anthropology & archaeology & the public

Kimberley Dawn Weinbender (kdw123@MAIL.USASK.CA)
Tue, 1 Oct 1996 10:28:00 -0600

>Marvin Harris (Cannibals & Kings; Cows, Pigs, Wars, & Witches; Our Kind)
>is an obvious example, I think. Jane Goodal also comes to mind. There are
>others, but as you say few if any seem to have the gift for reaching out to
>non-specialists that Mead and Benedict had, and this is something we have
>to work on. I have said before on this very list that we need to do a
better >job of making ourselves visible and making sure that when discussion
takes >place regarding our specialties, we are present. I still think it is
criminal that
>whenever the talk shows have a program about about "race" the "experts"
>they have on are psychologists and lawyers. What the hell do these two
>groups know about race? Nothing outside the folk model, usually. And, did
>anyone notice the article in Time a couple of weeks ago on morality, in
>which they cited evolutionary psychologists as the people studying human
>nature? Why do we let them get away with this? I bet the American
>Psychological Association wouldn't let Time get away with claiming that the
>people who study the human mind are cognitive anthropologists!
>Rant complete.
>Ronald Kephart
>University of North Florida
I htought I would always be a passive reader on this list but here

The above letter is important in it's own right but it raises a point that
is even more so - the public involvement and understanding of anthropology
and archaeology. My university is facing a serious set of financial
cutbacks ($10 million cut from gov't funding over the next 2 years).
Because of this it is looking to cut extraneous courses, professors and
departments. It seems that everytime the budget is threatened so is the
department mainly because the officials don't understand it's function.
i.e. how much training do you need to go dig things up? what do you mean
you want to study cultures? what for? I get the same reaction from people
when I tell them what my major is. Archaeology? What's that? Have you dug
up any dinosaurs? The waters get even more confused when historical
archaeology is brought into it because people do not understand that we need
more information on cultures that can be less that 100 years old.
My point is that in a world of cutbacks, anthropologists and
archaeologists must start proving their worth. The best way to do that is
to approach the public. If they are interested and understand what it is we
do then they will support us, usually with funds. It seems that I am
harping on money. I do not mean to make it sound like the only reason to
educate the public about these professions is to get more money. That is
only a partial consideration. When I tell people what my major is they get
very excited. They are curious. And to fulfill curiousity is the greatest
thing of all. Curiousity is why we're here isn't it?!
Educating the public about what we do and why could be very
important for our survival in some areas. The value of what we do must be
understood to insure funding but as a bonus it is fun to see the excitement
in the eyes of children and adults alike when I explain things I've seen or
It is time that we make ourselves visible so that our opinions are
asked (are we sure we want to be on talk shows though?) and so that both the
professions are VALUED. What we do is important - we know it now it is
time we make sure that others do too!
Kim Weinbender e-mail:
"Live long and prosper."