Tag Archive for Anthropology

Anthropology, Archaeology Collections Offer Hands-On Learning

At right, Ying Jia Tan, assistant professor of history, taught his class, History of Science and Technology in Modern China, in Wesleyan's Anthropology and Archaeology Collections. 

At right, Ying Jia Tan, assistant professor of history, taught his class, History of Science and Technology in Modern China, in Wesleyan’s Anthropology and Archaeology Collections. The class’s reading correlated with artifacts displayed in the collections. Pictured at left is Jessie Cohen, lab manager.

TJ Blackburn '16 listens to a classroom discussion while examining skulls from three different time periods. 

TJ Blackburn ’16 listens to a classroom discussion while examining skulls from three different time periods.

In the 1920s, a team of scientists working in the Zhoukoudian cave system in Beijing, China unearthed Peking Man, a roughly 700,000 year-old sample of Homo erectus. After the communist revolution of 1949, Peking Man became a prominent figure in bringing science and the story of human evolution to the masses.

As part of the required reading for the HIST 368 class, History of Science and Technology in Modern China, Ying Jia Tan, assistant professor of history, is having his students read The People’s Peking Man, written by Wesleyan alumna Sigrid Schmalzer ’94. The People’s Peking Man offers a skilled social history of 20th century Chinese paleoanthropology and a compelling cultural history of assumptions and debates about what it means to be human.

On Nov. 11, Tan brought his students to the Wesleyan University Anthropology and Archaeology Collections (WUAAC) to offer them a tangible and hands-on lesson to complement their reading.

Jessie Cohen, lab manager, prepared for the class by displaying fossil and extant replicas including Australopithecus afarensis (“Lucy”), Homo erectus (“Peking Man” and “Java Man”), and Homo sapiens. She also included several stone tools which originate from the Paleolithic era, a prehistoric period in human history that lasted approximately 2.5 million years. These particular stone tools are associated with specific dates and locations that overlap with Homo erectus production and usage.

“The juxtaposition of these widely ranging fossil replicas, modern Homo sapiens, and stone tools is representative of the changing environment, physical demands, and technological advances noted throughout human evolution,” Cohen explained.

She also displayed a Chinese newspaper / Chinese-American school brochure came to the collection by way of missionaries in the early 1900s.

“I thought it would be a great idea for the students to see the replicas of Peking Man and think about how the Peking Man was constructed by anthropologists,” Tan said. 

Ulysse Honored with Excellence in Scholarship Award

Pictured at right, Gina Ulysse received the Haitian Studies Association's Excellence in Scholarship award from association board members Régine Jackson and Nadève Menard. (Photo by Gregory Jean-Baptiste)

Pictured at right, Gina Ulysse received the Haitian Studies Association’s Excellence in Scholarship award from association board members Régine Jackson, left, and Nadève Menard. (Photo by Gregory Jean-Baptiste)

Professor of Anthropology Gina Athena Ulysse received the Haitian Studies Association‘s Excellence in Scholarship award during the organizations’ 27th annual conference Oct. 24. The conference centered around the theme “Haiti in the Global Environment: Presence, Representations, Performances” and took place at the Université de Montréal in Québec, Canada. Previous anthropologists awarded this honor include Paul Farmer (2001) and Michel-Rolph Trouillot (2003).

While in Québec, Ulysse presented a talk on “Successfully Individuating Within Academia: Thoughts on Rebel Mentoring and Your Voice” at the Emerging Scholars pre-conference.

Ulysse also will be recognized by her peers at the American Anthropological Association meeting next month for her work as a public anthropologist and ethno-performer.

Ulysse’s Author of Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: A Post-Quake Chronicle

Gina Athena Ulysse

Book by Gina Athena Ulysse.

Gina Athena Ulysse, professor of anthropology, is the author of Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: A Post-Quake Chronicle, published by Wesleyan University Press in 2015.

In this book, Ulysse, a Haitian-American anthropologist and performance artist, makes sense of her homeland in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.

Mainstream news coverage of the catastrophic earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, reproduced longstanding narratives of Haiti and stereotypes of Haitians. Cognizant that this Haiti, as it exists in the public sphere, is a rhetorically and graphically incarcerated one, Ulysse embarked on a writing spree that lasted more than two years. As an ethnographer and a member of the diaspora, Ulysse delivers a critical cultural analysis of geopolitics and daily life in a series of dispatches, op-eds and articles on post-quake Haiti.

Her complex yet singular aim is to make sense of how the nation and its subjects continue to negotiate sovereignty and being in a world where, according to a Haitian saying, tout moun se moun, men tout moun pa menm (all people are human, but all humans are not the same). This collection contains 30 pieces, most of which were previously published in The Haitian Times, Huffington Post, Ms Magazine, Ms Blog, NACLA and other print and online venues. The book is trilingual (English, Kreyòl and French) and includes a foreword by award-winning author and historian Robin D.G. Kelley.

Ulysse Reflects on Sandra Bland’s Self-Possession, Neo-Black Codes of Conduct

Writing for Africa is a Country, Professor of Anthropology Gina Athena Ulysse reflects on the story of Sandra Bland, an African-American woman who was arrested by a state trooper during a traffic stop in Waller County, Texas and was later found dead in her jail cell. Video footage from a dashboard camera found the trooper had threatened Bland with a Taser after she refused to put out her cigarette and the encounter escalated. Her death was found to be a suicide, though her family has doubts.

Ulysse writes that she identified with Bland, and responded strongly to images and videos of the young woman while she was alive.

There is a radiance that emanated from her, which came from a fierce black woman on a quest of self-discovery with all of its ups and downs, a black woman determined to be of significance in this unjust world, a black woman who, as her mother described was “an activist, sassy, smart, and she knew her rights.” She was using her knowledge and skills to creatively create her life. Sandra Bland was not uppity. That may have been a perception of her by a white officer of the law clearly insecure in his position of authority who had no idea who he is when faced with someone like her. Sandra Bland embodied a rare charismatic self-possession that disrupts social orders. […] This way of being in the world is one for which black women who do not submit continually pay a very high price. Within the social limits of white imagination, complexity is never ours, black women like Sandra Bland, black women like us, are be reducible to four, maybe five, stereotypes at the most.

Ulysse, too, has been pressured many times to “keep my mouth shut, stay in my place, not question my seniors, or watch my comportment too often by white men and women in power.” She writes, “Every time I consider Sandra’s reaction, I identify with it. Her response whatever else you may think of it, was an act of self-possession. Her constitutional rights were being violated and she simply would not stand for it.”

Ulysse concludes:

As black people, we live with the continuities of slavery and the Jim-Crow era when state sanctioned slave codes determined how we expressed fundamental parts of our “partial” personhood. We are being ruled by neo black codes of conduct enforced by social and legal machinery that demand we submit in the presence of white power or else become part of a landfill of hashtags. Sandra Bland refused because she knew her rights.

Ulysse Reflects on Violence Against Blacks in Charleston, Dominican Republic

In a blog post on Africa is a CountryProfessor of Anthropology Gina Athena Ulysse reflects on two horrific stories in the news: the mass deportation of thousands of migrant workers and their families of Haitian background from the Dominican Republic, and the killing of nine people in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

The “ethnic purging” taking place in the Dominican Republic, writes Ulysse, “is a rejection of a certain kind of Black. Blackness that is too African.”

She continues:

Despite our somatic plurality and the color gradations we encompass, Haiti and Haitians have always been portrayed and understood as that kind of Black. A Blackness of a particular kind that, truth be re-told, radically changed the world. It was an avant-garde Blackness that not only pulled off a successful slave revolution, which caused the disorder of all things colonial, but also brought the sanctity of whiteness into question. The Haitian Revolution disrupted the notion that Freedom (with a capital F) was the sole domain of whites or those close to whiteness. Indeed, the value ascribed to those Black Lives continue to deteriorate. Moreover, those among us who are visibly marked with that Blackness have had to continually dissuade folks that we are not genetically coded to be their property or the help.

Ulysse writes that the attack on the Charleston church is “not unrelated” to the situation in the Dominican Republic. “Being Black, these days, means living in constant state of siege…There are no safe spaces for that Black. Nine people were killed in their place of worship. An act of terrorism that must be named. Their killer sat in a pew for an hour before extinguishing their Black Lives.”

Ulysse Guest Edits Double Issue of Journal e-misferica

Gina Athena UlysseProfessor of Anthropology Gina Athena Ulysse was recently invited to guest edit a double issue of the journal e-misférica on the theme of Caribbean rasanblaj, to which three of her Wesleyan colleagues also contributed.

The journal e-misférica is an online publication of New York University’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, a “collaborative, multilingual and interdisciplinary network of institutions, artists, scholars, and activists throughout the Americas. Working at the intersection of scholarship, artistic expression and politics, the organization explores embodied practice-performance as a vehicle for the creation of new meaning and the transmission of cultural values, memory and identity.”

For several years, Ulysse has been involved with the Hemispheric Institute, where she has been invited to engage her performance practice. When Wesleyan became a member institution, she was elected to the Executive Committee and called attention to what she saw as a lack of representation for the Caribbean in the Institute’s work. Based on her feedback, the e-misférica editors decided it was time to move toward greater focus on the Anglophone and Francophone Caribbean, and to publish a special Caribbean-themed double issue of the journal. Ulysse was invited to be a guest editor.

“When we sat down to talk about the issue, co-editors Jill Lane and Marcial Godoy-Anitava of NYU and I agreed we needed a new lexicon to discuss the Caribbean,” Ulysse explained. “I wanted it to be a Haitian Creole word. I suggested ‘rasanblaj‘ as an organizing principle to think through and talk about the Caribbean.” This new concept clearly resonated with participants and inspired a volume of responses from artists, activists, scholars, and practitioners from the region and its diaspora, which resulted in a double issue. The managing editor Kerry Whigham, Ulysse said, was key to this operation.

In her introduction to the issue, Ulysse defines rasanblaj as a noun meaning “assembly, compilation, enlisting, regrouping (of ideas, things, people, spirits. For example, fè yon rasanblaj, do a gathering, a ceremony, a protest).” Ulysse approached the guest editing job as a performance artist, and wrote her introduction in a lyrical style. “I said, ‘I’m not writing prose! That’s what I do in my day job. Barely. Besides the concept of rasanblaj is about gathering fragments, the scattered, forgotten. It’s about reassessing. So doing this in theory as in praxis was always central to my vision,” she explained.

The editorial team put a call out for papers in five languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Creole. (While e-misférica is normally a multilingual publication, Creole was added just for this special issue.) Ulysse specifically solicited contributions from several of her colleagues at Wesleyan. The issue includes book reviews by Matthew Garrett, assistant professor of English, assistant professor of American studies; Katja Kolcio, associate professor of dance, associate professor of environmental studies; and Rashida Shaw, assistant professor of English.

“This was such a team effort and it was a wonderful opportunity to work with my colleagues who share similar interests. I’m proud of the strong Wesleyan representation in this issue,” said Ulysse.

7 Faculty Promoted, 1 Awarded Tenure

In its most recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure on Hari Krishnan, associate professor of dance. He joins seven other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

In addition, seven faculty members were promoted to Full Professor: Mary Alice Haddad, professor of government; Scott Higgins, professor of film studies; Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics; Edward Moran, professor of astronomy; Dana Royer, professor of earth and environmental sciences; Mary-Jane Rubenstein, professor of religion; and Gina Athena Ulysse, professor of anthropology.

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below.

Associate Professor Krishnan teaches studio- and lecture-based dance courses on Mobilizing Dance: Cinema, the Body, and Culture in South Asia; Modern Dance 3; and Bharata Natyam.  His academic and choreographic interests include queering the dancing body, critical readings of Indian dance and the history of courtesan dance traditions in South India. He is a scholar and master of historical Bharatanatyam and also an internationally acclaimed choreographer of contemporary dance from global perspectives.

Professor Haddad teaches courses about comparative, East Asian, and environmental politics. She has authored two books, Building Democracy in Japan and Politics and Volunteering in Japan: A Global Perspective, and co-edited a third, NIMBY is Beautiful: Local Activism and Environmental Innovation in Germany and Beyond. She is currently working on a book about effective advocacy and East Asian environmental politics.

Professor Higgins teaches courses in film history, theory, and genre, and is a 2011 recipient of Wesleyan’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching.  His research interests include moving-image aesthetics, feature and serial storytelling, and cinema’s technological history. He is author of Harnessing the Rainbow: Technicolor Aesthetics in the 1930s and Matinee Melodrama: Playing with Formula in the Sound Serial (forthcoming), and editor of Arnheim for Film and Media Studies.

Professor Kottos offers courses on Quantum Mechanics; Condensed Matter Physics; and Advanced Topics in Theoretical Physics. He has published more than 100 papers on the understanding of wave propagation in complex media, which have received more than 3,000 citations. His current research focuses on the development of non-Hermitian Optics. This year, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research has recognized his theoretical proposal on optical limiters as a high priority strategic goal of the agency.

Professor Moran teaches introductory courses such as Descriptive Astronomy and The Dark Side of the Universe, in addition to courses on observational and extragalactic astronomy.  His research focuses on extragalactic X-ray sources and the X-ray background, and his expertise in spectroscopic instrumentation combined with an insightful conceptual appreciation of galaxy formation have positioned him as a leader in observational black hole research.

Professor Royer offers courses on Environmental Studies; Geobiology; and Soils.  His research explores how plants can be used to reconstruct ancient environments, and the (paleo-) physiological underpinnings behind these plant-environment relationships.  His recent work on the relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and climate over geologic time has had significant impact on the field of paleoclimatology.

Professor Rubenstein teaches courses in philosophy of religion; pre- and postmodern theologies; and the intersections of religion, sex, gender, and science.  Her research interests include continental philosophy, theology, gender and sexuality studies, and the history and philosophy of cosmology.  She is the author of Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe, and Worlds without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse.

Professor Ulysse offers courses on Crafting Ethnography; Haiti: Between Anthropology and Journalism; Key Issues in Black Feminism; and Theory 2: Beyond Me, Me, Me: Reflexive Anthropology. Her research examines black diasporic conditions. Her recent work combines scholarship, performance, and exposition to ponder the fate of Haiti in the modern world and how it is narrated in different outlets and genres.  She is the author of Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, A Haitian Anthropologist and Self-Making in Jamaica, and Why Haiti Needs New Narratives.

Weiner ’15 Studies Urban Agriculture, Community for Thesis

Through hands-on fieldwork at East New York Farms!, Kate Weiner '15 examined urban agriculture as a political project for her thesis, Reciprocity: Cultivating Community in Urban Agriculture."

Through hands-on fieldwork at East New York Farms!, Kate Weiner ’15 examined urban agriculture as a political project for her thesis, “Reciprocity: Cultivating Community in Urban Agriculture.” (Photo by Laurie Kenney)

In this News @ Wesleyan story, we speak with Kate Weiner from the Class of 2015. Weiner is an anthropology and environmental studies major.

Q: Can you describe your thesis, “Reciprocity: Cultivating Community in Urban Agriculture”?

A: My thesis is an exploration of how community, identity and belonging interact in urban agricultural spaces, with my hands-on fieldwork with East New York Farms! serving as a case study for examining urban agriculture as a political project. Through melding creative non-fiction, feminist theory, community politics and environmental studies, the intention of my thesis is to provide a framework for understanding the various social, natural, socioeconomic and political factors that shape community-making within urban agriculture.

Q: How did you choose your thesis topic?

A: Arriving at my thesis subject was several years in the making. Throughout the summer of 2013, I photographed female urban farmers along the Eastern Seaboard

Ulysse Writes Tribute to Anthropologist Karen McCarthy Brown

Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology.

Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology.

Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology, wrote a tribute on the Tikkun Daily Blog to Karen McCarthy Brown, professor emerita of anthropology and sociology of religion at Drew University, who passed away earlier this month.

“Reading Karen’s Mama Lola kept me in grad school. Vodou got a human face from her,” Ulysses posted on Facebook after hearing news of Brown’s death.

She goes on to explain, “Mama Lola was published by the University of California Press in 1991. Based on extensive fieldwork conducted over a decade, Brown became an initiate of her subject, as a condition to deeper research and writing her life history. The resulting ethnography with its radical crossings blurred methodological and scriptive lines. Brown took creative liberties fictionalizing various strands of Lola’s familial and spiritual genealogies.”

Though highly celebrated, the book was not without its critics. Haitian anthropologist Michel-Ralph Trouillot questioned tensions between Brown’s ethnographic authority and totalizing narrative.

Ulysses writes, “Indeed, in many ways, Mama Lola was something of an insider ethnography. In retrospect, I formed an attachment to it precisely because I had some knowledge to discern fact from fiction, to fill in the silences and to decipher practices layered in an opacity that was part of a historically damaging trope. Simultaneously, it expanded my lexicon as I learned so much about religious practices in my birth country that to this day remain trapped in obscurity, familial and otherwise. In that sense, the book had done for me exactly what anthropology is supposed to do, make the familiar strange and the strange familiar. It also sensitized me to the restrictions of genres, fieldwork dynamics and negotiations among so many other things. I knew there would never be an ethnography of my family’s story. Performance, maybe? Memoir, definitely. Some stories are not mine to tell.”

Kauanui Speaks on Native American Politics, Palestine Solidarity Politics

J. Kehaulani Kauanui

J. Kehaulani Kauanui

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, associate professor of anthropology, associate professor of American studies, participated in several conferences and events during the fall semester.

She presented on a roundtable, “Indigenous Sovereignty, Conquest Mythology, And Indian
Policy: Histories and Futures in New England” at the New England American Studies Association Conference held at Roger Williams University, Oct 17-18. She also was an invited participant for a public panel discussion, “Countering Columbus Day,” held at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center on Oct. 25.

Kauanui also presented ongoing research on Palestinian solidarity through participation at two events. First, as an invited speaker at Johns Hopkins University for a Gaza teach-in hosted by the Anthropology Department on Oct. 24 where she spoke on a session about academic boycott as resistance. Second, as an invited speaker at the 4th annual National Students for Justice in Palestine Conference held at Tufts University Oct. 24-26. This year’s theme was “Beyond Solidarity: Resisting Racism and Colonialism from the US to Palestine,” and Kauanui delivered a talk on the closing plenary session titled “Transnational BDS – Challenges and Dreams Forward.”

In November, Kauanui participated in the annual meeting of the American Studies Association in three capacities: serving a second year as an elected member of the National Council, as an invited presenter for a session on “New Directions in American Studies,” where she was asked to speak about settler colonialism as an analytic; and as a paper presenter on a session on “Formations of U.S. Colonialism,” for which she presenter a paper titled, “Hawaiian National Land and the Colonial Contradictions of Sovereignty.”

In addition, Kauanui continued her work with nine Wesleyan students co-producing a public affairs radio show, Anarchy on Air, through the campus station, 88.1 FM WESU. The show emerged out of her course, “Anarchy in America: From Haymarket to Occupy Wall Street.”


Ulysse Panelist at Columbia’s Caribbean Conference

Imagining and Imaging the Caribbean

“Imagining and Imaging the Caribbean.”

Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology, participated in “Imagining and Imaging the Caribbean,” the inaugural conference of Columbia’s Greater Caribbean Studies Center, on Oct. 18.

Ulysse discussed “Writing in the Caribbean Diaspora” with fellow panelists Cuban writer and artist Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo (Brown University) and Kittian-Brittish novelist Caryl Phillips (Yale University).

Other topics included “The Greater Caribbean as a Geo-Historical and Cultural Region,” “Writing about the Caribbean from National Perspectives” and “Photographing the City in the Greater Caribbean.” The event concluded with a Caribbean concert.

Ulysse Presents Performative Meditation, Participates in Public Dialog

Gina Athena Ulysse

Gina Athena Ulysse

On March 6, Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology, presented “Why Haiti Needs a Higher Love I,” a performative meditation on representation, ripostes and self-making at Central Connecticut State University’s Center for Africana Studies 20th Anniversary Conference.

On March 10, Ulysse and Jungian analyst and author Craig Stephenson participated in a public dialogue titled “Possession and Inspiration – Between the Psyche and the Spirits: A Conversation about Therapy and Vodou” at the CUNY Grad Center in New York City.