and twine, and sent to a leading scholar who will provide feedback to you by snail mail. The published collection will be carefully hand-stitched into a folio made from wagyu leather and will be delicately etched to commemorate your participation in the workshop.

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Black flags from Rome: Mafia and Isis, as before Mafia and Al Qaeda

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Stefano Portelli. Stefano is a cultural anthropologist with a doctorate in Urban Studies, his primary fieldsites are a barrio of Barcelona and the Ostia neighborhood of Rome, where the issue of mafia is crucial. Starting September 2017, he will be a Marie-Curie fellow for Leicester University’s Department of Geography.

Black flags from Rome: Mafia and Isis, as before Mafia and Al Qaeda
by Stefano Portelli

After the Charlie Hebdo massacre of January 2015, some social networks mostly based in Southern Italy published an uncanny piece of news, that bounced back on the web immediately after the much more deadly attacks in November. The Sicilian mafia boss Totò Riina, from the maximum security jail where he is secluded since 1993, was reported answering to the fear of terrorism spreading across Italy, by suggesting that if the Italian state really wanted to defeat Isis, they should release him from prison, and let him do. “Ci penso io” is a sentence that could condense the mafioso’s claim of being able to deal with the Islamic state: a very ambiguous formula in Italian, as anthropologists know. It entails taking charge of somebody else’s problem through one’s connections and savoir faire, but without disclosing the means. It creates a relation of gratefulness tinged with admiration – the basis for dependency and patronage.

The piece of news was certainly a hoax, as some of the websites themselves suggested. Still, that same January some newspapers echoed it in a more ‘respectable’ form, by quoting an interview with an anonymous secret agent, who literally said: “Terrorist leakings are much more difficult in the South [of Italy], where there is somebody who controls or even manages the territory”. A title was “Half of the country is safe (under the Mafia)”, the other “Isis only fears the Mafia”. In November the idea gained even more popularity, when the online version of an influential weekly magazine built a whole article on it, quoting another source from the intelligence community who declared that “the real protection” for Italy against Isis is “the indirect one wielded by criminal organizations”. “The Mafia succeeds in opposing terrorism”, was the title. The thesis was promptly rejected by an Italian left-wing journalist, but its very presence in public discourse reveals a rather unexplored consequence of the terrorist threat. Fear quickly evokes national cohesion, but can reach the point of crossing the boundary of what is publicly admitted, into the realm of the unspeakable, and of the obscure.

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Faculty work, librarian work, and life balance

Tis the season. As my professor friends hustle to write final exams and grade them, only to press through to letter grade submission and finally revel in winter break I am reflecting on my absence from teaching. Now three semesters out of the classroom (I cashed my last paycheck as an adjunct in May 2015) I feel more certain than ever that I made the right career choice moving into museums and libraries. In this post I would like to share some observations, incomplete as they are, on my professional life outside the academy.

First, a little professional biography. Prior to moving out of teaching I racked up a lot of hours in the classroom — in addition to being instructor of record at my alma mater I’ve been behind the lectern at a community college, small liberal arts college, and large urban university. I’ve tutored, taught high school, and led service learning. But to be honest my list of courses taught is pretty basic: gen anth, cultural, evolution, food, and gender studies. I never had much of a say in which classes I would teach, such is the lot of a hired gun.

There’s a lot to love about teaching and those thrills, I miss them. I love teaching as performance, standing up in front of a crowd and telling stories, leading discussions. You know, doing my thing. But most of all is the experience of playing a part, however large or small, in opening up a young person’s mind to exciting new ways of seeing the world. Anthropology has a lot to offer! And to be there when a talented student makes that discovery, that’s really special. I even have a small handful of former students I count as true friends.

Obviously there’s a lot I don’t miss about teaching too. Our pet peeves are almost universal, are they not? Grading mountains of papers. Looming deadlines. Answering clueless emails. The dreadful sense that you’re supposed to be doing something productive right this instance. “My printer ran out of ink” and other lame excuses. Of course we teachers can commiserate over all of that together and there’s a certain solidarity that comes with the shared burden. Its always a hoot to pop the cork on a bottle of wine or toss back a couple of beers at the pub and swap horror stories. (My personal best-worst excuse: “I can’t tell you why I missed class because my sorority has sworn me to secrecy.”) In addition to all the intellectual labor there is a huge toll of emotional labor and to me that was the worst part of the job.

Museum and library work offers an interesting foil to academics.
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Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene [review]

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Cthulhu, Great Old One and Special Collections Librarian at Brown University.

When the puny mortals at Savage Minds invited me to review the latest work by Donna Haraway I was perplexed. After I had devoured the sanity of their pathetic messenger, I turned the book over in my tentacles. “Chthulucene,” eh? Was this meant to be a literary subversion of the Anthropocene, supplanting the implied anthropocentrism of that category with something alien and indifferent? And if so, was this really a wise move, politically speaking, when the purpose of the term was to draw attention to human actions that frequently remained hidden to those without the all seeing eyes of Yog-Sothoth? Needless to say, I was intrigued.

978-0-8223-6224-1_pr

Full disclosure: Haraway and I are somewhat estranged. She never forgave me for guiding my cultists to infect Sumatran rat-monkies with a zombie virus (for more on this consult the 1992 documentary Dead Alive). Sure my methods are “controversial” but she and I have the same goal in mind: confronting our shared ecological crisis by addressing the problem of accelerating human population growth. Whereas she seeks to carve out the possibility that feminism can navigate the racist and eugenicist histories of limiting human reproduction, I advocate for a strategy of direction action, i.e. human sacrifice.

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Now accepting reader letters

We here at Savage Minds want to hear from you, our readers. To further this goal we are creating a new “Reader Letters” feature and we encourage you to share your thoughts, reactions, and reflections with us. Please keep the following guidelines: letters are to be no longer than 250 words and should address issues covered in Savage Minds and relevant to anthropology, broadly construed. Some months we will invite letters on specific themes. As with traditional letters to the editor, all letters must include the writer’s full name and anonymous letters will not be considered. For general guidelines about tone and content refer to our comments policy. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified before publication. Letters may be subject to minor editing for clarity.

For our first installment of Reader Letters we invite you to send us your thoughts about the U.S. election. Send your letter in the body of an email (not an attachment) to ryananderson@uky.edu. Deadline for submission is Nov 23 and we plan to publish Nov 30.

The Anthro/Zine strikes back!

Anthro/Zine, a venue for undergraduate publication from the team behind Anthropology Now, has entered its second year of publication. The premise behind the project is to provide a space for college students to reflect on how anthropology, in all its myriad forms, has touched their lives. As editor I have been completely blown away by the quality and creativity of our submissions which have included not only essay, but also art, poetry, photography, fiction, and what I call “briefs” — very short pieces. There are now four issues, open access and CC-BY, available at the link above. Check out our latest issue below!

Anthro/Zine publishes April, September, and December coinciding with each new issue of Anthropology Now. If you are a student or recent college graduate and would like to make a submission of some sort that is relevant to anthropology then we would like very much to see what you have to offer. We are most interested in seeing work that is creative, personal, and short. Original research is welcome but we do not publish term papers. Do not submit to us what you have given your professor, your peers are your audience here. Reflect on what you have already accomplished and tell us about your experience of encountering anthropology.

A/Z is not a venue for graduate students, however it is appropriate for grads to submit their work directly to Anthropology Now, please see their guidelines here.

Students or faculty with questions can reach me at mthompson@marinersmuseum.org, if you would like your work considered for the September issue than make your submission by August 1.

Click on the cover or the hyperlink below to download a pdf of our latest issue:

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Anthro/Zine | April 2016Anthro/Zine | April 2016

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What is arXiv and how can we get one?

After ckelty’s post on the SSRN/Elsevier merger fellow mind, Ryan Anderson, gave me a shout out in Twitter,

This is a pretty interesting idea. What would it entail taking arXiv as a role model?

What is arXiv?

Like SSRN, arXiv is a digital repository. They are both examples of Green OA — a type of open access where authors deposit versions of their work so that they can be accessed by readers for free. What version of an article makes it into the repository depends on which publisher you’re working with, but almost all of them allow authors to deposit the original submission: no peer review, no mark-up, no type setting. Others are more generous, a few even allow the post-print to be deposited. It just depends, if you want to go Green do some research on your publisher’s homepage or ask a company rep.

Green OA is frequently contrasted with Gold OA, where the author submits to a journal that makes the final product available to readers for free, examples include HAU and Cultural Anthropology. Again, there is great diversity among Gold OA publishers just as there is among Green repositories but we’re not getting into that here.

arXiv is Green OA, it is a pre-print repository but of a particular kind. If you’re at an elite or second tier R1 you probably already have access to a repository through your institution. However many of these institutional repositories (IRs) share a common problem, faculty participation is low. Some universities have attempted to address this with OA mandates, but this is not always sufficient to change faculty behavior. People are really busy, or maybe they don’t see the value in access. Perhaps they think someone else will do it for them, or are mistaken about their author’s rights. For whatever reason many people who can go Green choose not to.

The generally poor showings for institutional repositories has lead some in the digital libraries field to argue that IRs are not the way forward for Green OA. Instead they anticipate that disciplinary repositories (DRs), sometimes called subject repositories, will be more successful. Perhaps in our neoliberal world faculty are less tied to their institution than their discipline? Both SSRN and arXiv are DRs.
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Infrastructure as Iron Cage

Weber’s metaphor of the iron cage is one of the most famous in all of sociology. It’s certainly stuck with me: I keep a bookmark in my copy of The Protestant Ethic (Talcott Parsons’ translation) at page 181 so I can always turn to the Iron Cage when I need it. Cos, like, you never know when you need to comment on the relationship between capitalism and the pervasiveness of rationalism.

Let’s pop in for a refresher.

It’s 1905 and Weber’s project is to undermine materialistic explanations for economic change by arguing that Protestant asceticism (self-restraint and the denial of pleasures) and the notion of having a calling (showing devotion to God by attending to worldly matters rather than seeking transcendence) laid the foundations for “modern rational capitalism.”

The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into everyday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresitible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt. In Baxter’s view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment.” But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage.

Since asceticism undertook to remodel the world and to work out its ideals in the world, material goods have gained an increasing and finally an inexorable power over the lives of men as at no previous period in history. To-day the spirit of religious asceticism – whether finally, who knows? – has escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer. The rosy blush of its laughing heir, the Enlightenment, seems also to be irretrievably fading, and the idea of duty in one’s calling prowls about in our lives like the ghost of dead religious beliefs.

Not ten years after The Protestant Ethic was published, Gregor Samsa awoke to find his soft flesh transformed into the hard carapace of a beetle (see Peter Baehr’s “The Iron Cage and the Shell as Hard as Steel”). Why does rationality behave so irrationally? It is strange when capitalism, which in the contemporary scene so values flexibility and mobility, invents constraints for itself that inhibit the very qualities it thrives on. It can also be more than a little bit funny, if you don’t mind gallows humor.
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Inside the Fukushima Exclusion Zone: Place and Memory after Disaster

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Pablo Figueroa. Pablo is an assistant professor in the Center for International Education at Waseda University in Tokyo. In this position, he teaches courses on globalization, leadership, and disasters. His anthropological research is centered on risk communication, citizen participation, and cultural representations of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. His most recent publications are two book chapters, Subversion and Nostalgia in Art Photography of the Fukushima Disaster and Nuclear Risk Governance and the Fukushima Triple Disasters: Lessons Unlearned, both forthcoming in 2016.

All images copyright by Pablo Figueroa.

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Inside the Fukushima Exclusion Zone: Place and Memory after Disaster

by Pablo Figueroa

1 Pablo Figueroa
A street of Namie Town in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone, May 2015.

FROM BEHIND THE WINDSHIELD of the moving car the landscape looks exuberant, unpolluted. Warm morning sunlight bathes the forest to the side of Tomioka highway, a 69 km stretch of pavement also known as National Road 114 that connects Fukushima with the town of Namie. It’s a Sunday morning and few people can be seen. The feeling of emptiness is vast and real. From time to time, large plastic bags appear along the road, neatly stacked one on top of the other. The orderly layout obliterates a much more messy reality: The bags contain highly radioactive soil that was removed from villages and fields during the so-called “cleanup efforts” following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Their final destination undecided, the ominous recipients are a painful reminder of what happens when trying to decontaminate the environment after a nuclear catastrophe. You can scrape topsoil and wash the surface with pressure hoses as much as you like but Cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years, will keep coming down from hills along with other radioactive isotopes, carried by rain and wind, dispersing in manifold and uncontrollable ways. Continue reading

Return of the Anthro/Zine

Last May I introduced you to Anthropozine, a new undergraduate venue associated with the journal Anthropology Now. The concept behind the zine was to get college students interested in engaging in earnest reflexivity by articulating their personal experience of encountering anthropology. The first issue, themed around the topic of “Food,” was a roaring success thanks to the efforts of our talented writers.

I’m happy to announce that there is now a second issue of the zine to go around! Our parent, Anthropology Now, moved to Taylor & Francis which involved a slight delay in publication, but they have kept us on board. We’re excited to once again provide a place for shorter works by college students. The latest issue is themed around “the Body.” Help us help our students express themselves by sharing this over your social networks and email listservs!

Anthrozine2

click here to download the PDF

Please visit us at http://anthronow.com/anthrozine where you can download our first two issues and view the submission guidelines. While you’re there check out all the amazing stuff Anthropology Now has to offer too. Continue reading

Four ghost stories from Aunt Julia

More so than any other person in my mother’s extended family, Julia was a person who was truly loved. She helped to raise her mother’s children, then her own children, her many nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Everyone from my mother’s family thinks of her as a caregiver and an essential part of their upbringing. She was my great-aunt, my grandmother’s sister, and in January 1997 we met so that I might collect some of her famous ghost stories.

Julia was born in 1911 on a hacienda in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico, the fourth child and second girl of eleven. Fleeing the Mexican revolution her family settled in Austin, Texas, in 1918. Julia never attended school, but instead as one of the older children was in charge of the house and it was here that her skills as a cook and storyteller emerged.

Many in my family would single out her tales of the supernatural as her most memorable stories. I think Halloween makes for a fine occasion to share them and I hope you enjoy!

The first two take place when the family lived on a dairy near Deep Eddy in the 1920s, this house and all the land around it was haunted. Julia attributed these unexplained events to the remains of old barracks built by the soldiers of General Santa Anna. The second two stories take place in a haunted house on East 6th Street that the family lived in from the 1940s until sometime in the 1950s.

440px-DeepEddyBathingBeach
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Homo Naledi’s other revolution

When the Homo Naledi discovery was announced I was excited to see that the initial publication was in an open access journal, eLife. In fact to me this was a huge relief for, now that my adjunct teaching days are done and I am gainfully employed in the museum sector, I no longer have access to journals through a university library. (But, then again, I won’t have to rewrite my human evolution lecture. So there’s that.)

One day at work I decided to abstain from my usual time wasting behaviors of Facebook and reading the comments section of the Washington Post, and instead invest my downtime in reading the Naledi piece. Look at me! I’m reading an article for fun! Truly this is one of the most liberating experiences of being outside the academy: now I read scholarship for pleasure.

I was proud of myself for making it all the way to the end, feeling like I got it. Okay, so I skimmed over some of the anatomy stuff, but not all of it. Nothing I can’t handle with a dictionary nearby. With no one to impress with my studiousness except my fellow librarians (who are all, of course, very studious), I looked forward to sharing a bottle of wine with my wife (a biologist and “real” scientist) and telling her all about the findings. We frequently have animated discussions about human evolution, so it came as a surprise when she didn’t want to talk about Homo Naledi rather what grabbed her attention first was that the authors had chosen to go OA.

Jessica has established herself an open access skeptic in our previous kitchen conversations, which unfolded something like…

Her: So where did they publish? Didn’t you say it was the cover of Nature?

Me: No. Cover of National Geographic. Lee Berger had a NGS Explorer grant.

Her: Where then? Science?

Me: No, they went open access. Something called eLife.

Her: Really?! Wow. But why? *gives side eye*
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