Thursday, April 28, 2011

day of archaeology project

I just said I wouldn't blog much for the next few weeks, but here's a quick link to an interesting project "Day of Archaeology". The project will post reports from archaeologists around the world on July 29, 2011. If you're interested in participating, check out the webpage.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

life post

I may not blog much for the next few weeks. My grandmother died, so I'm heading home for the funeral. She was a second mother to me, so her loss is hard. But, as a friend said, one of the only good things about Alzheimer's is that your loved-one's death is a blessing, by the time it happens.

I'm leaving for Europe two days after I return from the funeral, then I have five days to grade everything from the semester and turn in final grades. I leave a few days later for 2.5 months at my favorite museum, having fun with big game and enjoying my old grad-school haunts.

I hope to be blogging once I'm settled in Old Grad Town, but I may not blog much before that. I hope you all have a good end to your semester!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

weekly accountability: April 24-30

I have survived taking on that extra class! My colleague has returned and will be in the classroom this week. I'm so happy she's back (for her own sake!), and thrilled to be handing over that burden.

I didn't get much done this week, except planning some of the logistics for my research trips this summer. I hope to have more time to focus on research this week.

Goals for this week: I need to finish the review of a manuscript by Wednesday, and organize my European trip.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

anthropological merchandizing

In light of Zahi Hawass' decision to market his own line of men's clothing (see comment here), today's post features other branding attempts by famous anthropologists:

Margaret Mead - The famous cultural anthropologist capitalized on her fame to sell a line of sex aids under the "My Samoan Sweetheart" brand. After her death, the material was rebranded as the "Troubled Teen" line.

Clifford Geertz ran a successful sports equipment business, selling many items of his own design, including Masculine Ideal(TM) brand sports padding, and Sometimes-a-stick-is-just-a-stick (TM) hockey equipment.

Brian Fagan - Arguably the most widely-known archaeologist (as opposed to Jared Diamond, who is the most widely known person thought to be an archaeologist), Fagan has lent his name to a line of mass-produced replicas of archaeological kitch.

Sidney Mintz - Teacups

Betty Meggers marketed a line of jigsaw puzzles for children. Some of her puzzles have been described as too complex for children, but Meggers denies this, saying that 1,000-piece puzzles are just the result of 6-piece puzzles breaking apart during importation from Japan.

Ian Hodder - Hodder's popular line of reading glasses come with two possible lens types: clearly biased, and pre-printed with jargon. There has been talk of expanding the line, but Hodder recently fired his merchandising team, so his future direction is unclear.

Milford Wolpoff - The famous perfume company, Lancome, created a line of seven different scents for the famous paleoanthropologist. But Dr. Wolpoff feels the scents aren't sufficiently different to warrant unique names, so he has lumped them together under one. He calls the scent "Dimorphism".

I thought of a good one for Binford, but it's too soon.

Monday, April 18, 2011

landscape vs. environment

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, by Caspar David Friedrich (1818)

A well-known historical ecologist once commented on a paper of mine, essentially, "if you just replaced the word 'environment' with 'landscape', you'd be an historical ecologist. Try it, it's easy!"*

He was (kind of) kidding, but he brought up a good point. Does an environment by any other name have the same analytical usefulness?

"Landscape" and "environment" have profoundly different connotations in English, ones that mirror the different foci of historical ecology vs., say, behavioral ecology, or other "environmentally" focused theoretical perspectives. We, as American or European archaeologists, are steeped in the Western binary worldview that separates "nature" from "culture", the "raw" from the "cooked". Even though we are often aware of the ways in which this worldview is incomplete or misleading, we still fall into fallacies based on this perspective. The word "environment" has long had connotations of "nature", in opposition to "culture". While we now discuss "urban environments", and we recognize that "environmental influences" includes more than climate and vegetation regimes, the binary thinking is still present, unless very explicitly combated.

"Landscape", on the other hand, includes connotations of the embeddedness of people within their physical and social world, and the on-going dialectic between people and their surroundings, just as classic landscape paintings included "natural" and "cultural" elements, if only because the painter's eye brought the image to canvas and interpreted it for the audience. "Landscapes" can be heavily anthropic, or lightly modified; they can be vast or minute; they can be imbued with symbolism or meaningless backdrops to daily life. As such, I argue, they represent a more significant and useful analytical tool than environments.

*I tried it. It was easy. I now consider myself an historical ecologist (but not just for that reason!)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

weekly accountability: April 17-23

Good news! The colleague whose class I've taken over will probably be back in the classroom within two weeks. I'm happy to have been able to help her, but I'm also looking forward to dropping down to only 12 credits of teaching. I calculated the other day that I have over 10% of Tiny U's student body in my classes at the moment. Ack!

More good news! The last of our snow has melted (and then we got another couple of inches Friday, but it melted too.) Sure, there's snow in the forecast all week, but winter is (mostly) finished, and with it the threat of school cancellations and the worst of the cold and flu season. We have gone a couple of weeks now without any illness. (I don't count Pumpkin's runny nose, since he seems fine, otherwise.)

I got a little done on the logistics of my research trip this summer, and managed to finish some grading. The count-down to summer has begun, and I expect a lot more progress when I'm done with this semester. Can't wait!

Friday, April 15, 2011

my new song

A few years ago, when I was first on the job market, there was a funny thread on the Chronicle Forums where job applicants were picking their academic job market theme song. (I thought the funniest was "16 tons, what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt.")

If I'd know about this song, it would have been my choice:

Maybe I'll be the special one who doesn't get burned!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Binford's legacy

Yesterday, I mentioned the impact of Binford's publications. But surely his greatest legacy is through his students. He was influential in the careers of a great many archaeologists, who were themselves very influential.

I had hoped to put together an academic geneaology, mapping out the Binford patriline. Unfortunately, it is very hard to find information about his students on-line, and my personal knowledge is patchy (and highly incriminating of my identity, not that most of you don't know that already!). I was able to find the following list of Binford's students at the University of New Mexico, which represents the bulk of his career.

P.R. Schultz
Robert Vierra
Alan Osborn (Nebraska State Museum)
R.F Schalk (Cascadia Archaeology)
W.H.G. Morgan
Richard Chapman (New Mexico Office of Contract Archaeology)
Rosalind Hunter-Anderson
Robin Torrence (Australia Museum)
Robert Hitchcock (Michigan State University)
Larry Todd (Colorado State)
EL Camille
James Ebert
Galen Burgett
Robert Hard (UT San Antonio)
Mark Stiger (Western State University, CO)
Michael Smyth (Rollins College)
Martha Graham
SL Larraide
Ronald Kneebone
David Rapson
Mary Stiner (Arizona)
Steven Kuhn (Arizona)
James Enloe (Iowa)
Alexandra Roberts
Neale Draper
R. Wojcik
Dan Amick (Loyola)
Anna Backer
D. Oswald (Prescott College)
Matthew Schmader
RP Mauldin (UT San Antonio)
Wiliam Doleman
Mark Lycett (University of Chicago)
C. Carrillo
Russell Greaves

My apologies to those whose affiliation I do not list, or if I have it incorrect. Many of Binford's students are working in CRM or government jobs, and have been very influential through their publications and interactions with other scholars. I didn't include those affiliations here, just because my original intent was to put together an academic pedigree chart, so I was interested in Binford's students' students. That turned out to be impossible, but just from this partial list of his students, it's clear he's left a significant legacy.

If I remember correctly, Bob Whalen (University of Michigan), Jim Brown (Northwestern), and Stuart Streuver (Northwestern), were also students of Binford's at Chicago. I don't know any of his students from SMU. Clearly, the list above is just the tip of the iceberg.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

blogging Binford

In wake of Lewis Binford's death, I've been thinking about his legacy. What were his most important publications? I believe Constructing Frames of Reference will be seen as his magnum opus, but his co-edited (with Sally Binford) volume New Perspectives in Archaeology, probably had more impact on the direction of the field as a whole.

In my work, I most frequently cited his "Post-Pleistocene Adaptations" (1968) article, or "Willow Smoke and Dogs' Tails" (1980). The work that was most influential to me, though, was Bones: Ancient Men and Modern Myths, not for the actual data, which doesn't do much for a neolithicist, but for his approach to data and myth-busting.

Not everyone felt or appreciated the legacy of Lewis Binford. One of my graduate professors excoriated him in class on a regular basis, because "those utility indices as stuff are just worthless." (I'm sure they are, to someone whose primary research is on Southwestern pottery.) But for those of us in the environmentally-focused branches of the field, he had a profound influence, whether or not you follow in his theoretical footprints.

1968 New Perspectives in Archaeology. Co-edited with S.R. Binford, Aldine Publishing Company, Chicago.

1968 Post-Pleistocene Adaptations. In New Perspectives in Archaeology. Co-edited with S.R. Binford, pp. 313-341. Aldine Publishing Company, Chicago.

1978 Nunamiut Ethnoarchaeology. Academic Press, New York.

1980 Willow Smoke and Dogs' Tails: Hunter-Gatherer Settlement Systems and Archaeological Site Formation. American Antiquity 45:4-20.

1981 Bones: Ancient Men & Modern Myths. Academic Press, London.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

mourning Binford

Last SAAs he was looking frail. This SAAs, he was conspicuously absent. Now word comes that he has died. Through the rules of academic fictive kinship, he was my grandfather (my advisor's advisor). Whether you agreed with him or not (and he certainly had his personal flaws), he had a great influence on the field. I lectured this morning on his impact on the study of human evolution.


Monday, April 11, 2011

a whine

Last night, I considered putting this as my Facebook status:

Which of these should I give up?
a. parenting
b. teaching
c. research
d. my health and sanity

Then I decided, who the hell am I kidding? The answer is so obvious! So I finished the carton of ice cream in the freezer.

Only 26 days until I get the f$%k out of Dodge.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

weekly accountability: April 10-17

Teaching is going to take over (even more of) my life this week. I have two exams to finish grading, and two more to write for Friday. My exams are a mix of multiple choice, fill in the blank, and a short essay. In the class I took over for a colleague, however, the exams are 8 essay questions. Students typically fill an entire blue book answering them. There are 60 students in the class. The exams are scheduled for every 3 weeks. I don't know how she manages!*

I did submit an internal grant application last week, and I worked out some logistics for my research this summer. Otherwise, I graded and worked on class prep.

This coming week, I'll write exams, grade exams, and curse exams.
*OK, she manages because she doesn't have two preschoolers, and she isn't teaching two even bigger introductory classes at the same time.

Friday, April 8, 2011

teachable moment (or thanks for the educational opportunity, "gay caveman")

We just finished gender in my cultural anthropology class, so the story about the "gay caveman" was well timed. In class today, we covered the facts, briefly. The individual was neither a "caveman" nor demonstrably "gay". Discuss. We talked about what it means to be "gay", what is "third gender", the difference between "gender role", "sex", and "sexual orientation". This was all good review.

But the best discussion centered on why this story made headlines around the world. After all, we know there are gay men in the modern U.S., why should we be shocked to find there were gay men in the ancient Czech Republic (whether or not this burial represents such an individual)? We talked about what the term "caveman" represents in our society, and agreed the term is used as either a reflection of our mythical "natural" state, or of the "nasty, brutish" side of our species (or both). So what would it mean if we discovered gay cavemen? I pointed out that it's not exactly a newsflash that sexual orientation has both biological and social components, but my students argued that the this story reflects fundamental concerns with whether homosexuality is "natural". My students were reassuringly savvy consumers of the media message, and clearly picked up on the modern political currents swirling around this archaeological find.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


If you've never searched for your own name on Facebook, I recommend it. I found a comment that a former student wrote about me on a current student's page. She was complimentary, saying she'd like to take more classes with me, because I'm "a great storyteller."

I never consciously decided to make story-telling one of my primary methods of teaching. That comes out of my own interest in stories. Before college, I wanted to be a history major. Most of my high school classmates viewed history as a boring collection of dates and facts, but to me it was a collection of stories. People's lives are endlessly fascinating, and real life is more unique, idiosyncratic, and fun than fiction, if only, as Twain said, because fiction has to make sense.

Embedding the perfect story into your lecture does three things for your students: 1) it wakes them up, by interrupting the normal rhythm of the lecture; 2) it engages them with the material, since story-telling is more intimate than "just the facts" lectures; and 3) it helps them remember concepts through applied examples. Add a story to your lecture, and I guarantee you will find that story repeated in half the essays on the next exam.

Usually the stories I tell are true (or true enough), but I've experimented with students telling fictional stories as a pedagogical technique. For the final project in my Latin American archaeology class, students have the option of writing a standard term paper or creating a short, fictionalized account of a prehistoric context, one that brings the archaeological record to life in a way that no research paper ever could.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

continuing family friendly culture

I've mentioned before that Tiny U has a family-friendly culture, but not family-friendly policies. Under the circumstances, one person in a key administrative position can make a big difference.

Our department chair is wonderful, and has gone to the mat for families time and time again. She is leaving for greener pastures, so we're choosing the next chair. The Dean formed a committee, and last week they asked faculty to submit criteria that the chair should fulfill. I immediately wrote an e-mail asking that the next chair be aware of - and an advocate for - family needs, in order to make this a more inclusive university.

I'm not surprised that the committee did not include my suggestion among the criteria they will use to chose the next chair. But, I hope my e-mail will keep the topic in their minds when they make their selection.
UPDATE: The committee announced the final candidates for department chair, and it turns out there's only one person stupid enough, er, that is, willing to serve. She's a wonderful person who will do an exemplary job, and is very supportive of our family-friendly culture. Yay!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

back from Sacramento

I had a wonderful SAAs. I am inspired, and reminded of why I love this field in the first place. (Hint: it's not the huge pile of grading on my desk!)

The zooarchaeological highlights of the meeting were the sessions in honor of John Speth, who is retiring (mostly to avoid his own pile of grading), and Lee Lyman, who was honored with the Fryxell award. Not all of the Spethtacular papers were on fauna, but it was impressive to see the range of research that he had affected. I believe that fauna can speak to any aspect of society, and Speth's career, to some extent, shows that to be true.

On a personal note: remember the colleague in a related discipline whose class I'm covering while she's on maternity leave? Due to complications, she's not going to be back next week as planned, so I'm keeping on with the higher load. I am not complaining. I'd much rather be in my shoes than hers, even if I have to finish the semester with this class. I do worry about the students, who wanted a specialist in the other field, and are stuck with an anthropologist.