Tag Archives: anthropology

Celebrating Beatrice Medicine

1 Aug

BeaMedicineI know I have celebrated our Beatrice Medicine before, but I really love this woman and feel that she cannot be celebrated enough. Beatrice Medicine would have been 91 years old today; she was born at Wakpala on Standing Rock Reservation in 1923.  Medicine was a Lakota Sioux anthropologist who advocated for Lakota women, children, minorities, the LGBT community, and other targeted  populations. She was the author of Learning to be an Anthropologist and Remaining Native, which was published in 2001.

Medicine was a woman of many accomplishments. She served as an expert witness in several trials pertaining to the rights of Native Americans, including the 1974 federal case brought against the individuals involved in the Wounded Knee occupation of 1973.  She also helped draft legislation in Canada to protect the legal rights of Native families. She taught in primarily Native American colleges in the United States and Canada.

Medicine was much celebrated during her lifetime and received the Honoring Our Allies Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, an award for Outstanding Woman of Color Award from the National Institute of Women of Color, the Ohana Award from the American Counseling Association, and an honorary Dr. of Humanities from Michigan State University.

Action: If you are interested in ensuring that our Native brothers and sisters have access to college, I strongly encourage you to donate to the American Indian College Fund.

Happy Birthday, Beatrice Medicine

1 Aug

Beatrice Medicine would have been 89 years old today; she was born at Wakpala on Standing Rock Reservation in 1923.  Medicine was a Lakota Sioux anthropologist who advocated for Lakota women, children, minorities, the LGBT community, and other marginalized populations. She was the author of Learning to be an Anthropologist and Remaining Native, which was published in 2001.

Medicine was a woman of many accomplishments. She served as an expert witness in several trials pertaining to the rights of Native Americans, including the 1974 federal case brought against the individuals involved in the Wounded Knee occupation of 1973.  She also helped draft legislation in Canada to protect the legal rights of Native families. She taught in primarily Native American colleges in the United States and Canada.

Medicine was much celebrated during her lifetime and received the Honoring Our Allies Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, an award for Outstanding Woman of Color Award from the National Institute of Women of Color, the Ohana Award from the American Counseling Association, and an honorary Dr. of Humanities from Michigan State University.

Action: If you are interested in ensuring that our Native brothers and sisters have access to college, I strongly encourage you to donate to the American Indian College Fund.

Celebrating Ruth Bunzel

18 Apr

On this date in 1898, pioneering anthropologist Ruth Bunzel was born. Ruth Leah Bernheim was the youngest of four children in a German/Czech Jewish household in Manhattan. Ruth’s mother raised the children after their father died, relying on money from her family’s import business. They spoke English at home, but Ruth’s mother encouraged Ruth to study German at Barnard College. Ruth, however, changed her major because of the political atmosphere surrounding World War I and received a B.A. in European history from Barnard in 1918.

Bunzel wrote about the choices facing graduates of her day, observing that some went to Paris seeking freedom, some aligned with radical workers and sold the Daily Worker on street corners, and others sought “some answers to the ambiguities and contradictions of our age and the general enigma of human life.” She saw anthropology as a means to understand not only others but also ourselves. Having taken a course with noted anthropologist Franz Boas in college, Bunzel succeeded Esther Goldfrank as his secretary and editorial assistant at Columbia University in 1922. In 1924, she accompanied anthropologist Ruth Benedict to western New Mexico and east-central Arizona to study the Zuni people, and followed Boas’s suggestion to give up typing and begin her own research.

Critical of ethnographers who often ignored women as subjects in their fieldwork, Bunzel felt that “society consisted of more than old men with long memories.” She was drawn to the Zuni because women were the potters and had considerable societal power. Bunzel began graduate study in anthropology at Columbia University. In 1929, she received her Ph.D. with the publication of a landmark book on the artistic process, The Pueblo Potter. Rather than focusing on the objects of art, Bunzel was one of the first anthropologists to analyze artists’ feelings, their relationship to their work, and the process of creativity. To understand how artists work within the confines of traditional styles, Bunzel apprenticed herself to Zuni potters, and among them she became a respected, skilled potter.

Bunzel was a sensitive fieldworker, respecting local factionalism and esoteric ceremonies; her focus on the individual and the degree of aesthetic freedom an individual had in a given culture influenced her writing on Zuni kachina (ancestral spirit) cults and mythology, ceremonialism and religion, and poetry. She also contributed to the understanding of Zuni cosmology and social organization, values, language, culture, and personality. In addition to the Zuni, Bunzel wrote about the Hopi, Acoma, San Ildefonso, and San Felipe Pueblo Indians of the southwestern United States.

Reflecting both her interest in culture and personality studies, she also wrote a comparative study on alcoholism in Chamula in Chiapas, Mexico, and in Chichicastenango. Her research, supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship (1930–1932), looked at psychological factors that led to different patterns of drinking in the two communities. She also focused on the role alcohol played in the natives’ subjugation and how haciendas profited by keeping Indians in debt. Her study on alcoholism was the first anthropological writing on this subject.

Bunzel taught sporadically at Columbia University throughout the 1930s, but she became an adjunct professor in 1954 until her retirement in 1972. She then spent two years as a visiting professor at Bennington College. Bunzel earned a modest living teaching and felt she had never obtained full-time work because she was a woman. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, she worked with other colleagues against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  She died in 1990 of cardiac arrest. Her detailed fieldwork and writing are known for their great sensitivity and quality and remain an enduring legacy of her anthropological accomplishment. Bunzel’s valuable research and papers were donated to the National Anthropological Archives after their discovery in Colombia University’s archives in 2007.

Women’s History: April 3

3 Apr

Happy Birthday, Jane Goodall

Happy Birthday, Jane Goodall. Goodall is best known for her work as an anthropologist and primatologist, specifically for her work with chimpanzees. Having conducted a 45 year study on familial and social connections with chimpanzees earned her the title as the World’s Foremost Expert on chimpanzees. Goodall is a UN Messenger of Peace–an example of her dedication to conservation and animal welfare.

Goodall originally went to Africa to work with Louis Leakey, who was responsible for initiating  Goodall’s decades-long field study of chimpanzees in the wild. Goodall came under great fire from her colleagues for her methodology.  For example, rather than numbering the chimpanzees, she names them. She has been accused of anthropomorphism.  Today, Goodall continues to work for the conservation of chimpanzees in the wild and for better conditions for chimps in zoos and research institutions.  For more on Women’s History, check out the National Women’s History Project.

Quote of the day:

    I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.–Mary Wollstonecraft  Click here to read more about Mary Wollstonecraft.

     

     

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