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February 28, 2006

Culture, Power, and History in Cabanaconde, Peru: A Multidimensional approach to Anthropological Advocacy

Paper submitted 28 Feb. 2006
Foundations of Applied Anthropology II
University of South Florida

When addressing the problems arising from the intersection of culture, power, and history from an anthropological perspective, it is important to recognize the often disparate viewpoints that inform research objectives. These viewpoints belong to the anthropologist, the individuals or the communities being studied, as well as others that may be directly or indirectly involved in a particular issue. Their unique experiences are defined by culture, power, and history and fundamentally shape how each group confronts a given situation. Thus, the researcher who aims to become an advocate for a people must understand the complexities that inform his or her own anthropological perspective as well as that of the group being advocated for. Only after grasping each worldview will the advocate make progress. This paper will examine the water management situation described by Gelles (1994) in the highland peasant community of Cabanaconde in southern Peru in order to highlight the importance of a multidimensional approach to anthropological advocacy.

The fluidity of culture, power, and history is one reason it has often been difficult for anthropology to maintain a definitional consensus on these three concepts. The relatively short history of the field coupled with its own dynamic nature further complicate this situation. The social revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s fundamentally restructured anthropology in the United Stated as the emergence of applied and action anthropology found acceptance among a small but growing circle of academics (Bennett 1996). As a result, scholars are beginning to approach the concepts of culture, power, and history from a different perspective, one that emphasizes the existence of multiple, equally valid sets of meanings. Additionally, the meanings given by one community, group, or individual may or may not compliment those of another.

Wright (1998) defined two sets of ideas about what culture is: one that is inextricably linked to a people and one that is defined in terms of political processes and the power to define. When a checklist typology is employed to delineate what seems to be a unique group of individuals, as with the former set of ideas, much is lost in terms of individuality and the possibility of those being advocated for having an active role in the advocacy process. The latter is more congruent with a strategy that takes into account the large variety of experiences and viewpoints that make up a culture. Like culture, “power” alone is often too broad of a concept to convey the complexities that define a situation. Wolf (1989) articulates this idea by describing four different modes of power: as an attribute of the person, as one person imposing his or her will on another, power that controls contexts, and as power that “…specifies the distribution and direction of energy flows.” By describing finer meanings of the concept of power Wolf creates the possibility of capturing the variable experiences of people as they exist within a society’s power structure. Finally, history cannot be taken for granted in an advocacy strategy because often a group’s present situation has come about due to past events and how these have interacted with the concepts described above. The intersection of culture, power, and history is both complex and distinct in Cabanaconde.

Gelles’ (1994) study focuses on the peasant community of Cabanaconde and how it navigates a political system that, like any other, is the product of a long and complex history. The official political structure is made up of a municipal council, a governor, an irrigation commission, a local water administrator, and two water mayors. A number of powerful and influential families are also involved in the political process. Cabanaconde’s situation is influenced on a regional scale as well. Although locally managed, the Irrigators Commission has an effect on water management when it enacts the state model of irrigation during dry spells of the rainy season. This group has an interest in maintaining the state model for a certain period of time and, when not burdened by shady commission members looking to benefit themselves, can be quite effective. Although Cabaneño society is economically differentiated, often resulting in conflicting interests from these different groups, acquiring wealth is not the only motivating factor behind differing viewpoints. Gelles discusses at length the complicated and ritualized nature of localized water management and how this plays out in the context of power relations. More important than the specific details of these practices is the reality of them and the value placed on the structure they provide. This is an example of history intersecting with culture in such a way as to provide a set of boundaries within which power relations are carried out. The complexity of the entire system is evident in the multiple intersections between these three concepts. In other words, each concept is played out in the context of the other two.

An additional viewpoint that is absent from Gelles’ two-part study is that of the anthropologist. While this is not necessarily detrimental to the value of such work, it becomes integral when designing a successful advocacy strategy. Hastrup and Elsass (1990:307) make this point when they conclude that “anthropology is concerned with context rather than interest, while advocacy means making a choice among interests within the context.” When anthropologists decide to cross over into the realm of advocacy, they bring with them their own experiences and worldview and are forced to examine these in relation to indigenous concepts of culture, power, and history.

The role of these various viewpoints and how they interact is important to advocacy strategies that are informed by anthropological studies. The dynamics that shape how, when, and by whom water is manipulated are deeply embedded in personal- and community-level relationships (power), beliefs about the supernatural properties of water as well as rational norms and community expectations (culture), and organizational structure and ideas about land management (history). In order to achieve the goals set forth in a successful advocacy strategy, it is important to synthesize the characteristics of Cabanaconde’s water management system with nonrestrictive, contextualized definitions of culture, power, and history (described above). Underlying this approach is the recognition that indigenous or traditional concepts of reality, however incongruous with those of anthropology, are equally valid. The rest of this paper will outline a potential advocacy strategy that underscores the importance of a multidimensional approach.

The concepts of culture, power, and history and their intersections correspond to the different components of an advocacy strategy that could be implemented in Cabanaconde. First, recognition of and respect for the culture of the peasant farmers should inform the particulars of the strategy. The strategy must recognize that Cabaneños exist in the same physical world as the advocate anthropologist. All humans require water for survival and this is a fundamental reality that connects peasant farmer to advocate. With this realization firmly in place, advocacy planning can proceed in such a way as to not dismiss even the smallest nuance of Cabaneño water management. Second, recognition of the power relationships that define water management must be at the forefront of the advocacy strategy. These relationships translate to social structures that hold together the current system, for better or worse. Becoming cognizant of the dynamics that inform these relationships independent of their role in the exploitation or suppression of indigenous rights will ensure that an advocacy strategy is effective. Finally, history provides a context that sheds light on all aspects of a strategy and can magnify the finer points of a situation.

It has been shown that there is much that needs to be considered when integrating advocacy with anthropological research. Concepts of culture, power, and history are often too broad to account for the complexities of a given situation. In the case of water management at Cabanaconde in Peru, peasant farmers, like any group of individuals, must make decisions in a variety of contexts. To reduce these contexts to three terms can be problematic, but need not restrict the anthropologist who wishes to offer information and insight. These terms are convenient for generalized discussion but must be more specifically defined in order to achieve the goal of aiding indigenous communities in mobilization efforts. It is not the job of the anthropologist to single-handedly induce change. Instead, the advocate anthropologist should recognize the impossibility of separating culture, power, and history for the purpose of bettering one or more. The inclusion of all viewpoints that are involved in a situation is directly linked to the success or failure of an advocacy strategy.

References

Bennett, John W.
1996 Applied and Action Anthropology: Ideological and Conceptual Aspects. Current Anthropology (supplement, February) 36: S23-S53.

Gelles, Paul H.
1994 Channels of Power, Fields of Contention: The Politics of Irrigation and Land Recovery in an Andean Peasant Community. In Irrigation at High Altitudes: The Social Organization of Water Control Systems in the Andes, edited by William P. Mitchell and David Guillet, pp. 233-273. Society for Latin American Anthropology Publication number 12.

Hastrup, Kirsten and Peter Elsass
1990 Anthropological Advocacy: A Contradiction in Terms?. Current Anthropology 31(3): 301-311.

Wolf, Eric R.
1990 Distinguished Lecture: Facing Power-Old Insights, New Questions. American Anthropologist 92: 586-596.

Wright, Susan
1998 The politicization of “culture.” Anthropology Today 14(1): 7-15.

As always, this weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Posted by Will at 01:48 PM

February 27, 2006

SAAs

Anyone presenting at SAA's this April in San Juan? I got my volunteer schedule and I'm a session attendant for all three of my shifts: Thursday 6:30p-9:30p, Friday 1p-5p, and Sunday 8a-12p. Not sure which sessions though, but if I know you through blogging or even if you're a lurker be sure to say hi.

Posted by Will at 07:54 PM

February 22, 2006

Weekend Hiatus

I won’t be blogging much (if at all) this weekend because it’s going to be a mini-vacation for me. My parents are coming to Tampa tonight to visit and we are going over to Orlando to check out Disneyworld on Friday and Saturday. It’ll be their first time, my second. Disney may be a multinational, exploitative, money-hungry evil mouse empire but they do know how to make a fun theme park.

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Posted by Will at 09:20 PM

February 20, 2006

This is your brain on graduate school

I'm taking the night off. Normally I would be working at least until midnight on reading, writing, organizing, etc. as I have been nonstop for the last week or so. Relief came in the form of my Paleoclimatology paper/class presentation being moved, giving me an extra week to write the paper and prepare the presentation. This couldn't come at a better time because my parents are visiting Tampa this week and we're going to Disneyworld on Friday and Saturday. So I no longer have to cram a week's worth of work into three days and I can actually relax a bit.

You know when you're cooking something with a skillet on the stovetop and you suddenly move the skillet over to the sink and turn on the cold water and the thing erupts in a frenzy of sizzling and steam? That's what it feels like to be really busy and stressed and then really relieved that you don't need to be for several days in a row.

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P.S. - for me, "the night off" means doing something productive that's not directly related to my graduate work, such as reading textbooks about the ancient Maya for pleasure or organizing my blogroll.

Posted by Will at 09:03 PM

February 19, 2006

Won't you be my friend? Please? For the love of God PLEASE BE MY FRIEND!

Anyone who surfs the internet on a regular basis and/or is under the age of say, 35, is aware of the current revolution in online networking. This revolution has its roots with the internet itself but has gained momentum in the past couple of years with the websites MySpace.com and Facebook.com. Both of these sites are geared toward high school- and college-aged kids obsessed with who knows them and who they know. Facebook.com spread through college campuses like a virus (and this time it wasn’t sexually transmitted) and eventually having a Facebook account was the norm among undergrads. I never jumped on the Facebook or Myspace bandwagon for a number of reasons, number one being I just didn’t care.

The premise behind these sites is simple: you create an account, upload a picture and some personal information, and people see your page, become your “friend”, and look to see who your “friends” are. Before long many users have an extensive network of people they go to school with and friends they’ve lost touch with in high school (users’ profiles are searchable by school name, hometown, etc.). I know all of this information because of the number of news stories that have come out over the past two years about the perils of being a part of these communities (read the AP story that prompted this post). As with anything on the internet, popularity brings negative attention and in the case of Facebook and Myspace it is rather pronounced due to the personal nature of the service. Indeed, the entire point of signing up is to disseminate personal information. Critics warn that these sites are dangerous and that personal information shouldn’t be given out, but what they don’t realize is that the entire foundation of social networking services is built, brick by brick, by such information.

I write this post to criticize the criticizers for not fully examining the implications and sociological dynamics of online networking of this breed. These communities are ripe for a scholarly study but not in the traditional framework that has typically structured studies of internet life. Individuality has been expressed online since the beginning but not in such a dramatic way as on Facebook and Myspace. To have a personal website or blog is to invite others to peruse your life in digitized form. You post something and people read it, sometimes interactively. With social networking sites a whole different plane of personal existence is being accessed. Kids expect for people to “accept” or “reject” them as virtual friends and expect this to translate into the real world. It is difficult to translate the virtual world into the physical but when it is attempted, the outcome is often undesirable.

This post was brought to you by a lack of sleep and several cups of coffee.

Posted by Will at 11:48 PM

A couple of papers

Here are the abstracts of two papers I am working on. For Ancient States, I'm writing about agriculture at Lamanai in present-day northern Belize, where I studied for a month two summers ago:

The archaeological site of Lamanai in present-day Belize was inhabited by the Maya for more than two thousand years, making it one of the longest continuously occupied sites in the region. Settlement began in the early Preclassic period (2000-900 BCE) and continued until Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. Lamanai’s persistence can be partly attributed to its role in the regulation of Maya trade, which in turn is due to its proximity to the New River. Previous research at Lamanai has focused primarily on ceremonial and residential architecture, ecology, and political economy. Consequently, few investigations have focused specifically on the subsistence practices of the ancient residents at Lamanai. Data gathered from other lowland sites and regions in northwest Belize and the Belize River Valley provide analogous ecological contexts that can illuminate the situation at Lamanai and provide direction for future research. Drawing from research that has been carried out at Lamanai and similar sites, this paper will explore the role of agriculture and how it facilitated the establishment of Lamanai as an independent city-state.

And for Graduate Seminar II, we are to write a 5-page paper about anthropological advocacy and the intersection of culture, power, and history:

When addressing the problems arising from the intersection of culture, power, and history from an anthropological perspective, it is important to recognize the often disparate viewpoints that inform research objectives. These viewpoints belong to the anthropologist, the individuals or the communities being studied, as well as others that may be directly or indirectly involved in a particular issue. Their unique experiences are defined by culture, power, and history and fundamentally shape how each group confronts a given situation. Thus, the researcher who aims to become an advocate for a people must understand the complexities that inform his or her own anthropological perspective as well as that of the group being advocated for. Only after grasping both worldviews will the advocate make progress. This paper will examine a small sample of representative case studies to highlight the importance of a multidimensional approach to anthropological advocacy.

As always, this weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Posted by Will at 06:31 PM

The best automatic page-turning book scanner ever!

Gizmodo brought this new device to my attention, to be released next month for a cool $35,000: The Atiz BookDrive Automatic Book Scanner, which has a mechanized page turning feature. Sweet! I mention this because as a graduate assistant, I've become quite skilled at scanning book chapters one...page...at...a...time (sometimes two if the book is small enough).

bookscanner.jpg

Posted by Will at 04:21 PM

February 18, 2006

I am my father's son...

I've never posted any photos of my family but this should do: my father and I as characters from...well, you know...

Tim Simpson:

simpson_dad.JPG

Will Simpson:

simpson_will.JPG

(Thanks to PZ for passing along the link to the Simpsonmaker...his is particularly funny)

Posted by Will at 01:13 AM

February 17, 2006

Grab a coat, or a surf board

PZ (from Pharyngula) notes how it's "-16°F (-26°C) out there, with 15-20mph winds" this morning in Morris, Minnesota. In the comments of the same post, pablo cites his thermometer in Missouri at 13° F. Must be rough for them...it's going to be a brisk 78° F today in Tampa. And I thought I was going to go all winter without sweating while walking to campus!

Posted by Will at 09:25 AM | Comments (2)

February 16, 2006

Language and grammar

Here's an interesting story on one of my favorite topics in anthropology, the evolutionary origins of language in humans. Mind-blowing stuff to think about.

Brain researchers discover the evolutionary traces of grammar
Researchers found that simple language structures are processed in an area that is phylogenetically older, and which apes also possess. Complicated structures, by contrast, activate processes in a comparatively younger area which only exists in a more highly evolved species: humans. These results are fundamental to furthering our understanding of the human language faculty.

Posted by Will at 11:59 AM

February 15, 2006

Technology and culture clash: information vs. China

Today representatives from four major tech companies testified before congress regarding doing business in China, which censors, among other things, the information available on the internet (story here). Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Cisco were there to defend their business practices against an angry panel of house representatives who accused the companies of giving into to an oppressive Chinese government. I've only browsed Google's testimony and from what I could tell they didn't disagree, concluding that disseminating some information to the Chinese people is better than nothing. I've rounded up a few relevant links:

A transcript of Elliot Schrage's testimony, representing Google:

At the outset, I want to acknowledge what I hope is obvious: Figuring out how to deal with China has been a difficult exercise for Google. The requirements of doing business in China include self-censorship – something that runs counter to Google’s most basic values and commitments as a company. Despite that, we made a decision to launch a new product for China – Google.cn – that respects the content restrictions imposed by Chinese laws and regulations. Understandably, many are puzzled or upset by our decision. But our decision was based on a judgment that Google.cn will make a meaningful – though imperfect – contribution to the overall expansion of access to information in China.

Jennifer Granick at Wired opines that "the internet cannot be both globally acceptable and a force for democracy":

Still, as various interest groups and regimes impose their values on global communications, the promise of internet-fueled democratic change dims. Spraying the world with a fire hose of information may not be the answer, but it's closer to the right result than filtering the internet down to a trickle. The answer to a global culture clash has to be coexistence, not control.

I'm torn on this issue, but I do have a hard time subscribing to Google's and the others' decision to concede to the Chinese government's censorship of information. On the one hand, nobody likes to see information censored for the purpose of surpressing a people. On the other, Google's philosophy that some information is better than none does make sense. But without context, what good is that information?

Posted by Will at 09:20 PM

Far out Maya archaeology

NASA, University Scientists Uncover Lost Maya Ruins -- From Space
Spotting ancient Maya ruins -- a challenge even on the ground -- has been virtually impossible from the sky, where the dense Central American rainforest canopy hides all but a few majestic relics of this mysterious civilization. Now, NASA archaeologist Dr. Tom Sever and scientist Daniel Irwin of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and archaeologist Dr. William Saturno of the University of New Hampshire in Durham are using advanced, space-based imaging technology to uncover the ruins. High-resolution satellite imaging, which detects variations in the color of plant life around the ruins, can pinpoint sites of Maya settlements from space. The research, primarily conducted at the National Space Science and Technology Center in Huntsville and the University of New Hampshire, is made possible by a partnership between NASA and the Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology and History.
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See more photos here.

Posted by Will at 08:43 PM

A tale of two papers

I have a paper proposal due on Monday for the Ancient States course I’m taking. Last semester in Chiefdoms I wrote on water management and claims to land resources during a shift from a kinship social structure to one defined by kingship in the Maya lowlands. One section of that paper was to be about state appropriation and management of water resources but I ended up scrapping it because it seemed forced at the time. I’m thinking about reviving my thoughts on that for the Ancient States paper and narrowing it down to talk about either a) the similarities/differences between water management in territorial states and city-states (a distinction made in Trigger’s Understanding Early Civilizations, our course text) or b) continuities between prestate and state forms of water management (perhaps as related to agriculture?). I’d really like to take one of these routes because I already have a nice stack of articles on the topic from some stuff I did last semester. I’m waiting on some feedback from my prof/advisor because I have yet to come up with a nice, solid thesis. Oh how I miss the days of doing book reports on other countries where the most complicated research involved tracking down the average annual precipitation and major exports.

In Paleoclimatology, I am working with two of my archaeology friends on a group paper due at the end of the semester. In two weeks we have individual papers and class presentations about a research technique used in paleoclimatology. I wish I could tell you more but after a brief review of a fraction of the literature, I've determined that geologists and climatologists speak a foreign language (not sure what it is yet). We're the only three archaeologists in a class of about 15 environmental science grad students studying advanced techniques and theories. For instance, here's what I picked up from today's lecture (each ellipsis represents about 10 minutes lecture time): "OK, welcome...the earth...climate change...rotates on an axis...sediment cores...*professor coughs*...temperature variation..."

Posted by Will at 02:48 PM

February 12, 2006

Sam Harris on Islam and the Danish cartoons

One of my favorite authors, Sam Harris, has written another extraordinary piece, this time on the website Truthdig (archaeology meets media criticism). In it he offers his opinion on the recent violence over the Danish cartoons that have resulted in anger and violence among outraged Muslims (see my post here). He articulates why Muslims are outraged and proceeds to lay the smackdown:

It is time we recognized—and obliged the Muslim world to recognize—that “Muslim extremism” is not extreme among Muslims. Mainstream Islam itself represents an extremist rejection of intellectual honesty, gender equality, secular politics and genuine pluralism. The truth about Islam is as politically incorrect as it is terrifying: Islam is all fringe and no center. In Islam, we confront a civilization with an arrested history. It is as though a portal in time has opened, and the Christians of the 14th century are pouring into our world.

Read the piece and be enlightened. And if you haven't already, pick up The End of Faith by Sam Harris. It is the one book that has most profoundly changed my life.

Posted by Will at 11:09 PM | Comments (1)

Does this trowel make me look fat?

I was lucky enough to avoid the “freshman 15” four years ago (now shown to be largely myth) but after a semester of graduate school and decreased physical activity since my undergraduate years it’s starting to catch up. For all four of my years at UNC-Wilmington I was on the rowing team, which needless to say kept me active. Starting your day at 5am three or four times a week with vigorous exercise is good for you. Including water training, I typically worked out four to five days a week and felt guilty if I didn’t. It got to the point that I couldn’t envision what it would be like to go to school without constantly having to think about staying in shape. We were only a club sport…I cringe when I think about the training regiment of larger, varsity programs. It turned out that we didn’t compete last spring, my final year on the team, although the drive remained and I continued to train regularly. I’ve never kept track of my weight and still don’t, but the cute little belly I’ve grown since graduating is a reminder that the years are catching up. I used to brag to people that my metabolism was so high that I ate practically anything without gaining a pound; the joys of being a lanky, awkward college kid.

At UNCW I was used to working out several times a week. Now, I’m lucky if I get motivated enough for a two-mile jog or 30-minute Stairmaster workout in my apartment complex’s fitness center. At first I thought I was just getting lazy, but that feeling quickly dissipated when I realized that, hey, I’m in freakin’ graduate school! The next two years of my life should be devoted to reading, writing, and researching. The heaviest thing I should be lifting is a box of pottery sherds in the lab. This is the main reason I’m so anxious to get down to Honduras and back into the field. One of my first friends in Tampa, a portly first-year MA student who has worked in Honduras two summers, said the best diet he’s been on involved amoebas from the water (the pounds just melt away and all you have to do is sit there). I don’t anticipate going that route for getting back in shape but I’ll be the first in line to hack away at the jungle with a machete and schlep buckets of dirt to the screens in 90 degree heat. Just think, how many obese archaeologists do you know?

Posted by Will at 07:58 PM

Happy Birthday, Chuck!

I'll join the rest of the science blogosphere on this beautiful Evolution Sunday in wishing Charles Darwin a happy 197th birthday! His greatest legacy? In my opinion it's those little Darwin fish you can put on the back of your car.

darwin.jpg

Posted by Will at 04:29 PM

February 11, 2006

"The New Christian Science Textbook"

Mad props to PZ for the link to one of Matt Bors' recent comic strips, "The New Christian Science Textbook." My favorite "page":

christiantextbook_crop.gif

While you're there, check out more of Matt's work. It's hilarious.

Posted by Will at 04:33 PM

Valley of the Kings Discovery

I don't have much to say about the incredible discovery in Egypt recently (it's all over the web), only to say that I still get goosebumps seeing objects that haven't been seen or touched for thousands of years and are in such amazing condition. Photos are starting to come out...here's a beauty:

egypt_feb06.jpg

You can read a full story at National Geographic News.

Posted by Will at 01:49 AM

Tabsir: Insight on Islam and the Middle East

I normally don't mention every great blog I come across but this one is worth special mention, especially in the wake of the Danish cartoons that are causing so much unnecessary violence across the globe. Tabsir is a blog written by "scholars concerned about stereotypes, misinformation and propaganda spread in the media and academic forums on Islam and the Middle East." The lineup is quite impressive and includes a handful of professors and chairs of anthropology departments in the US. I'll be reading with a critical eye, however, because as I argued in a previous post I have yet to be convinced that Islam is not an inherently violent religion, with blood spilt over the Danish cartoons being the single response consistent with Muslim theology.

Posted by Will at 01:16 AM | Comments (1)

February 08, 2006

Praise (bordering on obsession) for The Ancient Maya, Sixth Edition

The other day I purchased the sixth edition of The Ancient Maya, a book that can only be described as “The Bible” of the field. The fifth edition came out 12 years ago, which is an eternity in the world of Mesoamerican scholarship. Comprehensive books such as this one can be compared to computers. When you buy it you think you have the latest and greatest only to learn that a few weeks later it’s obsolete. With computers that’s a bad thing. With books, it’s a mixed blessing: on the one hand you can almost see your $25 investment depreciating cent by cent over the years as new and exciting evidence comes to light and old theories are discarded in favor of more informed ones.

The Ancient Maya was first published in 1946, having been written by the great Sylvanus G. Morley. His goal was to bring together the mountains of information and ideas about the Maya that were scattered throughout the discipline. His motivation was something pure and real; something that you can still find in the pages of the latest edition 60 years later. It turned out to be the first comprehensive book on the ancient Maya and is still one of the few good ones out there today.

I first bought the 1994 edition, written by Robert Sharer of U Penn, a few weeks before I was to travel to Belize for my first extensive archaeological experience with a UNC-Wilmington field school. It came recommended by my mentor at the time as the book on all things Maya. Indeed, when I received it in the mail (I got that one from Amazon.com too) and began leafing through it I found that this was going to be a well-traveled book. Despite being almost 1,000 pages and a little over three pounds I hauled it to Belize with me because I knew I would use it. I ended up referring to it quite a bit. From information about the roots of Maya civilization, to their writing and monumental architecture, it soon showed the battle wounds that come along with spending a month in the humid and dirty conditions of a one-month field school. The fact that a handful of my friends wanted to borrow it from time to time didn’t help the book’s appearance. It eventually became a staple in my growing library, every once in a while coming off the shelf to remind me of when agriculture arrived in Mesoamerica or what a certain inscription tells us about Maya religion.

Late last year I received a nice, glossy postcard in the mail from Stanford University Press letting me know that the sixth edition was on its way. SUP was preaching to the choir because I would have found out eventually and didn’t need to be asked to buy it! The first half of the new edition is almost completely revised due to the extraordinary amount of research that Mesoamerica has produced in the 12 intervening years. The preface mentions the effect many of these discoveries had on the text. It was a huge undertaking as suggested by the fact that Sharer’s wife, Loa P. Traxler, is listed as a co-author. Either Sharer got lazy or simply couldn’t keep up with all the working going on. I prefer to believe it was because of the latter. The Ancient Maya was and still is the book to have if you’re a Mesoamerican archaeologist. I have yet to see such a comprehensive and well-written treatment of the Maya or any ancient civilization for that matter. For $25, you can’t go wrong.

Posted by Will at 10:00 PM

February 07, 2006

Could Apple make me drool any more?

We all know of the cultural phenomenon that is the iPod and iTunes. Well, they are approaching their 1 billionth song download and to celebrate they running a mouth-watering contest:

We’ve got one billion reasons to celebrate, and we’re starting with you. As we mark our way to one billion, the music fans who download every 100,000th song will receive a prize package featuring a black 4GB iPod nano and a $100 iTunes Music Card.

OK...unlikely but still exciting. What are the chances you say? I'm not mathmatician but I think a 1:100,000 chance of winning a Nano. That's not all. What do you get for downloading the 1,000,000,000 song on iTunes besides beating the most incredible odds in the history of iPod give-a-ways?

And if you're the lucky grand-prize winner who downloads the billionth song from the iTunes Music Store, you'll receive a 20-inch iMac, 10 60GB iPods, and a $10,000 iTunes Music Card to jumpstart your digital music collection. In addition, Apple will create a full-ride scholarship in your name to a world-renowned music school. Just think: You could help launch the careers of an entire generation of musicians.

You read right: TEN iPods. That's around $4,000 worth of iPods alone. I know there have been much bigger give-a-ways and contests in the past for a variety of reasons, but just imagine 10 iPods sitting in front of you. This is the cultural hold Apple has on a generation. I would say someone should write a book on it, but they already have. I bought Cult of iPod for my sister this past Christmas. Now all we need is a scholarly article or ethnography about it.

Posted by Will at 03:15 PM

February 06, 2006

Job Position in Tampa, FL

Not sure how many readers I have in the Tampa Bay area but our department is looking for a qualified archaeologist to fill a position at one of the museums:

The Department of Anthropology at the University of South Florida seeks a Director of the Tampa Regional Center of the Florida Public Archaeology Network to begin Spring 2006. The position is full-time with benefits, and will be physically located at the Museum of Science and Industry, (MOSI) close to the USF campus. The successful applicant will have strong interpersonal and organizational skills and be able to build a new program in public archaeology that has both preservation planning and educational components. Responsibilities include supervising a program assistant and an annual program budget, developing educational programs, advising and assisting local governments and preservation organizations, and coordinating local archaeological activities. The Center will provide a focal educational resource for interest groups or the general public seeking knowledge about the archaeology and prehistory of the greater Tampa Bay region and will function in an advisory capacity for local governments or agencies that are developing or implementing preservation ordinances or cultural resource management practices on public lands. This position is not a faculty line and will not lead to a tenure-track position, although it is a continuing position.
Minimum qualifications include an M.A. in Anthropology or related field at the time of appointment, and one year of experience in cultural resource management and public archaeology. Preferred qualifications include two or more years of experience in Florida archaeology, historic preservation and public outreach; knowledge of local and state archaeological and historical preservation regulations, and some experience with public and educational programming. Salary: $50,000. For more information about the FPAN, please see web site at www.flpublicarchaeology.org.
Please send letter of application, curriculum vitae, and names/contact information for three references to: Ms. Debbie Roberson, Coordinator of Administrative Services, Department of Anthropology, SOC 107, University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa, FL, 33620. For more information, contact Dr. Elizabeth Bird, Professor and Chair, at ebird@cas.usf.edu, or 813 974 0802. The position will remain open until filled; review of applications will begin March 16, 2006.

Posted by Will at 09:20 PM

SALE! SALE!

Go now...University of California Press is having a blowout sale. Tons of books, many for under $10, including some bestsellers. Looks like they have some great stuff. Use the coupon code 06D3351. You can find the anthropology section here.

Posted by Will at 08:00 PM

February 05, 2006

To defend or not to defend: one big question

As an undergraduate, I majored in Religious Studies as well as Anthropology. I therefore have an obvious interest in the recent story developing all over the world where thousands of Muslims are rioting and causing violence and even more are expressing outrage at the publication of a series of cartoons in a Danish newspaper depicting Muhammad. The most cited one is him wearing a lighted bomb as a turban. Aside from the obvious stereotype, most Muslims are outraged more about the fact that Muhammad was depicted in the first place. Islam is a very iconoclastic religion, fiercely opposing any visual representation of their god, the Prophet Muhammad.

At first I hastily jumped to the conclusion that uproar was the result of a minority of fundamentalist Muslims overreacting to stereotypical and insulting images. Only after some of my undergraduate training resurfaced that I remembered that an image of Muhammad, tasteless or not, is a grave insult to the religion and those who follow it. We see images of Jesus everywhere including churches (which is effectively a manifestation of God) and the popular media often parodies God Himself. This does not happen with Islam and is one reason I am a vigorous proponent of teaching world religious as young as middle school and definitely in high school. That is not to say that I think the sole purpose of this is to avoid offending a handful of religious zealots or promoting political correctness. Understanding a religion other than your own is one of the most useful things you can do as a human being. This is why I chose to become a religious studies major a few years ago. What started out as idle curiosity eventually led to a self-realization that, ironically, hadn’t occurred as I grew up with a Christian worldview.

The violence and anger that is erupting in the Muslim world shouldn’t be surprising to any of us. Most Americans have a gross misunderstanding of Islam, its history, and most importantly its fundamental beliefs. I am not even halfway to a full understanding myself. I agree with Sam Harris that Islam is a religion that teaches hatred, ignorance, and violence. To say that Islam is misunderstood and is a religion of peace is a misunderstanding as well. I certainly don’t agree with the senseless violence occurring over these Danish cartoons but I can begin to understand why so many are outraged. I am still grappling with the implications of this. How can one defend an individual’s right to be angry if the basis of that person’s anger is a worldview that is inherently violent and destructive? Welcome to the real world. They don’t teach you this stuff in Sunday School.

Posted by Will at 10:54 AM | Comments (2)

February 04, 2006

Professor Will

Today is my “get ahead” day before the Super Bowl tomorrow night. I have to give a presentation in class on Monday morning about kingship in Dynastic Egypt and I’m finding that the incredible amount of information available about ancient Egypt is getting the better of me. In other words, I want to talk about everything I can get my hands on but must come up with a concise and coherent lecture/discussion. One option is to show a short video in class but that seems too easy. Besides having trouble finding a good scholarly (i.e. non-Discovery Channel) documentary on Egypt it seems to me that showing what I could get my hands on would be overkill in a room full of archaeologists. One can only see a documentary that starts with a time-lapse video of the sun setting/rising behind a silhouette of the pyramids at Giza so many times (whoever shot that footage is a millionaire).

I assigned a chapter on kingship from Wilkinson’s Early Dynastic Egypt. It’s long but an easy read and interesting if only by merit of not being a typical regurgitation of Egyptian history. I’m also going to draw from two theory-based articles to do the compare-contrast thing: The Symbolic Mechanisms of Sacred Kingship: Rediscovering Frazer by Luc de Heusch and Agriculture and the Origins of the State in Ancient Egypt by Robert C. Allen. The latter article caught my fancy because as many of you know, agriculture is my thing and I can’t not talk about it at every opportunity (I can’t explain the fascination with farming and subsistence so don’t ask!). So those two take of the theory aspect of my discussion. Finally, for a case study I plan on talking a little about my favorite Egyptian pharaoh, Akhenaten. I like this cat because he was revolutionary and gave a big middle finger to the whole Egyptian religious tradition.

This is really only the second time I’ve led a class and although it’s only for an hour out of a three-hour meeting, it’s keeping me busy. I have a new respect for all you college professors who do this consistently. Intro classes I can see being on the easy side but making a graduate seminar interesting on a weekly basis is a feat in itself. Any secrets of the trade I need to know about?

Posted by Will at 03:09 PM

February 02, 2006

AP Photo of the Year (in my book at least)

I found the following file image in an AP news story about Amazon.com's low 4th quarter earnings. Not particularly funny or anything, I just throught it amusing (and depressing) that I became visibly excited over seeing a load of Amazon.com boxes in one place. I am certainly NOT the cause of Amazon's 4Q shortfall (they only made a meager $199 million).

amazonboxes.jpg

Posted by Will at 10:05 PM | Comments (1)

Introducing Will's Notes and Clips

I use a service called Bloglines to manage the 90 or so RSS/Atom feeds that I read on a regular or semi-regular basis. This web-based aggregator includes a blog tool that I haven't really found a use for until now. As sort of an offshoot of Nomadic Thoughts I'm launching Will's Notes and Clips, an offsite blog that will have links to news stories and blog posts that I find interesting. Posting is effortless within Bloglines and it will allow anyone with a disturbing amount of free time on their hands to see what I'm reading and following on the web. And if you really want to creep me out, it has an RSS feed of its own. It also contains my complete blogroll (the relevant ones are on the left sidebar). It couldn't be more self-serving, but isn't everything in life these days? Enjoy!

Posted by Will at 07:15 PM | Comments (1)

Remains found in Coastal North Carolina

There's an interesting news story in a Jacksonville, NC newspaper about some remains that were found Sneads Ferry, parts of which have rather wealthy developments (I assume this is one of them). It was a fine article until I read this part:

The discovery excited Patty Whaley who has lived in Chadwick Shores for seven years.
“I can see why they settled here,” Whaley said. “It’s beautiful here.”
Whaley lives across the street from where the remains were discovered.
“If I was that homeowner, I’d be excited,” she said. “It’s just part of our history. It’s not anything gross or scary. It’s just life.”

(By the way, I am rolling my eyes)
Full story here.

Posted by Will at 09:15 AM

February 01, 2006

Here, there, and everywhere

You can tell the semester is well underway because several days have passed without a substantive blog post. Plus I returned on Sunday night from spending the weekend in Savannah with the lady. Nice city, lots of history, but very touristy. Things haven’t been too crazy yet, but like last semester it’s the calm before the storm. On Monday I am leading a 45-minute class discussion/presentation in the Ancient States course I am taking. The week’s overarching topic is kingship and my specific discussion will focus on dynastic Egypt. Fortunately, I am coming off the heels of last semester’s Chiefdoms course, 1/3 of which was devoted to kingship. I’m not an expert on Egypt but know enough to teach a little on it and make it relevant. I wonder if there’s any information out there about Egypt...

Also, I'm starting to zero in on some thesis research to carry out this summer in Honduras. I'm looking to do sort of an ethnoarchaological or landscape archaeology thing at a site called Palos Blancos in northwest Honduras. Palos Blancos is currently a small, close-knit community of farmers and their families. I'm currently doing a broad review of the literature and hope to read everything I can get my hands on about PCAP and the archaeology that has already been done in and around Palos Blancos (including Palmarejo, where the field school takes place).

Posted by Will at 06:12 PM

What does your birthday mean?

Via Afarensis:

Your Birthdate: October 1
You are a natural born leader, even if those leadership talents haven't been developed yet.
You have the power and self confidence to succeed in life, and your power grows daily.
Besides power, you also have a great deal of creativity that enables you to innovate instead of fail.
You are a visionary, seeing the big picture instead of all of the trivial little details.

Your strength: Your supreme genius

Your weakness: Your inappropriate sensitivity

Your power color: Gold

Your power symbol: Star

Your power month: January
What Does Your Birth Date Mean?

Posted by Will at 12:12 PM