Friday, November 4, 2011

Sacred Bundle 2.0: Anthropology Online

Oxford University Press has launched a new and ambitious on-line project, Oxford Bibliographies Online, which attempts to provide scholars, students, and other interested readers with introductions to important topics and themes from many academic fields/disciplines. Atlantic History, Criminology, Communication, Philosophy and Sociology are among the modules already available. Later this month, Political Science and Psychology go live, with Education soon to follow.

Anthropology is slated for release early in 2012, and I have agreed to help editor that particular module. Oxford was able to put together a strong editorial board for the project, which included scholars from all four of American anthropology's major sub-fields: archaeology, linguistic anthropology, physical/biological anthropology and cultural anthropology. These nine scholars helped to select and vet the entries on various topics (including Applied Anthropology, Cultural Evolution, Public Archaeology, Language Ideology, and Globalization). All in all, OBO's Anthropology site will launch with 50 entries penned by scholars from across the country and the world, including Michael Herzfeld on "Nationalism," Vernon J. Williams on "Franz Boas," Jeremy Sabloff on "Public Archaeology," Neni Panourgia on "Interpretive Anthropology," Kudzo Gavua on "Ethnoarchaeology," "John Trumper on "Ethnoscience," and Christina Campbell on "Primatology" (just to name a random few).

Once the site launches, four anthropologists (Marcus Banks, Maria Franklin, Jonathan Marks, and Bambi Schieffelin) have signed on to help read new entries (about 25 or so will be added every year), and our authors and editors will all update entries as necessary (when new titles merit inclusion or emergent debates in specialties demand discussion). The idea is to make these entries living, breathing documents that morph with ongoing reconfigurations of our discipline.

I only agreed to assist in this effort because I was intrigued by the idea of re-familiarizing myself with the so-called "four fields of anthropology" mentioned above. As a graduate student at Columbia in the 1990s, I was trained in a four-field department, even though I could get away with doing coursework in only two of those sub-fields. And after teaching for four years in Duke University's Department of Cultural Anthropology (where we all seemed to be in the same scholarly conversations), I am back in a four-field department that demands grad students pass exams in all of the sub-fields, one of the few programs in the country with such a stipulation.

Although I don't consider anthropology's four fields a "sacred bundle" never to be dis-assembled under any circumstances, I am intrigued by the idea of forcing myself to learn more about the four farthest corners of this sprawling and hubris-filled discipline that imagines itself to cut across the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences.

Oxford's new initiative will allow anthropologists to think about how much (or how little?) we might really gain from conversations across the intradisciplinary domains that often divide us. OBO's intervention will help us to see how Physical Anthropologists and Cultural Anthropologists might differently approach topics such as "race" or "gender." Or we can determine what kind of reviewer an urban anthropologist working in contemporary Latin America would make for a piece on the histories of cities crafted by an archaeologist.

I'm intrigued to see what (hopefully productive) sparks might fly from such contact, and I've already learned so much about those other anthropological spheres during the build-up to near year's OBO launch. So, if you are an anthropologist gearing up for this month's AAA meeting in Montreal, please know that I might be asking you to contribute to this attempt at a somewhat experimental four-field rendering of our discipline's scholarly world. And please consider taking part.

1 comment:

Amy said...

"sprawling and hubris-filled discipline"