Category: UIUC Anth Faculty Interviews

gottlieb_grahamMay 7, 2013 event, 7pm, at Common Good Books. “Anthropology and narrative nonfiction come together in a fascinating look at life in West Africa. In a compelling mix of braidedworldsliterary narrative and ethnography, anthropologist Alma Gottlieb and writer Philip Graham continue the long journey of cultural engagement with the Beng people of Côte d’Ivoire that they first recounted in their award-winning memoir Parallel Worlds. Their commitment over the span of several decades has lent them a rare insight. Weaving their own stories with those of the villagers of Asagbé and Kosangbé, Gottlieb and Graham take turns recounting a host of unexpected dramas with these West African villages, prompting serious questions about the fraught nature of cultural contact.” Read the full event announcement online at Common Good Books.

Prof. Kathryn ClancyFrom Science magazine online, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science — “Fieldwork is a rite of passage for anthropologists. It gives the initiate firsthand knowledge of a culture, along with a feeling of camaraderie with colleagues, often in remote and rugged locations. But for women there is also a dark side — a risk of sexual harassment and rape, according to a survey of fieldwork experiences released today. Anthropologist Kathryn Clancy, who authored the study, found a disturbingly high incidence of physical sexual harassment among respondents: More than 20% of female bioanthropologists who took part said that they had experienced ‘physical sexual harassment or unwanted sexual contact.’ Most of these victims are female, and most of the perpetrators were colleagues of superior professional status, sometimes the victim’s own fieldwork mentor.” Read the full article online (by John Bohannon, Science, April 13, 2013), and another article by the UIUC News Bureau, both with links to Prof. Clancy’s Context and Variation blog for Scientific American.

“Lessons From the Ancient Maya” by Lisa Lucero

Co-sponsored by IPRH and the Chicago Humanities Festival

Date: November 11, 2012; Time: 3:00 p.m.

Location: First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, 77 West Washington Street, Chicago

University of Illinois archeologist Lisa Lucero has been digging up the secrets of the ancient Maya for more than 20 years. Her most far-reaching discovery, though, is a recent one and carries implications for our own era. At the height of Maya Classic culture, around the year 800, several multiyear droughts may have hastened the end of the civilization’s ruling kings. Lucero’s research centers on the resilience and water management practices of the commoners, helping us understand the importance of rituals, strategy, and conservation to their ingenuity and perseverance. Hear her talk about the ideas Maya history may offer for present-day sustainability.

For program details and ticket information, visit the Chicago Humanities Festival website

Read a related CHF blog post about this program by intern Tara McGovern, who is a student of Lisa Lucero’s.


“How Did We Get Here?” A Conversation with Ripan Malhi, with Stephanie Levi

Co-sponsored by IPRH and the Chicago Humanities Festival

Date: November 10, 2012; Time: 4:00 p.m.

Location: Claudia Cassidy Theater at the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 East Randolph Street, Chicago

When did humans come to the Americas? And how? Those are some of the oldest (and greatest) questions of anthropology. Theories abound, but they are obsolete. Over the last few years, new genetic research technologies have upended our understanding, suggesting an intriguing model that turns on multitiered colonizations along with settlements in Beringa. University of Illinois professor Ripan Malhi is at the forefront of this scholarly revolution, which also involves the development of novel research collaborations with native communities. Malhi discusses his research with Stephanie Levi, founder of Science Is Sexy, which gives Chicagoan nonscientists and scientists alike a short, sweet taste of science in their everyday lives through a series of public events.

This program is generously underwritten by Colette and John Rau.

For program details and ticket information, visit the Chicago Humanities Festival website


Mahir Saul. Photo By Emrah Gürel, Hurriyet Daily News,

Mahir Saul: Debunker of African Stereotypes

By Khalid Halhoul, Utne Reader

November/December 2012

When it comes to African film, even the most avid film watchers’ minds draw a blank. African titles never make the final cut in all-time-great film lists. It’s this void that Dr. Mahir Saul wants to fill, and break stereotypes along the way.

Saul’s affection for Africa is rooted in Turkey, developed in the United States, and sealed during numerous anthropological research trips to Africa. Last winter, it came full circle when he introduced African film, for the first time, to eager Istanbul Museum of Modern Art audiences.

Saul, 62, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign anthropology professor, grew up in Istanbul — a city situated in Europe and Asia, bisected by the Bosphorus Strait, and known for its past rich cultural diversity. “When I was a kid, it was normal to hear four or five languages on the streets, the baker spoke Armenian, the vegetable vendor spoke Greek, and our neighbors might be speaking Italian,” he says, matter-of-factly, like someone in rural America should have experienced the same.

Saul’s anthropology path was circuitous and accidental. Odds were that he should have become a shirt salesman like his father. Instead, in 1968, he happened upon the Turkish Folklore Society, a hip, intellectual Boy Scouts-like institution devoted to dance, music, and research publications. With a prominent folklorist’s encouragement, he then studied economics at Bogaziçi University, joined Indiana University’s respected Turkish Program as a master’s student, and eventually became an anthropology PhD candidate. Saul selected Africa, the world’s second largest continent, because he could meld his French skills, economics education, folklore background, and heritage. Saul was tailored for the region.

Read this full article on Utne Reader online.

Also see a related article by Utne Reader about Prof. Saul’s work entitled “12 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World in 2012.”

Our Department takes great pleasure in welcoming Dr. Jessica Greenberg (PhD, University of Chicago), as a new faculty member. Jessica’s research focuses on the anthropology of democracy, post-revolutionary politics, youth, postsocialist studies, and political communication. Her research on student activists in post-revolutionary Serbia has led her to track and analyze the conditions of possibility for transformative politics in the post-Cold War period, and the ways in which contemporary democracies are shaped by the imaginaries and expectations of earlier political forms and practices. In addition to recent articles in journals such as American Anthropologist, she is currently finishing her first book, entitled After the Revolution: Youth, Democracy and the Politics of Disappointment in Postsocialist Serbia.

The Department of Anthropology is delighted to welcome Dr. Andrew Bauer (PhD, University of Chicago), as a new faculty member.  Andrew is an archaeologist whose work focuses on the complexities of human-environment interactions.  His research and teaching interests interweave historical ecology, geoarchaeology, and the anthropology of spaces, places, and landscapes.  Andrew has conducted fieldwork in Turkey, Iran, and the United States, but his primary research is based in South India, where he co-directs an archaeological project investigating the relationships between landscape history and the creation and maintenance of social inequalities during the region’s Iron Age and Early Historic periods.  In addition to his numerous scholarly publications, Andrew’s work in India has also been featured in popular media coverage such as Archaeology magazine.

Ceramic Fragments Point to Artistry in the Ice Age

By Alana Mitchell, New York Times

Published online, September 10, 2012

We know them best for their stone tools and intrepid mammoth hunting. But new discoveries in Croatia suggest that ice age humans made evocative ceramic art far more regularly than once believed.

Thirty-six fragments of fired clay, excavated in the Vela Spila cave on an island off the Adriatic coast, make up the second-largest collection found so far of the earliest human experiments with ceramic art. They are 15,000 to 17,500 years old — the first European evidence of ceramic art after the ice sheets stopped spreading.

The oldest and largest collection, made about 30,000 years ago and found in the Czech Republic, includes a famously corpulent nude figurine known as the Venus of Dolni Vestonice. Apart from that, little fired ceramic art remains from the time before the explosion of ceramic pot-making 10,000 years ago, after the ice sheets retreated and early humans settled down to farm.

That led paleontologists to believe that ceramic art was uncommon among the highly mobile people of the ice age. But Rebecca Farbstein, the University of Cambridge archaeologist who described the Croatian collection in a recent paper in the journal PLoS One, said the work was not so unusual after all.

“The history of ceramic technology is longer and more diverse than we originally thought,” she said.

The most lifelike piece found at Vela Spila (the term is Croatian for big cave) is the tiny dark brown torso and foreleg of an animal, possibly a horse or deer, complete with a smooth, anatomically correct hole in its rear. But when the piece was uncovered in 2001, the team stuffed it into a bag without identification.

“It was overlooked because no one expected to find ceramics in the Paleolithic,” Dr. Farbstein said.

Five years later, someone looked in the bag and realized what the figure was. When scientists went back to the cave that year to excavate further, they found the other 35 ceramic art pieces.

Olga Soffer, an emerita professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois who has worked on the Czech ceramics, said the find reinforced the idea that ceramic work — a major, complex technological breakthrough in human history — was invented for art rather than utility.

In turn, that helps flesh out the modern understanding of how early human minds worked: more metaphor, less blood.

“Life was lived by more than stone spear point,” Dr. Soffer said. “It gets us away from the Hemingway, mega-macho male stuff.”

Dr. Farbstein said her analysis of the Vela Spila findings suggested that the inhabitants of the cave independently developed their own form of ceramic art more than 10,000 years after the Czech invention.

Read the full New York Times article here.

The Chicago Tribune

By Mark Caro, April 10, 2012

“The Chicago Humanities Festival will look for America this fall, and an eclectic array of speakers and performers will be joining the search.”

“The festival on Tuesday announced its 23rd annual theme, ‘America,’ as well as its first batch of presenters. It includes world-renowned Alinea and Next chef Grant Achatz, who will discuss his innovative work in the context of American and international cuisines; New York Times columnist David Brooks, who will deliver the annual Franke Lecture on Economics; baritone Nathan Gunn, who recently starred in the Lyric Opera’s ‘Show Boat’ and will sing and discuss selections from the Great American Songbook; New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, who will address what Americans can learn from French cuisine; Stanford University Vice Provost Harry Elam discussing playwright August Wilson’s contributions to American theater and culture; and presentations by Brown University Africana Studies professor Tricia Rose (who wrote the influential 1994 book ‘Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America’), architectural historian Gwendolyn Wright (who co-hosts PBS’ ‘History Detectives’) and historian Charles Mann (who wrote the acclaimed ‘1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus’).”

“The main chunk of the festival runs Nov. 1-11, which means that Election Day, Nov. 6, falls smack in the middle of it. Humanities Festival artistic director Matti Bunzl said Tuesday that he viewed that elephant (or donkey) in the room as the jumping-off point for programming this year’s events.”

“’For me the selling point was, what should an election be?’ he said on the phone from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he is an anthropology professor. ‘What it should be, to me, is a conversation about the past, present and future of the country, and that’s an intellectual, cultural and historical conversation. That’s what the festival will be. It will be the kind of conversation the election should be but can’t be because of the reality of politics.’”

Ripan Malhi will also participate in the Festival events, presenting insights from his work in genetics and our understanding of the peopling of the Americas.

Read the full Tribune article, and learn more from Matti’s overview on the Festival web site.

Chris Fennell presented invited talks on developments in African diaspora archaeology, the New Philadelphia archaeology project, and the Edgefield pottery communities archaeology project in June, 2012 at the National University of Taiwan and Academica Sinica in Taipei and in August at the University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape.

%d bloggers like this: