Anthropology Department Welcome Back Symposium

Five Anthro Seniors share summer research results 

Reed’s Department of Anthropology hosted a public “Welcome Back Symposium” on Wednesday, Sept. 9 from 5 to 6 p.m. The event, organized by department intern, sophomore Kiana Cunningham-Rodgriguez, featured presentations by five anthropology seniors who received funds from the department to conduct summer research. The symposium, aimed at creating community within the Anthropology Department, was attended by anthropology professors LaShandra Sullivan, Charlene Makely, Paul Silverstein, Department Coordinator Emily Hebbron, and close to 20 students.

Senior Skyland Dallal kicked off the symposium with a presentation on Iraqi-Jewish identity in America. Dallal, who plans to compare the experience of Iraqi-Jewish people living in the United States to those living elsewhere for his thesis, spent the summer conducting remote interviews with first-generation Iraqi-Jewish immigrants in the U.S. and their descendants. Dallal began with a brief historical overview of how Iraqi-Jewish identity was complicated during the 1940s as a result of conflicts in Palestine before moving on to explore how Iraqi-Jewish Americans understand their own identities. Based on his interviews, Dallal concluded that there was no single, defined understanding of “Iraqi-Jewish American” identity. While older generations tended to define themselves in terms of Jewish identity categories, many younger Iraqi-Jewish Americans had embarked on what Dallal called “identity projects,” which included culinary and art projects, in an attempt to understand and define their identities on their own terms. For his thesis, Dallal plans to conduct further interviews with Iraqi-Jewish Americans and investigate how complications surrounding identity-formation fit into a broader historical context. 

Following Dallal, senior Al Chen presented on the historical and political dynamics of cultural revitalization movements in their presentation titled, “past, present and future: Iñupiaq trade at Sisualik.” Chen spent the summer investigating an annual, mid-summer trade fair that had historically served as an important means for survival and cultural exchange for the Iñupiaq peoples of northern Alaska. The trade fair, which lasted from two to four weeks, had originally been located in the village of Sisualik, which was easily accessible by the variety of Iñupiaq tribes that congregated for the fair every summer. With the advent of colonization, however, the Iñupiaq were forced to move the trade fair to Kotzebue, a city which was considerably less accessible than the original location in Sisualak. As a result, the trade fair began to diminish in size and influence. In 1996, however, Alaskan indigenous tribe organizations launched a project to revitalize the trade fair, now featuring dance performances, fashion shows, and various competitions, in an effort to move the fair back to its original location in Sisualik. Ultimately, Chen is interested in exploring whether or not resource distribution by colonizing organizations, such as the U.S. Park Service, can be helpful in cultural revitalization movements. 

In a presentation titled “Mutual Aid and the Potential of Collective Care,” senior Oliver Hillenkamp explored how the formation of local, mutual-aid networks affect how individuals understand themselves in relation to their community, government institutions, and the potential for grassroots change. Mutual aid groups burgeoned across the U.S. following the COVID-19 crisis and the recent protests against white supremacy and police violence, and Hillenkamp explored the ways in which these groups provided new opportunities and complexities for individuals to relate to their communities. Over the summer, Hillenkamp engaged with several local, grass-roots organizations in Santa Fe which were mobilized to assist vulnerable community members during the time of COVID-19. Hillenkamp discovered that individual perceptions of the effects of mutual aid groups varied widely: some claimed that mutual aid groups ultimately made minimal differences to the community, while others believed that mutual aid groups could fundamentally transform the ways in which their communities functioned. Hillenkamp also engaged with community aid organizations in Portland, and he briefly described the ways in which these community groups could be analyzed through the lenses of race, class, and gender. Hillenkamp concluded his presentation with a series of queries which he hopes to further explore in his thesis, including how community solidarity is formed and maintained as a result of mutual aid groups and whether mutual aid groups can provide the means to overcome capitalist alienation. 

In his presentation “Sarungano — Harnessing Karanga Storytelling Modes to Heal During the Coronavirus Pandemic,” senior Anesu Ndoro described the ways in which the act of storytelling can provide means for engaging in social reflection. An international student from Zimbabwe, Ndoro spent the summer using various social media platforms to connect with people in the U.S. and in Zimbabwe to explore the dynamics of storytelling in different cultural contexts. Ndoro was particularly interested in examining the phenomenon of folk-telling, and Ndoro expressed interest in exploring the ways in which folk tales could be used to express feelings and frustrations about what is happening in the current moment, including the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Ndoro hopes to further apply these insights on folk-telling to analyze the aural traditions and literatures of alt-right communities in the U.S.

Finally, senior Tess Buchannan explored the role of food sovereignty in providing communities with stability amidst global change in “Totally Tubular: Potatoes and Change in the Peruvian Andes.” Buchanan originally intended to travel to the Andes this summer to conduct ethnographic research, and although these plans were disrupted due to the coronavirus, she held remote discussions with dozens of individuals, including university professors, graduate students, and Peace Corps members, with expertise and experience in Peru. With her travel plans disrupted, Buchanan sought to explore the dynamics of local food sovereignty by spending the summer in Colorado working for two farms, the Native Hill Farm and Collective 56, which distribute their food to low-income families, food banks, and restaurants in their local communities. Buchanan also researched examples of food sovereignty in urban areas, investigating urban community gardens in New Zealand, guerilla pumpkin patches along a freeway in California, and projects such as EndlessOrchard and the Fallen Fruit Project which create digital maps of food growing on public property. Ultimately, Buchanan hopes to draw upon her experiences of considering food sovereignty in a variety of different contexts, both rural and urban, and apply these insights to a specific community in the Andes valley. 

The symposium concluded with a brief Q&A session in which Chen, Dallal, Hillenkamp, Ndoro, and Buchanan all clarified aspects of their summer projects. Public symposiums hosted by the Anthropology Department will continue throughout the year, and the next symposium will be held on September 28 from 5 to 6 p.m., featuring a presentation on anti-blackness and multiracial political blocs by University of California, Riverside Professor of Anthropology Joao Costa Vargas.

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