Tag Archives: Websites

Resource in US History and Culture: The Government Comics Collection

Screenshot from "Duck and Cover" fil...

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The library at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln has posted a collection of digitized government comics and related material. There are about 180 freely-downloadable PDFs available, on topics ranging from health and human services to military training and recruitment.

Among my favorite is a 1951 AIr Force publication explaining psychological warfare entitled “Bullets? Or Words?” and illustrated by Milton Caniff, a comic-strip artist who gave us the syndicated comic strips “Terry and the Pirates” and “Steve Canyon”.

In fashioning new psychological weapons, it is necessary to base them on sound scientific principles and an understanding of psychology, cultural anthropology, sociology and other allied fields of knowledge.


I’m also a fan of "Bert the Turtle Says Duck and Cover", which offers immensely useful and reassuring advice on what to do in case of a nuclear bomb explosion. “There is always something to shelter you – indoors, a schol desk, a chair, a table.” Funny how they left out lead-lined iceboxes, but perhaps the authors felt that went without saying.

Related material includes briefs for the artists and authors, as well as government reports on the impact of comics, such as the US Senate’s 1955 “Comic Books and Juvenile Delinquency: Interim Report”. If you remember your history (or have read Michael Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay) you’ll remember that the mid-‘50s saw a witch-hunt launched against comic book publishers and authors every bit as intense as the one launched against Hollywood, with comic books accused of promoting delinquent and violent behavior as well as homosexuality and anti-Americanism.

Although my interest is more sparked by the Cold War-era material, the collection dates up to the last decade, offering an interesting lens through which to view the last 6 decades or so of US culture and of the US government’s relations with its subjects.

The new AAA blog

First, the American Anthropological Association knew nothing of blogs. Then, in a fit of change, they started like, a dozen of them. Now all those blogs have been consolidated into “a single AAA blog”:http://blog.aaanet.org/. They have been doing a pretty good job of posting regularly over the past couple of days. It would be great if this blog grew and became a regular part of the anthropological noosphere so… check it out.

Jacques Lacaniki

Most days, the INTERNET depresses me. But sometimes I see things which give me hope. Today, No Subject, the Jacques Lacan Wiki, did that for me. It is remarkably detailed. Of course, I haven’t thought about Lacan for over a decade, so it may actually suck, but if it did it would still be amazing. Enjoy your symptom.


Just recently I was complaining about people making references to ‘tribes’ without knowing anything actually about them. Here is a twist on the idea of the importance of informing the public about the specifics of life in places other than their own: “Anthrophoto.com”:http://www.anthrophoto.com/. Started by the “Devores”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irven_DeVore it is a website with a huge searchable database of images.

On the one hand, the site’s insistence on accuracy is admirable:

Anthro-Photo provides clients with the images provided by scientists from long term field studies. Begun thirty years ago with a small group of anthropologists, biologists and archeologists from Harvard University, Anthro-Photo has expanded to include many world famous scientists who provide historically accurate images with captions that are science based, not “guessed at” by the photographer. Our pictures aren’t “set up” or taken at a tourist demonstration of what the cultures used to do. Our photographers were there, they lived in the field, they are the authorities on the cultures and animals they photographed… Anthro-Photo is owned and run by Anthropologists and Biologists. We have been illustrating textbooks and magazines for thirty years. We stand behind our photographs with not only accurate captions, but the scientific knowledge that allows us to know what you are looking for before you do. Unlike “McStock Agencies” we specialize in certain topics, which enables us to drill down into our stock to provide the image you need to illustrate a concept. We are reachable for personal help, not just an unanswered voice mail or email. We take the time to get it right, and will contact our photographers for more information when needed.

On the other hand, the site’s framing of what anthropologists do (be white people talking to poor brown people) and who ‘humans’ are (colorfully (un)attired brown people) makes you want to sigh. There are no pictures in the ‘Europe’ category and the ‘Australia’ category has no white Australians. Africa is highly represented, but this probably has more to do with the field locations of the people who started the company. And of course I wonder whether the people in the picture know how these images are being used. But I don’t think these issues detract from the overall goal of the project too much.

Apparently this is a for-profit company, but all of these images appear to be downloadable — perhaps the high-res ones cost money, or they are generous in fair-use rights for teaching. At any rate they have a great collection of pictures from ethnographically ‘classic’ areas, so assuming that they don’t object this place is a god-send for spicing up your power points.

Finding Anthropology on Twitter

Right on the heals of complaining about my bad habit of information foraging, I stumbled upon a very good way to search Twitter for interesting anthropology links. I know some people are convinced Twitter is the end of civilization as we know it, but as Chuck Tryon explains:

articles that complain about Twitter typically focus on the content of individual tweets rather than focusing on those tweets in a specific context. It would be similar to denigrating conversation by pulling out individual pieces of dialogue rather than seeing how conversation involves a variety of practices

Twitter is only as good as the conversation you are having – and that depends on finding interesting people to follow on Twitter. I recently discovered that you can filter Twitter search results for posts which contain anthropology related links. The only problem is that many of the results are links to various Twitter services that let you find other anthropologists on Twitter. By excluding “twitter” from the search you end up with a fascinating feed of what people are reading, watching, and thinking about in the anthropological twitterverse. For instance, I just discovered the SFAA Podcasts twitter feed!

OK, now back to complaining about information overload!

YouTube EDU

Google just announced a new YouTube “channel” for academic lectures, talks, and interviews: YouTube EDU. Although there aren’t a lot of anthropology videos, there are some if you look. Also recently announced is Academic Earth, a general hub for the same kind of thing. These sites join already existing online repositories: Free Online Courses from Great Universities, TED, Fora.tv, and iTunes University. These sites seem to miss some great video podcasts by individual academics who have gone edupunk and upload their videos directly to the web without university support, and they are all rather light on anthropology, but still, there is a lot of great stuff out there and it seems to just keep getting better.


TicTOCs is a new service which aims to be a one-stop shop for Journal Table of Contents updates, either via e-mail or RSS. They have a very extensive list of anthropology journals.

(via KMLawson on Twitter)

Media Anthropology and Pedagogy

Anand Pandian, assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins, shared the site for his Fall Semester undergrad course on The Anthropology of Media. The syllabus is comprehensive and tight. Students were asked to do a semester project on some aspect of the media, and the range of projects runs the gamut from the predictable (facebook) to the intriguing (Industrial Mix Tape: Baltimore’s Diverse Music Scene) to the kitchy (The Indian Chuck Norris).

I asked him why the projects look the way they do (I was thinking, what’s up with the 1990s web vernacular aesthetic?). The answer is illuminating, because it reflects how challenging it is to do a class like this and make students focus on the anthropology and not on the media. I don’t believe that this generation is any more digitally equipped than the last, and I hate it when journalists assume that it is (as they frequently do, given the number of requests I get to do interviews about how new media are causing children to evolve into large-thumbed, ADHD-addled, hacker-loving codemonkeys). In reality, some students have mad skillz, others have none. Focusing a class (of 50+ students) on the issues and asking them to produce a “new media” project that does not automatically activate different creative skills is challenging, so I was surprised by what Pandian’s class web site looked like. Of course, some students wanted to break out of the constraints (which results in some internal-link bizareness in some cases) I think it’s a measure of success, and it demonstrates one way to produce comparability in this medium.

Of course, one way to really get students thinking about the effects of media is to have them explore all the challenges, ins and outs of media production, but then the trade-off is that you risk running a course in web-production, rather than one in anthropology. In any case, an excellent case of experimentation.

The long and the short of it

Since the end of the AAAs I’ve had a chance to read two pieces which touch on a central preoccupation of mine: the “different speeds at which we do research, and how certain technical forms enable or disable some speeds and not others”:https://savageminds.org/2007/10/03/pace-layering-as-research-method/. The two pieces in question were “twitter is fucking retarded”:http://ldopa.net/2008/11/11/twitter-is-fucking-retarded/ and “At Day’s Close”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/24/books/review/24LEWISKR.html by Roger Ekirch. One is a thoughtful — and bracing — skewing of Twitter, and the other is a cultural history of the night in early modern Europe.

You can probably see this coming: I also think Twitter is retarded. It is the ultimate realization of American society’s shift from an expressive individualism that sees art as the exteriorization of the subjectivity of the creator to a more banal commitment to the idea that any ‘content’ made by someone must be valuable and valorized simply because they made it. Perhaps my skepticism for Twitter is the pot calling the kettle black or the narcissism of small differences — as a blogger who has shared my waffle recipes with the world it may sound strange for me to take the high road when it comes to aesthetics. But still.

At Day’s Close, on the other hand, is an elegant, monomaniacal work that took two decades to complete. Saying it is ‘about the night’ does not really do justice to it. One chapter on illlumination at night, for instance, moves systematically through different kinds of light: oil lamps, candles, rushes, and torches. It then moves on to Unusual Forms Of Illumination, such as the bodies of particularly greasy sea birds used in the Orkney Islands as oil lamps simply by sticking wicks down their throats. This is followed by sections on the moon, starlight, and finally illumination of the night by the milky way. The next section then discussions seeing things at night and ends with individual discussions on navigation at night by hearing, touch (groping in the dark), and smell. It is obsessively thorough and, in the hands of a stylist as accomplished as Ekirch, thoroughly enjoyable.

If Twitter is the nightmare of corduroyed professors everywhere then At Day’s Close is the fantasy book that many of us dream of writing: the solitary scholar locked in his study, dismissed by his peers as a hopeless eccentric, emerges one day with a manuscript that will be read by thousands and be remembered forever. Here is romantic authorship in the scholarly mode.

And yet in a way there is something terrible about At Day’s Close as well. I know that I will never spend two decades writing a single book and nothing else — and not just because I have to hop online and update my waffle recipe page. This is a model of scholarship that is admirable but also a little unrealistic for many of us. Simply put, not everyone is an ‘eggs in one basket and watch that basket’ sort of person. Shorter genres are appealing and the ‘all or nothing one glorious moment’ of scholarship is romantic but also, I think, vaguely unhealthy. Not that I am saying Ekirch is unhealthy — I’ve never met the guy — just that the vision of scholarship that he inspires in me is one which, while attractive on the surface, may in the long term be less appetizing than it first appears.

All of which is to say that if we are going to get down on the short end of the writing spectrum (i.e. Twitter) perhaps we should took a good hard look at the the long end and really wonder just how appetizing it is — especially for those of us who do not have the skill and dedication of Ekirch.

Narcissistic Friday post: Wordle your CV!

“Wordle”:http://www.wordle.net is a web app that takes text and turns it into word clouds. Many of you are already familiar with tag clouds — the more often the word is used the bigger it gets. My friend Jeff recently “Wordled his resume”:http://jeffmcneill.com/2008/10/28/jeff-mcneill-resume-in-wordle/ and I thought: woot ego therapy for the end of the week! So here is my CV:

Just for fun, is anyone else willing to just open their CVs, cut and paste the contents into Wordle, and see what comes out?

The gap between taste and achievement

One of the links that has been making the rounds of academic email lists lately is a series of Youtube videos of Ira Glass talking about the art of telling stories. I have a love/hate relationship with Ira Glass and This American Life, but in the “third video in the series”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hidvElQ0xE&feature=related he says something that is really profound and something that has really made me think about how I advise my students.

In the video Glass points out that people who are just beginning to write (or do work of any kind, I reckon) experience a gap between what they know is good, and what they are capable of. They can see what quality work is — they have a sense of it and a passion for it that motivates them to create, and yet at the same time they feel that their own capabilities are insufficient to make work that meets their own standards. Glass urges people to develop their skills so that they can close that gap, and he urges them to do it by producing tremendous amounts of material, forcing them to hone their skills through repeated practice. To make people feel better, he emphasizes that he is incredibly successful and has closed the gap, and that it took him years and years to do so, so we should not be freaked out if it takes us a while.

The situation that Glass describes is totally true and I see it in my students — particularly my graduate students — all the time. His tip to work work work is also spot on — Greg Costikyan once told me “you have to throw the first million words away”, which is great advice. And Glass’s willingness to demonstrate that if he can do it then anyone can adds ‘story’ to his argument and makes it more compelling.

I recently began giving Glass’s speech to my students because they find it tremendously reassuring. But then I stopped giving it because I think it is actually a lie. Who in the world actually ever manages to close that gap? In my experience, and the experience of everyone I’ve ever talked to, people’s ability to produce good work develops over time, but so does the scope of their ambitions and the precision of their standards.

A less comforting truth is this: people who do mediocre work have some mixture of low standards, low energy, unambitious goals, and a high opinion of their abilities. People who do good work have high standards, work hard, stay hungry, and are all too aware of what the work demands and what they are capable of. Doing good work, doing it healthily, and over the course of an entire career, is not about closing the gap between taste and achievement, it is about keeping it open, and managing that gap in a healthy and productive way.

I am sure that if we were to actually watch Ira Glass at work we would not see him breezing into the studio, effortlessly tossing out perfectly honed pieces, and then knocking off at eleven for an early lunch, cocktails, and golf. I bet he sweats — a lot. And I bet he loves doing it.

Telling students that it will get better is easy — it makes them feel better, and it makes us feel better to convince others that we are stronger than we really are. But the truth is that the gap between taste and achievement doesn’t go away, the scale on which it operates increases, and the ease with which we manage it lessens. Less comfortable, but the truth — and what students deserve.

Free Webisodes of Pacific History and Archaeology

If you want to learn more about the Pacific then you are in luck — the Hawai’i State department of education has recently put together two locally-produced programs available on the web for free. “Stories to Tell”:http://wetserver.net/teleschool/pages/programs/program_home.jsp?programid=16&programpageid=29&programpagetype=programpages is a documentary about the little-known Pacific campaign during the American Civil war and focuses on Yankee whaling ships sunk by the Confederate navy in Micronesia in the 1860s. Its a fascinating story that helps remind us just how globalized our world has been, and how long the Pacific has been entangled in geopolitics.

The second show, “Pacific Clues”:http://wetserver.net/teleschool/pages/programs/program_home.jsp?programid=16&programpageid=30&programpagetype=programpages discusses the archaeology of the Pacific, with a special focus on Polynesia. The “first episode”:http://www.teleschool.k12.hi.us/tlc/IR_CR_PC_1.html features Terry Hunt discussing the destruction of Rapa Nui’s (Easter Island) environment, and his own interpretation of what led to its downfall. Terry’s objections to authors such as Jared Diamond’s interpretation of Rapa Nui’s history is well known, and now you can watch the man explain it in person.

All of these shows are available for free, as a series of 20 minute web episodes — so far only a few episodes are up, but as the season progresses more will be available. They’re meant for kids, so they are a great opportunity for you and your little ones to curl up together in front of a glowing LCD screen. But of course they’re great for people of all ages — especially people who want to know more about what the experts really think about the Pacific, but don’t want to read a bunch of scholarly articles.

The Ultimate Public, Applied Anthropologist

When it comes to application and publicity, anthropologists are in a bit of a bind. On the one hand they want to be ‘applied’ (typically: implement their left-populist agenda) and ‘public’ (be found fascinating by a wide readership). At the same time, they fear collaboration with sources of power (curtailing implementation options) and don’t want their work to be considered exotic, titillating, or otherwise interesting to the public. Walking the line between accessibility and exoticism, engagement and cooptation, can be tricky.

And then there is “Bella Ellwood-Clayton, sexual anthropologist”:http://www.drbella.com.au/. Ellwood-Clayton got written up “some time ago at Antropologi.info”:http://www.antropologi.info/blog/anthropology/anthropology.php?p=2836&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1 because her work is open access. But I think the site, and her career, might take the prize as the most public, applied anthropologist that I’ve seen in quite some time.

She “treks through mud and sleeps with pigs to discover traditional tattooing practices in the jungle”:http://www.drbella.com.au/film.html. She “writes poetry”:http://www.drbella.com.au/poems.html. She is “multiply-orgasmic”:http://www.drbella.com.au/Articles/25AUG06ThebigO.pdf (link to PDF of a relationship column — sfw). And of course she also “publishes about cell phones”:http://www.drbella.com.au/anthro.html.

I am not quite sure what I think of Ellwood-Clayton’s website, or the way that she is spinning her career. But I have to admit that in an era when anthropologists spend more time arguing about what they can do to become relevant than becoming relevant, it is sort of refreshing to see someone hanging out their shingle in a highly… shall we say… unambivalent way. Carrie Bradshaw, move over.

Sally and Richard Price

While I’m sure many readers of this blog have read their work before, it was not until this summer that I had a chance to meet Richard and Sally Price. Sally and Richard are anthropologists who work on historical anthropology, aesthetics, colonialism, and Afro-American culture with an emphasis on the Francophone variety. Although years ago I had read The Birth of African American Culture (which RP wrote with Sidney Mintz), it was really meeting them that led me to sit down and read Sally’s new book Paris Primitive and their short Prickly Paradigm pamphlet on Melville Herskovit’s fieldwork. Both are really wonderful: archly written, thoroughly researched case studies that keep their nose very close to the ground without being afraid to tell a good story. SP’s Paris Primitive in particular is a very close caste study of French academic/bureaucratic infighting lined with a certain Gallic inability to resist flamboyance that is delightful.

But beyond brazen endorsements of R&SP this blog entry does have a point: “The Price’s website”:http://www.richandsally.net/works.htm is among the best that I have yet seen for an anthropologist. It does a great job of explaining to you who they are personally without being gratuitously narcissistic, it provides lots and lots of ways to learn about their publications (including pictures of their covers), it has their CVs, and it is available in French and Portuguese, the languages of their research. Simple, honest, well-designed, and informative.
Compare “their publication page”:http://www.richandsally.net/works.htm to “”Arjun Appadurai’s”:http://www.appadurai.com/publications.htm. In one the design works to let you read about the books, in the other the content is squeezed into a narrow column in order to show off the design.

Perhaps the difference is that S&RP’s site is “built by people who specialize in supporting authors”:http://www.authorsguild.net/ while Appadurai’s is not. But in my opinion their website is a perfect example of the sort of ‘web presence’ an academic should maintain.