Museum-ing with Dustin

Abe Vigoda as Pre-Columbian artifact

Image by dustin_wax via Flickr

Going on three months ago now, my life took a drastic turn (for the better!). After several years of struggling along as an adjunct professor and freelance writer (financially rewarding, creatively deadening…) I stumbled into a job as the registrar of the UNLV Barrick Museum. Having worked in museums before, done a fellowship at the Smithsonian as part of my dissertation research, and taken museum studies courses as electives in grad school, I clearly had hopes of one day working in a museum, but given the paucity of museums in Las Vegas I hadn’t thought that “one day” would come along so soon! [Continue reading] »

Today Is My 10th Anniversary as a Blogger

Bulle champagne

Image via Wikipedia

I started blogging on November 2nd of 2000 with a carefully crafted analysis of supreme court nominations by previous presidents, in response to anti-Nader campaigning that promised Nader supporters that their support would spell the end of abortion rights in the US. That post has been lost to history (and a bad webhosting service); the oldest post I still have (Sierra Club Goes Anti-Green) was written the following day, again as a defense of the Nader campaign.

2000 was the very dawn of the blogging era — as far as I know (or knew at the time), there was not yet such a thing as “blogging software”, and certainly nothing as elegant as WordPress. Over the years, this blog (originally called “One Man’s Opinion” until that issue with the bad webhosting service allowed my domain to slip away from me) has moved from a collection of hand-coded HTML pages (what a PAIN!) to Bloxsom to Pivot to Drupal and finally to WordPress as of earlier this year. From the beginning, it’s been not just a place to express myself but also a way to explore the latest web technologies, from early third-party commenting and blogrolling services to today’s Twitter integration and WordPress themes and plug-ins. Along the way I’ve learned basic web design principles, a smattering of Javascript and PHP, and of course HTML 4 and CSS. [Continue reading] »

Review of Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War in Critique of Anthropology

After a year-and-a-half, Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War has finally gotten reviewed in an academic journal. Dr. Heonik Kwon, author of several books and articles about the wars in Vietnam and Korean, as well as the forthcoming Columbia University Press book The Decomposition of the Cold War, writes in Critique of Anthropology:

Wax and other contributors to the volume should be congratulated not only for telling their colleagues about anthropology’s hidden past during the early Cold War, but also for opening a new way to investigate the shape of the Cold War political-intellectual complex.

It’s a positive review overall (yay!) although Kwon does highlight an unfortunate omissions, the role of the Korean War. I had actually wanted to include something about the Korean War, but hadn’t found the person to write it. One question that really interests me is how the essentially 12-year-long military extraction of men from the US population affected the gender balance of the US academy (and particularly the social sciences) — whether it opened the way for more women (as the late Mike Salovesh once suggested to me) or whether it was balanced by the increased percentage of men entering the academy through the GI Bill.

The review is at:

Heonik KwonBook Review: Dustin M. Wax ed., Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War: The Influence of Foundations, McCarthyism and the CIA. London: Pluto Press, 2008. Critique of Anthropology 2010 30: 232-233.

If you have access to SagePub (directly or through an academic database like EBSCO), you can get the PDF at Critique of Anthropology.

Whiteness as Ethnicity in Arizona’s New Racial Order

I’ve just posted a few comments on Arizona’s recent legislative attack on ethnic studies at Savage Minds. It started as a post for this site, but as I got into the argument it seemed more appropriate to post there. The nutshell version is: Traditional US history, literature, and civics classes are clearly in violation of Arizona’s new HB 2281, which prohibits courses that “promote resentment towards a race or class” or that “advocate ethnic solidarity”. In fact, the law itself, based as it is on a notion of “Americanness” that clearly excludes Americans of Hispanic origin, does both.

Read the rest at Savage Minds.

Coming Soon:

Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency, edited by John D. Kelly, Beatrice Jauregui, Sean T. Mitchell, and Jeremy Walton, is available for pre-order on Amazon and will be released in both paperback and hardcover on April 1st. Based on the proceedings of the Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency conference at the University of Chicago in 2008, the book explores not just current counterinsurgency efforts but the relationship between anthropology and the military and state intelligence apparatus in general. My essay in the book, “The Uses of Anthropology in the Insurgent Age”, takes a historical look at state uses of anthropology to explore the many failure points that make it difficult, if not impossible, for anthropologists to work effectively under military/intelligence auspices.

Although not all presentations are included, audio from many of the presentations at the conference (including mine) is available on the U of Chicago’s Center for International Studies website.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-02-21

Kevin signing autographs @ the View Askew boot...

Image via Wikipedia

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-02-14

  • Just came across a wah-wah pedal I have NEVER used before (bought right before a move and forgot about it). Oh my, it just got funky here! #
  • The Publishing Process Explained http://ff.im/-fAU3z #
  • Just came across an “Ethics of ANthropology” syllabus online that’s 129 pages long! Includes 100 pages of bibliography. #
  • NV faces an $882m budget shortfall. Here are 4 solutions and a petition, in lieu of gutting our state. http://bit.ly/cz3zZY #
  • Every now and then I remember that I’m an anthropologist and post at SavageMinds.org. Tomorrow, a cultural analysis of food allergies. #
  • Also, posting Intro to Anthropology “pre-lectures” at dwax.org. Sort of thinking through topics I’m preparing to lecture on. #
  • Super Bowl Ads Star Pathetic Men and The Women Who Ruined Them http://bit.ly/aBKOoL – “Masculinity under attack” is the zeitgeist of our era #
  • Food Allergies and Modern Life | Savage Minds http://ff.im/-fEoEC #
  • RT @MuseumofCityNY: Untitled [Jewish Book Shop on Orchard Street], ca. 1945, Andreas Feininger http://bit.ly/ctSGWM #
  • @PjPerez Public protest is a gateway drug to activism, voting. Most politicians don’t care about young people, so only extremes get attn. in reply to PjPerez # [Continue reading] »

Anthropology and Culture

This is part of  a series of posts I wrote for an Introduction to Anthropology blog I kept for my students. That site got eaten in the Great LeafyHost Collapse of 2006, but I’ve held onto the content backups in the hopes of someday reposting it. Finally I realized that it was unlikely I’d get the whole site back up, so I’m reposting the content here.

Franz Boas posing for figure in USNM (National...
Image via Wikipedia

When we encounter a group of people like the Shakers, there often seems to be an insurmountable wall between “us” and “them”. The practices of other people often seem so incomprehensible that we describe a “cultural barrier” standing between us (or a “language barrier” or a “gender barrier” — differences of all sorts can seem like a wall that prevents any kind of understanding). Anthropologists are, primarily, facilitators of communication across those walls — which, it usually emerges, exist more in our heads than in the real world.

Although anthropology as a professional, academic discipline did not emerge until the 19th century, seeds of it can be found deep in the world’s history. Herodotus, a Greek historian who travelled through the regions conquered by the Greeks in the 5th century BC, wrote about the culture of the verious peoples he encountered in a way that many see as anthropological. Ibn Khaldun, a 14th c. North African Arab scholar, did the same as he travelled through Europe. In a sense, we all do anthropology all the time, whenever we are confronted with difference and try to overcome it (whether between us and the people around the world, or us and our neighbors, spouses, and friends), or whenever we consider the things that hold us together as a community and make us different from other communities. But most of us lack the disciplinary knowledge and methodology to make much sense out of the differences and similarities we come across — this kind of “anthropologising” comes more out of unconsidered biases and prejudice than any real comparison of depth of knowledge. [Continue reading] »

Posts in this series:

  1. Introduction to Anthropology
  2. The Shakers
  3. Anthropology and Culture

The Shakers

Shaker Brother Ricardo Belden, making wooden o...

Image via Wikipedia

In Part 2 of my “Introduction to Anthropology” series, I mention the Shakers, so I thought I’d post some information about them.

My favorite resource is the the absolutely stunning documentary film, Ken Burns’ America: The Shakers. The homepage includes a timeline of Shaker history, links to online resources about the Shakers, and a pair of video clips from the movie.

For further information on the Shakers, visit the homepage of the Canterbury Shaker Village, a museum reproducing life in a typical Shaker village.

The article, “Living A Tradition”, was originally published in Smithsonian magazine, and is available online here. There are three “sidebars” — “I Was A Teenage Shaker”, a gallery of Shaker crafts, and a collection of Shaker recipes.

Introduction to Anthropology

This is the first in a series of posts I wrote for an Introduction to Anthropology blog I kept for my students. That site got eaten in the Great LeafyHost Collapse of 2006, but I’ve held onto the content backups in the hopes of someday reposting it. Finally I realized that it was unlikely I’d get the whole site back up, so I’m reposting the content here.

full photo of Gobustan rock drawing

Image via Wikipedia

Read Horace Miner’s classic essay, “Body Ritual among the Nacirema”. The Nacirema are strange, alien, maybe even a little exotic. For many readers, a sense of superiority is felt — the way the Nacirema live seems inefficient, superstitious, backwards, primitive, even silly. Be that as it may, the thing that stands out for most anthropologists is that no matter how odd the customs of a group of people might seem to an outside observer, somehow the group manages to get along — those customs must , in some way, make sense to the people who practice them. It is our job, as anthropologists, to determine what sense they make: why people do the things they do, why there is so much diversity in the practices, beliefs, and lifestyles of people around the world, how various practices are invented, spread, and challenged in various communities, how societies create a sense of “belonging” in the people who make them up — how people in general live in this world of ours.

To do that, anthropologists have divided their work into four subfields, each of which looks at humans and human behavior from a different perspective, but all of which are, ultimately, necessary to fully understand who we are. Physical anthropologists are concerned with the biological make-up of the human body — how did it evolve, what are it’s limits and possibilities, what do we have in common as a species, and what variations exist between various populations? Linguistic anthropologists are concerned with the use of language to create and convey meaning between people. Archaeologists look at the material traces humans have left — their bones, ruins, and artifacts — to understand our past and, increasingly, our present.

The fourth subfield, cultural anthropology, is the subject of these posts.  [Continue reading] »

Posts in this series:

  1. Introduction to Anthropology
  2. The Shakers
  3. Anthropology and Culture