Monday, December 16, 2013

Boerner Family Cemetery Project: Research Design and Excavations

This is a continuation of my series on the Boerner Family Cemetery Project (BFCP). For previous posts, see here and here.

I had two main goals for the Boerner Family Cemetery Project (BFCP):

  1. To find the grave shafts without disturbing the graves themselves
  2. To provide a meaningful learning experience for the students in Intro to Archaeology

Finding the grave shafts without disturbing the graves is relatively easy. Beneath the dark topsoil (very dark and rich in this area which had not been farmed in over a hundred years), there is a substrate of yellowish clay. Once the topsoil is stripped away, we can see where the clay beneath has been dug through. Theoretically, at least, the outlines of the grave shafts will be obvious once they've been exposed.

Arial view of the site before (below) and
after (above) the destruction. The graves
were in the grove of trees shown. The
half-acre site can be seen as a lighter
rectangle in the picture above. The
large white circle is the pit where the
gravestones and remains of trees were
buried after removal from the site.
 (Photographs courtesy of Scott Boerner)
It would have been easiest to mechanically strip the topsoil using a backhoe, but there is a higher chance of damaging human bones with mechanical stripping, especially since the original destruction of the site may have disturbed some of the graves (the giant cottonwood tree that was in the middle of the cemetery was pushed over, and that must have caused disturbance underground.) Also, it would have been difficult to get heavy machinery out to the site, since the fields surrounding the cemetery are not owned by the Boerner family, and the man who does own them asked that we not drive across his land. Finally, my students wouldn't have learned nearly as much from watching a backhoe operator as they did by digging themselves.

Julius Boerner had originally laid aside half an acre of land for the cemetery. We do not have a map or overview photograph of the site from before its destruction, but family members could tell us that the graves were mostly in the southeastern quarter of the site. We have arial photographs showing the layout of the grove of trees which, again, tended toward the southeastern quarter.

We had a lot of graves to locate, and only limited time to spend in the field (in the end, we only have two weekends for this phase of the project), so we concentrated our efforts in the southeast. We placed three narrow trenches about 1.5 meters apart, running north-south across the cemetery. Since most Christian graves of that period were laid out east-west, these north-south running trenches had the best chance of intersecting the grave shafts.

The students mastered the use of shovels while digging the trenches nearly a meter (3 feet) below the current surface. The trenches bottomed out when they hit the clay. In the southern half of our trenches, the clay was consistent, a clean, unbroken surface of yellow. But to the north, it became mottled, broken up, mixed with the dark earth. Had we found the graves?

The patch of dark earth covered a wide area and had no clean or straight edges. My students found their feet shifting beneath them as they encountered small pockets of empty air beneath the soil. The final clue came from the many large roots that our shovels encountered. We hadn't found the graves, we'd found the area where the trees had grown through the clay to reach the water below.

So grave shafts weren't the only things to break through the clay. The trees had as well, especially the large cottonwood that had once stood at the heart of the cemetery. Tree roots and grave shafts look very different, but with only a narrow slice of the ground visible at the bottom of the trenches, it was hard to tell the sharper, more rectangular outlines of a grave shaft from the more shapeless outlines of a tree's root system. We had to connect the trenches, opening up a wider area so we could see the difference.

The last day of the excavation (everything happens on the last day of an excavation!), we opened up the area between the trenches, in the northern-most section of the area where we worked. This created a larger area where, visible against the mottled clay, we could see two grave shafts (neither of which was fully exposed by the excavations). Both appear to be large enough for for adult burials. However, further exposure may make this clearer.

Although we screened all materials from the area in the northern part of the trenches, no artifacts or human bones were found. I admit this was a surprise because the mottling of the top of the clay layer suggests significant disturbance due to tree roots and, presumably, the uprooting of those trees. I had expected to find remains, especially of small bones. This was not the case, however, and that's a good sign that the graves have not been disturbed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Was Jesus White?

The intertubes exploded today after Megyn Kelly on Fox News described both Santa Claus and Jesus as White, saying that their race was just a historical fact, so Santa Claus shouldn't be shown as Black. 

I'm no expert on mythical, commercialized holiday figures (although I have it on good authority that the Easter Bunny is a particularly fine specimen of Oryctolagus cunniculus), but I do know something about Jesus and race, so I wanted to put an anthropological perspective on this whole question.

The question "Was Jesus White?" would have been meaningless to His followers.
First of all, if you'll forgive a spiritual aside, the question would be meaningless because Jesus was God. Although He took on human form and mortality for our sake, His apostles and the founders of the Church made it very clear that Jesus was not defined by His physical shape, nor were His followers. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Galatians (3:28) "There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female -- for you are all one in Christ Jesus". 

St. Paul's list is instructive. He gives us three important categorical differences: male vs. female, slave vs. free, and Jew vs. Greek. Note he didn't say: White vs. Black. (Slavery, at the time of Jesus, was not race-based, so the reference to slave vs. free had nothing to do with skin color.) St. Paul didn't ignore skin color because he had never seen variation in human appearance. The Roman Empire spanned the entire Mediterranean and much of Europe. It was in close contact with powerful empires in East Africa and west Asia. St. Paul would have been familiar with people of many different hues, facial structures, and hair types. But people of his time did not categorize people on that basis. Cultural and religious differences were how they put people into boxes (Jew vs. Greek), regardless of skin color. 

What we think of as racial categories are just one arbitrary way of taking the reality of human physical differences and adding convenient labels. We do this all the time, not just to humans. For example, time is a reality. But when we divide a day into a specific number of hours, and the hours into minutes, we're creating arbitrary labels for our own convenience. Those categories are not inevitable or inherent: we could have chosen a different number of hours in each day, or minutes in each hour.

Like time, physical differences between people are real. But how we divide those differences, like hours, is arbitrary. In the modern US, we use a combination of skin color and facial features to divide people into categories that we call Black, White, Asian, etc. But other societies use different physical and cultural traits to divide people into totally different racial groups. In other words, what racial groups you believe exist - and what racial category you would put a person in - depends on your society's definition of race. In the Middle East of Jesus's day, the categories of Black and White weren't recognized or used. (They weren't even used in the early years of European colonization of the United States, in fact. Our modern ideas about race didn't develop until slavery became a race-based institution in the 1700s.)

So if you could ask St. Paul "What race was Jesus?", his answer would probably be "Jew". But if you responded, "No, no, I mean, was Jesus White?", he probably would just scratch his head and look confused.

OK, OK, so people at that time didn't say "White" and "Black", but if Jesus was alive in the U.S. today, would he be considered a White man?
Maybe. We don't actually know what Jesus looked like, and there were people from all over Europe, North and East Africa, and western Asia in the Middle East at the time. However, our best bet is that Jesus was physically similar to the Semitic peoples of the Middle East today (Hebrews and Arabs). In other words, it is very unlikely that he looked like the blue-eyed, honey-haired Jesus of my children's illustrated Bible. Instead, he was likely somewhat olive- or swarthy-skinned, with brown or black hair, and brown, black, or greenish eyes. If you use old racial categories, and divide the whole world into three groups (Caucasoid, African, and Mongoloid), then the Semitic peoples are Caucasoid. That is, they look like the people of Europe, much of the Mediterranean, and western Asia. To the extent that Caucasoid = White, that would make Jesus White.

But Caucasoid doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as White, especially for Semitic peoples in the U.S. In the early 1900's, immigrants from what was then the Ottoman Empire were classified by the U.S. Census and immigration officials as "Syrians". The U.S. Government had to decide whether people from this area were White (and therefore eligible for citizenship under the immigration laws of the time) or Asian (and therefore not eligible for citizenship). Although the Middle East is, after all, in the western part of the continent of Asia, it's not a surprise that these southwest Asian immigrants petitioned to be classified as "White", and thereby be allowed to stay in the country. (For the whole story, check out this interesting article by the Arab-American Institute).

So, for specific historical and political reasons, Semitic peoples in the U.S. are considered, for Census purposes, to be White. However, that category denies some pretty important differences in the life experiences of many people from Semitic backgrounds. In fact, there is an on-going campaign to convince people of Arab, Persian, and other Middle-Eastern backgrounds to write in their ethnicity in the Census questionnaire, instead of checking White. Many people with backgrounds similar to that of Jesus feel that they are not White, since that category, in the US, is associated with people whose cultural and physical features are not stigmatized or the target of systematic bias. The fact that the phrase "flying while Arab" has entered our vocabulary suggests that people of visible Middle-Eastern background do not have the same privileges as people from Northern European backgrounds. In other words, if Jesus were alive and in the U.S. today, He could check the "White" box on the census, but He might do well to avoid TSA checkpoints.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Boerner Family Cemetery Project: The Background

Excavations at the Boerner Family Cemetery
I blogged previously about including a fieldwork experience - the Boerner Family Cemetery Project (BFCP) - in my Intro to Archaeology class. While a field project in an intro class is rare (and unprecedented for me), from a research perspective, at least, the BFCP was straightforward.

The land on which the cemetery sits was a timber claim staked by Julius Boerner in 1873. He arrived in Grant County, Minnesota with his extended family, including his wife, children, brothers, and parents. Life was hard for these new settlers. The U.S. government had recently completed the Euro-American conquest of the area (the Dakota Wars had ended only 10 years earlier); access to emergency food and medical care was minimal. Soon, Julius had to consecrate a portion of his land to house the dead. The first burial was that of Norman Boerner, his two-year old son, in 1877. The last burial was of Harvey McCollor, his infant grandson, in 1902. Other known burials at the site include Julius's parents, Fredrick and Christine Boerner, at least one sister-in-law, and numerous children (all grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Fredrick and Christine).

The cemetery before the destruction.
The graves were located in the grove of trees in the
center of the picture (photograph by Scott Boerner)
A number of local families buried loved ones in this ground in the late 1800s, but in the 1910's, many of these graves were moved to nearby Lakeside Cemetery. The Boerners alone remained. We do not know exactly how many people are buried at the site. There are at least ten people resting there, but more graves may have been unmarked or forgotten. For many years, the grove of trees surrounding the graves was a peaceful and contemplative spot, frequented by members of local families, many of them descendants of the Boerners. Even today, it is a lovely area, with a view off to the west of rolling fields and neat farmhouses.

The site after the destruction of the cemetery.
(photograph by Scott Boerner)
About a year ago, the site was bulldozed, and all surface indications of the cemetery disappeared. Not only were the tombstones removed, but the grove of trees around the graves, including a large cottonwood, were also destroyed. The area was, at first glance, nothing but an open field.

The following Spring, I was contacted by a member of the Boerner family. The family would like to restore the site, but this requires relocating the graves in order to replace the headstones (all of the headstones have been recovered by the sheriff's office). The family hoped I could help, and I am glad to do so.

I try to teach my students that archaeology is important, not just for what we learn about people long gone, but for what we learn about ourselves. The study of the past, ultimately, is the study of our own identity and development. The tragic loss of the Boerner Family Cemetery is an example of the power of the past to touch us in the present. But it gave me and my students an opportunity to use our skills to help a local family and the community, to restore a part of their lives that had been lost.

In my next post, I'll discuss the research design for the project.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Including Fieldwork in an Intro to Archaeology Class (Yes, it's possible! But it's not easy.)

This Fall, I was honored with a very special opportunity: a historic pioneer cemetery near town was, sadly, destroyed, and I was approached by one of the descendants of those buried there to see if I could help relocate the graves and, ultimately, restore the site. (Just to be clear, the project did not involve excavating any graves, merely locating the grave shafts without disturbing the burials.) If you're interested, there's more on the site and the project here and here.

For various professional and personal reasons I was excited and inspired by this opportunity. But there was one problem: I really wanted to include this excavation as a service-learning project in my Intro to Archaeology class. One of the main themes of the class is that the past is important to the present; we don't study Archaeology because of some esoteric interest in long-dead people, but because we learn something about ourselves and the human condition. This project, focusing on a topic of interest to the local community, illustrated that point beautifully. The site is important to the community because it is part of our history and identity, and the outpouring of support for the project made that very clear to the students. Similarly, the controversies surrounding the situation (there is an on-going legal case related to the destruction of the cemetery), illustrate the importance of the social and political context in the study of the past, another major theme of the class.

And, of course, actual excavation experience is an invaluable way of introducing students to basic archaeological methods.

That just left the practicalities: I didn't have equipment, I didn't have a permit, and I had never included a fieldwork component into a regular lecture course, much less an introductory class, before. With a lot of help and some luck, I was able to to pull it off. I learned a lot by implementing this project, so here are some tips for anyone who may be interested in something similar:

1. Get a good (academic) team on your side. I could never have done this without the enthusiastic support and help of many people: Leslie Meek and Terri Hawkinson in the Division of Social Sciences at UMM provided critical monetary and logistic support, particularly getting the equipment we needed ASAP. (A special shout-out to Stoney Knoll Archaeological Supplies, who rushed our order of screens to get them to us before our field project started. The screens are of superb quality, too!); Argie Manolis and Barb Hesse in the Office of Community Engagement at UMM handled the transportation problem and provided support for our academic and service goals, including advice on how to integrate student reflections on the project into the class; Scott Anfinson, State Archaeologist, helped a neophyte to quickly handle the permitting process (and provided great field advice); and, last but definitely not least, my husband not only took care of the kids while I spent all weekend in the field, but also helped me decide on equipment, decipher the incomprehensible total station instructions, and generally pull it all together.

2. Get a good (community) team on your side. I can't say enough about the support, information, encouragement, and professionalism of the community members and leaders who were involved in the project, from Scott Boerner, who represented the Boerner family and provided invaluable information about the history of the site; to Grant County Sheriff Dwight Walvatne, and County Attorney Justin Anderson, who arranged access to the site and lead me around the legal barriers to the excavation project. I'm profoundly grateful.

3. Give students options. The class includes a lab component, which normally meets for two hours on Friday. Students were given the option to exchange one eight-hour day in the field for four lab sessions. There were a number of field days (on both Saturdays and Sundays), and three field days could be used in exchange for all of the lab sessions for the semester. In other words, students had the flexibility to choose which days they wanted to be in the field (so the whole class wasn't there on the same day), and what mix of lab days and field days they wanted to use to fulfill their academic obligations.

4. Don't give students too many options. The problem with #3 was that some students attended every lab and never did fieldwork. Others never attended lab. In a logistic sense, this worked well. It allowed students a lot of flexibility to accommodate their different interests and busy schedules. From an academic perspective, however, this was a nightmare. I couldn't require students to know any of the material from the labs (because they were not required to attend any particular lab session), and I couldn't require students to know anything about the excavation project (since they weren't required to do fieldwork). I couldn't include any of the material on the exams. I couldn't include certain activities in the regular class period. I definitely need to re-think this approach in the future.

5. Hammer home the academic worth of the project. All of the students who participated in fieldwork wrote a paper in which they discussed what they had learned from the project and how it fit with the goals and themes of the class. This paper was useful as a way for students to see how the project fit the class (no, we weren't just out there randomly digging trenches, it really did help us reach our academic goals), but also it let me see what the students had taken away from the project. The papers gave me some ideas for how to better integrate the fieldwork into the classroom, by frequently asking students to tie what we are learning about methods or theory in the classroom to their fieldwork experience.

6. Never, never, never try to get this kind of project off the ground during the semester that you're totally re-prepping two courses, serving on seven different committees (including a search committee), and have three children under the age of eight at home, unless you want to drive yourself into the ground with exhaustion. OK, I think this one needs no further explanation. :-)

There were certainly some rocky moments during this semester (actually, the whole thing threatened to capsize on more than one occasion, for reasons outside our control). But this was a highly valuable experience, for me and my students. From an academic, research, and service perspective, I the project was extremely enriching, and the feedback from students was overwhelmingly positive. I'll share some of their feedback (with their permission) in a later post, along with some of what we found. I'm honored to have been a part of this project, and I'm looking forward to continuing it next year.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Why Do I/Don't I Blog?

Over at Doug's Archaeology, Doug has started a blog carnival, leading up to the SAA's. I'm not going to the SAAs this year, but since I've recently returned to my blog, I thought this month's set of questions were particularly pertinent:
  1. Why did you start a blog?
  2. Why are you still blogging?
  3. Why have you stopped blogging

Why did I start a blog:
  1. To Vent: My husband gets tired of hearing me complain. My first blog was actually anonymous, which gave me more scope for discussing the frustrations of committees, students, colleagues, etc. With this (non-anonymous) blog, I focus more on the frustrations of life-work balance, the mis-use of anthropological data, and teaching failures.
  2. To Expand my Community: My husband, my excellent colleague in Art History, and myself are the only archaeologists within a two-hour radius. I have wonderful coworkers for discussing teaching and topics of general academic interest, but I hoped to enter into a conversation with more archaeologists about teaching techniques that work, or how to structure an Intro to Archaeology class.
  3. To "Find my Voice": I hate that phrase, but... I enjoy writing and I want to learn how to write for a more popular audience. The best way to learn is to do.
Why am I still blogging:
  1. Well, I don't, always. A cursory glance at the right bar will show I tend to blog for a while, then I don't, then I resume. This reflects my schedule. I blog when I'm professionally active (so not if I'm home with a newborn for a summer), but not when I'm too professionally active (like when I'm prepping two new classes).
  2. About those class preps... Unexpectedly, I found the blog helped me think about my class structures and activities. I don't even publish all of the posts I write about teaching, but writing them is a useful thought exercise.
Why I have (sometimes) stopped blogging:
  1. See #1, under "Why am I still blogging". I teach a lot of credits, I have a lot of students, I'm serving on a bazillion committees, and I have three kids under the age of eight. I would like to blog more about work-life balance, but I can't seem to find enough time. Oh, the irony.
  2. Lack of Response. I wanted to expand my community with this blog, but I haven't been successful. I don't know exactly who reads this blog, but I haven't managed to get a conversation going with archaeologists I don't already know. Probably because I'm not a consistent poster, and I don't talk about cool, breaking research. That's OK, sometimes I like to talk to myself. I'm an academic, after all!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Intro to Archaeology Revisted

In a previous post, I discussed teaching the Intro to Archaeology class thematically, rather than geochronologically. This semester, I'm attempting just that, with mixed success. The "mixed" part largely boils down to an unexpectedly busy semester that is wrecking havoc with my ability to spend the many hours needed to totally reprep a class. But there are also structural problems with the class that I look forward to addressing in future semesters.

I organized the class around a series of questions, one per week. Readings, in-class activities, and labs all focus on those questions, and attempt to cover both how archaeologists know about these things (methods of excavation, lab analysis, etc.), and provide an overview of prehistoric cultures world-wide as examples. The questions are:

1. What is the point of the past? (Why bother learning any of this stuff?)
2. Who owns the past? (Ethics, stakeholders, Indigenous Archaeology, etc.)
3. What's the big picture? (An overview of major trends in human history)
4. How have humans changed the environment (and how has it changed us)?
5. Did past societies live sustainably (and can we)?
6. Why do we have different ethnic groups (and can we get along)?
7. Why did we settle down?
8. Why did we begin farming (and was it the worst mistake we ever made)?
9. Why do we have inequality?
10. Why do governments and empires form?
11. Why do we have war?

What I've learned so far this semester is that I need to re-think both the order and focus of some of these questions. For example, I believe students would be less confused in my class right now if I'd started the discussion of ancient cultures with a unit on social and political organization, rather than giving examples of band-level societies without explaining exactly what a band is. Also, these eleven questions need to be combined and rethought, in order to provide more time to cover the topic in-depth.

Next time I teach this, I'm cutting the number of questions (or at least re-mixing them), and rearranging them into a more logical order. I think it will look something like this:

Unit 1: Why Study the Past?
  1. What is the point of the past?
  2. Who owns the past?

Unit 2: What is the Big Picture?
  1. How do archaeologists know what they know? (techniques and sources of data)
  2. What are the major trends in human history?

Unit 3: Culture as Adaptation, and our Adaptation for Culture

  1. How have humans changed the environment (and how has it changed us)?
  2. Did past societies live sustainably (and can we)?

Unit 4: Why Did We Settle Down?
  1. Why did most societies around the world become more sedentary?
  2. Why did we begin farming (and was it the worst mistake we ever made)?

Unit 5: Why is there Inequality?
  1. Why do complex societies develop?
  2. Why do we have economic inequality?
  3. Why do we have power inequality and governments (and why doesn't everyone)?
This new structure leaves off two of my originally envisioned topics ("Why do we have ethnic groups?" and "Why do we have war?"). But, this semester, I had to skip those topics anyway because we didn't have enough time to cover them. With only eleven topics, I will be able to go more in-depth with each. Plus, while it may seem a minor change, arranging these questions onto units makes it easier to discuss the common themes between each of these questions.

I'm planning a series of posts on this class - stay tuned for a discussion of readings/textbooks and the perils and pitfalls (and pros) of including fieldwork in an introductory archaeology class!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Active Learning and Student Motivation

My daughter is reading the fifth Harry Potter book. The book was written for ninth or tenth grade students (around age fifteen). According to her standardized test scores, my daughter reads at a fourth or fifth grade level (around age nine or ten). According to my calendar, she's still a couple months short of her seventh birthday, and in first grade. 

No, she doesn't understand everything she reads, but she's learning how to be a better reader in the best possible way: by reading, by challenging herself, by enjoying every minute of it.

That's the idea behind active learning in the college classroom, as well. Active learning allows students to apply knowledge, to challenge themselves to learn more deeply and internalize concepts, and to enjoy the process of learning. I truly believe in the power of active learning, and that's why I've added more and more active components to my teaching.

Here's the problem (and the point of my Harry Potter analogy): active learning requires some level of intrinsic student motivation. 

Forcing my daughter to read a book on car repair that was written at the same level as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, would not necessarily teach her much about reading (granted, if she did pick up any information from the book, she'd be well on her way to a more lucrative career than her parents'). My daughter wants to read about Harry Potter. I read her the books at bedtime last year (I was just going to read the first, but she demanded we continue to the end of the series.) She loves the movies. She has the Lego sets. She asked for a robe, wand, and sack of wizarding gold for Christmas. The kid loves Harry Potter.

She's not so crazy about cars. Forcing her to actively engage in a challenging book on car repair could turn her off reading entirely.

Active learning is much harder than passively sitting through a lecture and then memorizing some facts. It requires challenging oneself, which is always, well, challenging. In the end, the resulting knowledge is greater, but the process can be more painful if the student has no inherent interest in the topic. 

Which brings me to a sad fact of active learning: I'm finding that it works better in upper-division classes than in classes that students take to fulfill gen ed requirements. Or, perhaps it would be better to say, faculty can face a penalty for using these strategies, particularly when a number of students in the classroom aren't particularly interested in the topic. My limited sample of classes suggests that active learning strategies lead to the following difficulties:

1) average and excellent students may learn more in the class, but struggling students may actually do more poorly (or at least get lower grades) than in a more traditional class because they can no longer skate through with a poor understanding but reasonable memorization of random facts. (note: this may be considered a feature, not a bug, by most professors. your students won't necessarily view it the same way.)

2) students of all abilities, but with little interest in the subject, may do poorly in the class because they resist putting in the effort required to engage with the material when the topic is "boring" or "useless" from their perspective. Again, their grades may suffer. 

3) since we are all aware that lower grades = lower teaching evaluations, it's no surprise that professors may take a hit in their student evaluations when they include an active learning component. Beyond just the lower grades, some students resent being taken out of their comfort zone (in terms of learning style), or being forced to do more work when they see the class as just a hoop to jump through.

At this point, I'm wondering if untenured faculty should avoid using active learning strategies in classes with a large number of non-majors. Any thoughts?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Introducing Archaeology

I haven't taught Intro to Archaeology in five years. Confession time: I don't like the class. It's so hard to make it interesting and relevant, even for someone (like me) who loves archaeology!

In Intro to Biological Anthropology, I tackle fundamental questions of what makes us human and what is determined by our biology, and take down myths of race and gender. In Intro to Cultural Anthropology, too, I can challenge students' perceptions of the world, exposing them to a whole range of ideas and behaviors that contextualize their daily lives. It's interesting. It's exciting. It's big-picture.

But I've never seen an Intro to Archaeology class taught that way. The focus is either on methods (relevant only to majors), or on cramming in lots of facts about individual cultures (this gets boring, even to me). It's illustrative to look how Intro to Archaeology textbooks are structured, in contrast to Intro to Cultural Anthropology or Biological Anthropology. While Cultural and Biological textbooks tend to have chapters focused on big themes or questions (race! religion! human adaptation!) the Archaeology textbooks are organized along geographic and temporal lines (Pleistocene hunter-gatherers. Neolithic farmers of southwest Asia. The Empire of...zzzz.)

I'm not sure I agree with "Archaeology is Anthropology, or it's nothing", but Archaeology is a hell of a lot more interesting if it's anthropological. Archaeologists can speak to big-picture questions, so why the hell don't we in introductory classes? Where is the archaeological textbook with thematic chapters dealing with the important questions that Archaeology is best equipped to answer, those questions whose answers require long-term observation of human populations all over the globe?: Why does inequality develop? How do we define sustainability, and how have people attained (or failed to attain) it in the past? What causes culture change? And why can't we explore these questions with examples from all over the time-space continuum?

I think we fear to introduce the examples we need to explore these questions without first introducing students to the cultures in question (which requires the geographic-temporal approach). Yet, Intro to Cultural Anthropology textbooks do it all time, spending only a paragraph on a culture, and explaining how it illustrates the point, without getting bogged down in the details of how many post-holes are found in the village's community house.

The closest thing I've seen to a thematically-organized Intro to Archaeology textbook is the old Out of the Past book, with its coordinating movies. That was published in 1992. Can someone please tell me that there's another diamond out there that I just haven't discovered?

Update: I did find this book, What Happened in Prehistory? by Peter Peregrine. It's a short e-book, and only $2.99. It's not really a textbook, but it's a nice overview written for a popular audience, and at least looks at the big picture. I wonder if I could use it, supplemented with other materials.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Look what the economists do with human diversity data

A colleague in Economics sent me this article:

Ashraf, Quamrul and Oded Galor. 2013. The 'Out of Africa' Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development. American Economic Review 103:1-46.

Here's the abstract. It gives the jist of the article, if you can't get access:

This research advances and empirically establishes the hypothesis that, in the course of the prehistoric exodus of Homo sapiens out of Africa, variation in migratory distance to various settlements across the globe affected genetic diversity and has had a persistent hump-shaped effect on comparative economic development, reflecting the trade-off between the beneficial and the detrimental effects of diversity on productivity. While the low diversity of Native American populations and the high diversity of African populations have been detrimental for the development of these regions, the intermediate levels of diversity associated with European and Asian populations have been conducive for development. 
Anthropologists recognize this argument: yet another a pseudo-evolutionary craptasmagoria that purports to explain why European and Euro-American populations are inherently superior to African and Native American populations, thereby justifying global inequalities in economic/political power and negating any guilt that dominant societies may have about the legacy of colonialism and genocide. These arguments are always flawed, but it doesn't stop them from cropping up again and again. Or, to quote my new-favorite Jonathan Marks blog post"We have been here before; douchebags are always recruiting Darwin to their stupid views about human society."

The fundamental flaw in the argument is that there is no reasonable mechanism by which diversity affects productivity. Ashraf and Galor claim that some diversity is necessary for economic innovation, because a population's ability to create culturally innovative ideas is tied to its genetic diversity. I would argue our genetically-created ability for flexible behavior, which is shared by all humans, allows for innovation, but in this paper, fewer different alleles = fewer different ideas. Or something. 

Their argument against "too much" diversity is that highly genetically diverse populations are economically inefficient because people who are physically different aren't as willing to cooperate with each other.  (Kin selection was invoked in this context, including the foraging efficiency of groups of closely related spiders vs. spiders who are not related. It made my head hurt.) Of course, anthropologists understand that that physical variation is culturally categorized, as is our understanding of kinship, so genetic diversity and biological relatedness may have nothing to do with how different or similar you consider others in your community.

But even if you accept the mechanisms proposed by the authors, or consider them worth testing, the anthropological data that Ashraf and Galor use to show a hump-shaped relationship between genetic diversity and economic productivity do no such thing. The analysis is extremely problematic, both in the way it measures diversity and in the way it measures economic productivity.

The paper has two arguments, one related to modern economic productivity, and the other related to pre-industrial productivity. I'm only going to discuss the pre-industrial argument here because it's the topic I'm best qualified to tackle. The argument goes like this: prior to the industrial revolution, economic productivity is best measured by population density. These pre-modern economies were agriculturally-based, and surplus tended to be put into population growth. (The authors call this the "Malthusian epoch", a phrase I'm totally stealing.) Of course, in reality, surplus is put into many things, like building pyramids, or irrigation systems, or waging war. But I won't quibble on that point.

Ashraf and Galor set out to prove that the relationship between population density and genetic diversity is hump-shaped, suggesting that moderate amounts of diversity are ideal for population density (their proxy for economic development). This is shown in Figure 3 (p. 22), reproduced below. But before we accept this relationship, we have to ask two questions: Does this graph accurately reflect the diversity of the continents in 1500CE? And, does this graph accurately reflect the economic development of those continents?

Does this graph accurately show the diversity of Europeans, Africans, Asians, and Americans in 1500CE? 

Yes, and no. Ashref and Galor label the dots in Figure 3 with names of modern states. But the genetic data they are using is not generally representative of the people who lived within those borders. The data on genetic homogeneity (a measure of diversity) comes from the HGDP-CEPH Human Genome Diversity Cell Line Panel, as published by Ramachandran et al. (2005). Ramachandran et al., to simplify, showed that genetic diversity is highest in Africa and gets lower the farther you go from the origins of our species. This is clearly true. But Ramachandran and colleagues focused on genetic diversity in isolated communities, because they were interested in the earliest people to enter these regions. But precisely because these samples were picked from isolated communities, they don't say much about diversity in those nations overall at 1500 CE. 

For example, the UK is represented in this sample by one ethnic group: Orcadian Islanders. Now, the Orkney Islands are not without their history of migration and admixture - they've been passed between Scotland and Norway a few times - but this one small population at the upper ends of nowhere can hardly be considered representative of the genetic diversity of the United Kingdom as a whole in 1500 CE, with its history of Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking, and Norman influx. Similarly, the nation of Zaire, which today has some 250 ethnic groups, is represented in this data by a single community of Mbuti Pygmies. Most problematic, the entirety of the Americas is represented by only four data points, and the far-right anchor comes from the Karitiana people of Brazil, an indigenous group with only 350 members!

By 1500 CE, there had been a number of major migrations that spread genes across the most populous (that is, least isolated) areas of the world. An estimated 8% of men in Asia carry a Y chromosome believed to come from Ghengis Khan (Zerjal et al. 2003). Cosmopolitan cities existed on all four continents, and the genetic diversity in those cities would have been higher than that in the isolated societies sampled for Ramachandran et al.'s analysis. The city of Teotihuacan in central Mexico, for example, had one neighborhood consisting of Oaxacan merchants. The Crusades led to frequent trade between Europe, North Africa, and western Asia.

By using the genetic diversity of isolated populations to represent the genetic diversity of large states, Ashref and Galor are failing to consider the genetic diversity of the people who were most involved in highly-developed economic systems.

Does this graph accurately show the economic development of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas in 1500CE?

This answer is easier: no. 

First, as mentioned above, the genetic samples tell us about the diversity of small isolated populations, not the diversity of those states as a whole at 1500 CE (or of the people within the modern borders of those states). But the population density estimates (which come from McEvedy and Jones, 1978) are for the states as a whole. To test Ashref and Galor's hypothesis, the genetic diversity of the population should be compared to the estimated population density of those communities (Orcadian genetic diversity compared to the population density of the Orkney Islands, for example). This would be difficult, but not impossible, with archaeological data. It would also utterly destroy the pattern in Figure 3, since the genetic samples from all four continents include some societies that were highly mobile with low population densities (the San, the Bedouin, etc.) and others that were highly sedentary and lived in cities (Japanese, Mayan etc.). 

Second, the population density estimates are problematic. I haven't gotten a copy of McEvedy and Jones (1978) yet, but looking at the data used by Ashref and Galor, the population estimates for the Americas, at a minimum, are too low. There is a long history of underestimating the indigenous population of the Americas, partly because early European records justified colonization efforts on the basis of "empty" land for the taking, and partly because accurate estimates of population at Contact would show such high death rates for the indigenous population that many Euro-descended researchers have shied away from suggesting or accepting them. The data from Brazil is pulling the curve in Figure 3 downward on the right side, a major determinant of its shape. Since McEvedy and Jones's publication in 1978, our understanding of pre-Contact Brazilian history has changed radically. We now know the population density of the Amazon region was far higher than previously thought (for example, Heckenberger et al. 2003). Moving the American data points upward would radically change the shape of the curve. I can't speak to the African population density data, but any errors in the estimates for South Africa (another area where European colonists denied the existence of previous occupants) would also flatten the curve.

A major problem with using population densities as a proxy for economic development, is that by using the population densities within modern national borders, Ashref and Galor are significantly underestimating pre-modern population density in highly-developed areas by lumping them with low-productivity areas. This is less of a problem in Europe, where modern nations tend to be smaller (although it explains Russia's very low density relative to other European nations, or China's relative to Japan), but is more problematic in the New World. Mexico, for example, includes not just the highly populous regions of the Valley of Mexico, but also the low-density regions of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts, and the Sierra Madres. A more reasonable comparison would be the population density of the UK vs. that of the Aztec Empire, or of the Mali Empire.

Why do we care?

Ashref and Galor argue that biological traits of populations determine (or at least affect) their level of economic prosperity. In doing so, they add their work to the long history of attempts to prove inherent racial differences lead to inequality, rather than inequality being the result of systemic attempts to deny opportunity to others. And they did so in one of the most prestigious journals in their field.

I've never met Ashref or Galor, and I know nothing about them. I have no idea if they harbor personal biases toward any group of people. They may both be saints, dedicating their life to social justice and the pursuit of equality. It doesn't matter. Given the salience of race in Western society, any argument for biological determinism must be held to a high standard of evidence, and the authors must accept responsibility for the political and social implications of their work. They cannot pretend it doesn't matter, or that they're not making an inherently political argument. 

 They walked into a crowded theater and yelled "Fire!" They are responsible for the consequences, whether they did so with malicious intent or not. To yell "Fire!" on the basis of  a manufactured hint of smoke is irresponsible at best, at worst, it is criminal.

I'll leave you with a final quote, this one from Charles Darwin, whose intellectual legacy was so poorly used by Ashref and Galor: “If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.” 

Admitting sin is hard, but blaming the victim is unconscionable


Heckenberger, Michael J., Afukaka Kulkuro, Urissapa Tabata Kulkuro, J. Christian Russell, Morgan Schmidt, Carlos Fausto, Bruna Franchetto. 2003. Amazonia 1492: Pristine Forest of Cultural Parkland? Science 301: 1710-1713.

McEvedy, Colin, and Richard Jones. 1978. Atlas of World Population History. New York: Penguin Books.

Ramachandran, Sohini, Omkar Deshpande, Charles C. Roseman, Noah A. Rosenberg, Marcus W. Feldman, and L. Lucas Cavalli-Sforza. 
2005. Support from the Relationship of Genetic and Geographic Distance in Human Populations for a Serial Founder Effect Originating in Africa. PNAS 102 (44): 15942-15947.

Zerjal, Tatiana et al. 
2003. The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols. American Journal of Human Genetics 72:717-721.

Update: Turns out the anthropologists at Harvard are on this! Check out this open-access article in Current Anthropology reviewing the article.

Guedes, Jade d’Alpoim and others. 
2013  Is Poverty in Our Genes? A Critique of Ashraf and Galor, “The ‘Out of Africa’ Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development,” American Economic Review (Forthcoming). Current Anthropology 54: 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Diet is More than Food: It's Also a Study in Privilege and Gender

This isn't the usual beat for this blog, but I ran across this blog post on eating healthy using the Whole9 approach by The Minimalist Mom. I used to be a devoted reader of "Mommy Blogs"*, but I stopped reading them because they made me feel so needlessly inadequate. (Seriously, if you're an academic mother, one of the first steps toward work/life balance is to stop reading those damn blogs.) I really enjoy(ed) The Minimalist Mom, and I wholeheartedly agree with her approach to minimizing her consumption, debt, and time sinks. I also have a lot of respect for Whole9 and their approach to healthy eating. I don't agree with everything they recommend, but I'm not unsympathetic to their cause.

Nonetheless, The Minimalist Mom's post on her family's Whole9 diet had me fuming.

There's a reoccurring problem with both the minimalist movement and whole foods movement (and this includes a whole bunch of popular blogs and books, from Radical Homemakers to The Omnivore's Dilemma): they consistently ignore issues of gender and privilege. This most recent blog post is not the worst of the offenders, but it caught my attention, so cue the rant:


All it takes, we are told, to live a "good" life, is a little time and effort on our part. And just a little sacrifice. Eating healthy doesn't require you to be rich, it just means giving up some unnecessary extravagances. The Minimalist Mom mentioned several items that could be easily given up or changed in order to afford higher-quality food:

iPhone - An estimated 55% of Americans own a Smartphone. That leaves 45% of the country who can't afford one. Personally, I have a cheap pre-paid cell phone.

cable plan - Most Americans have cable. They probably could give it up. I don't own a television.

drive a second-hand car instead of a new one - I've never bought a new car in my life. I can't remember anyone in my family ever buying a new car. We are not the only ones who usually buy used. We currently drive a 10-year old minivan that we bought with 100,000 miles on it. We consider it new. 

sell your car - Our nation is built for cars. Many people can't get to work or the grocery store without one. To find housing that is both affordable and safe, many people have to live far from their place of employment. I am lucky enough to live in a very small town where I can walk almost everywhere, but even I need a car, unless I want to carry an infant on the 25-min walk to daycare through -35 windchills.

vacation closer to home - Vacation? Since when has a vacation been anything but a privilege? I'm very lucky to be able to visit family in different parts of the country, and to get money from work to attend conferences or do research all over the world. Most people don't take "vacations" in the sense of a yearly trip away from their home to Vail or Cancun.

get a job closer to home - We currently have 8% unemployment. That number is far higher for individuals without a college degree and for people of color. It's not that easy to find a job, and, as discussed above, it's not that easy to move close to your place of employment.

So, other than giving up cable, most of the items on The Minimalist Mom's list are items of privilege. In other words, only well-off people can afford this diet. And even if a person can afford it, it's not necessarily easy to follow. For example, I live in a rural area. Although we have a farmer's market, a food co-op, and some local organic farms, access to affordable organic food is difficult. It requires driving around the countryside to collect the food, access to storage (like a large freezer), and paying even higher prices than in cities, since shipping costs are high. And some organic fruits and vegetables are just not available, period.

I'm a very privileged person. I have a great job. I've never gone hungry. I've never faced racial discrimination. I have access to affordable health care through a wonderful insurance plan. I can afford high-quality daycare with excellent teachers. We can even afford to send our daughter to our parish school (luckily, much cheaper than private schools in cities). But even I'm not privileged enough to follow this diet. How can a family living in poverty, or a family who is one paycheck away from poverty, possibly manage? Yet, the message behind The Minimalist Mom's blog post (and many, many similar books and blogs) is that we are selfish for not providing our family with adequate nutrition, and it would be so simple for us to do so!


It takes more time to buy, process, and serve healthy foods. Who does most of this work? Mom, of course! Men are more likely to do housework and childcare now than in the past, but women in the U.S. still are overwhelmingly responsible for cooking, cleaning, and caring for the kids. And, of course, 35% of children live in single-parent homes, mostly headed by women. If we want to follow Michael Pollan's advice "don't eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food", does that include a return to gender roles our great-great-grandmothers would recognize, as well? 

Not necessarily, of course. The "green" movement, the "whole foods" movement, the "minimizing" movement could focus on the importance of equal responsibilities within the family. But, by and large, they don't. Just as the issue of privilege tends to be ignored or minimized ("gee, it only takes a little sacrifice"), the gender problem tends to be ignored or minimized ("one partner can stay home", as if that "one partner" wasn't the woman in a heterosexual relationship, 95% of the time). 

Don't get me wrong. If I had more hours in the day, more energy, more money, I would put them into better health for my family. But, at the moment, I can barely keep the dirty clothes from building up on the floor, the dishes from piling up in the sink, or my job (and my husband's job is dependent on mine, so I can't just stay home). In other words, if there's a hierarchy of needs for the family, then I'm well above "basic subsistence", but not yet to "home-canning tomatoes", even though I'd like to be. And I'm not alone. Our food industry, food distribution system, employment and gender structures make it very difficult for poor families and two-income families to provide healthy food for their children. By ignoring issues of privilege and gender, we're suggesting cures that put more pressure on individuals ("can't you just make those little necessary sacrifices?") rather than dealing with the underlying structural problems. We're creating a situation where only the privileged are given access to health, and where traditional gender roles are imposed in order to provide it. Maybe that's what we want as a society, but that should be the discussion, not whether or not it's worthwhile to "give up" an iPhone in order to eat well.

*Am I the only person who dislikes this term because it seems dismissive and condescending? 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Hey! That worked! (A useful exercise on the four forces of evolution)

On the first exam in my Physical Anthropology class, I always ask either "Define genetic drift", or "Define gene flow". Every year, about half the class gets the question wrong, because they can't remember which is which. I explain the concepts in class, we do an exercise on them, they're in the book, they're listed on the study guide. Yet, every year, students confuse the two concepts.

But if students can't remember the difference, then later readings/lectures/activities on human evolution will not make much sense. (Seriously, try explaining multiregional evolution when half the class hears the words "gene flow" and thinks "Oh, like Pitcairn Island?".) 

This year, I tried something new. I created an activity that made students apply the concepts, not just see them acted out, as was the case with my old activity. And - joy of joys! - only about 15% of the students got the question wrong on the exam! Success!

Here's the activity:

Students were divided into groups of four, and given the following scenario:

You are a member of the Lovegood-Scamander Expeditionary Force, charged with tracking down the elusive Crumple Horned Snorkack (Snorkackus crumpcornius). After an arduous trek to a nearly inaccessible mountain valley in Sweden, you found the only known populations of this elusive animal, living on a series of isolated islands in the middle of a cold, deep lake. You have taken extensive notes and measurements, and your results are shown on the following slide.

Note: all of the snorkacks are the same species, but there is variation within the species by population.

I gave the students a simple map, made very quickly with Google docs. Since this activity worked well, I'll have to make a nicer one for next year.

[Drat, I can't figure out how to paste the map here.]

The students were asked to look at the variation in snorkacks as described on the map and to do the following:

1- As a group, take five minutes to describe the variation (differences) that you see in the different populations of snorkacks. You should describe only, without adding your interpretations or explanations. What was actually seen or measured about these populations?

2 - As a group, spend fifteen minutes creating at least three hypotheses to account for the variation you described. You must use the concepts of natural selection, gene flow, and genetic drift in at least one hypothesis each. (For example, you could have one hypothesis that explains the variation entirely through natural selection, one hypothesis that explains it through genetic drift, and a third that explains it through gene flow. Or, these could be combined in various ways. Just make sure you use each concept at least once.)

3 - As a group, take ten minutes to discuss what data you would need to test your hypotheses. Think widely and creatively. Do you need to take genetic samples from the populations? Do you need to measure the average temperature on each island? Make sure you know how the data would help support or refute your hypothesis.

Afterward, the students shared their hypotheses. It was a useful exercise. Not only did students apply the evolutionary concepts, but we had a useful conversation about the nature of scientific inquiry.

Best of all, students remembered the difference between gene flow and genetic drift on their exams!

Friday, February 22, 2013

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Failing Grade

I'm not the only academic who hates to give out "bad" grades (these days, that's anything below a B). Most of us were good students, and we would  have been upset receiving poor grades. We tend to project that on our students. It took me quite a while to realize that some students are simply grateful to have passed, and are not planning to put any more effort in than is necessary. It was not until recently, however, that I realized giving students bad grades can be a useful educational tool, as well as an honest reflection of the student's knowledge. Conversely, inflated grades can undermine the learning process.

For years, I had a problem in my Physical Anthropology class: the lab write-ups were "easy points", but the worst* students in the class believed they understood the class material because they did well on the lab, even when they struggled to understand the basic concepts.

The class has a huge number of graded elements, and it is a demanding class, both in content and time commitment. Since the labs were more important for the physical experience of handling the materials than they were for the write-up, I tended to give out full credit for attendance, even if the write-up wasn't strong. The labs combined for only 10% of the class grade, so these "easy points" weren't causing any problems for the overall grade distribution. 

Unfortunately, these "easy points" were leading to problems with student self-assessment. Students would assure me that their (failing) exam grades didn't reflect their true mastery of the material. As proof of that mastery, they would cite their good lab grades. And, yet, when I talked to them about the exams, it was very clear they were struggling with even the most basic class concepts.

You may be aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which says that - among American college undergraduates, at least - students with very low competence tend to grossly over-estimate their own mastery of the material. They believe themselves to be average or even above average in their knowledge and skills, when they are in fact in the lowest quartile, based on objective tests. (Conversely, people with high levels of knowledge and competence tend to underestimate their relative worth *cough cough* impostor syndrome *cough cough*.)

I finally wised up, re-did the labs so they required more write-up, and started grading them more honestly (i.e harshly). I don't know if this helps student self-assess and study harder, but at least I'm not encouraging students to delude themselves.
*The "worst" students are not necessarily the ones getting bad grades, and I don't mean "worst" as a value judgement on their character. I'm referring here to student with obvious difficulties in learning the material and comprehending the concepts. Maybe this comes from poor preparation for college, lack of childhood educational opportunities, or a learning disability. These are students who are truly trying, yet failing, to do well in the class, and aren't certain why. In other words, I'm not talking about students who are clearly capable of doing well, but are short-changing their study time in order to work long hours, or be involved in sports/theater/music, or who have family responsibilities. That's a different type of barrier to student success.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Making the Classroom Safe for Difference

More tales from my recent workshop on Internationalizing Teaching and Learning:

One of the other faculty participants pointed out that anthropology challenges students' world-views. To which I answered, "Of course!", while rubbing my hands together and cackling gleefully. My colleague then pointed out to me that such challenges are disconcerting and make students feel unsafe and defensive.

Here's the problem: just as most academics have a hard time learning how to be good teachers because we were always good students (we wouldn't be here, if we weren't), anthropologists have a hard time recognizing how threatening it is to have your cultural perspective challenged (or even pointed out to you). After all, our reaction to our first anthropology class was "cool!" (we wouldn't be here, if it wasn't). For most of us, challenging a student's world-view is a feature, not a bug. We're trying to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.

(Like I said, anthropology is chaotic good!)

I'm grateful to my colleague for pointing out that I need to take into consideration my students' feelings of safety, if I want them to learn and not just run away screaming.

As a result, I've developed a new classroom activity that will introduce the process of group work to my students, but also (I hope!) make the classroom a safer place to explore their own perspectives and have their worldviews challenged. 

I break students into groups of four, and have them choose their roles, based on birthdate. (The roles are leader, note-taker, time-keeper, and presenter). Then I have them discuss three questions:

1) What rules for discussion would make you feel safe to voice your opinion, no matter how unpopular or unique?

2) What rules for discussion would make you feel that your voice was being heard?

3) What do you think are the most important traits for a "good class participator" (however you define that).

After their small group time, we discuss the first two questions, and create a list of class discussion rules that will be enforced for the rest of the semester. I plan to put these on the webpage, and refer to them before each major discussion period.

Finally, we discuss the traits that make someone a good participator. The point of this is to make students aware that a) everyone has something to contribute; if you think your perspective is "strange" that just adds to the richness of the class; and b) the most successful participators are those who open their mouths and do it.

Hopefully, this will help with the "anthropology is scary" problem.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

IS the purpose of Anthropology to make the world safe for difference?

I recently attended a workshop on Internationalizing Teaching and Learning (and came away with a great deal to think about - more posts later). 

During the workshop, we talked about leading students toward a more multicultural worldview. One of the participants asked me if it would be acceptable for that to be the whole purpose of an introductory anthropology class. I'll admit, the question took me aback, because it never occurred to me that there could be any doubt the answer is "yes!" After all, Ruth Benedict famously said that "the purpose of Anthropology is to make the world safe for human difference." (That's even our discipline motto, here at UMM.) 

Turns out, our discipline's a little odd that way.

Many disciplines (and even some anthropologists) worry that advocacy of diversity and social justice will taint them. Given the political climate of the last two decades, I understand the fear. I avoid overt commentary on current political questions in classes, because I don't want to be accused of trying to "indoctrinate" my students.

But it's not indoctrination to teach that the world is full of people who have different assumptions about, gender, race, religion, the family, etc. It's not indoctrination to mention that diversity is a fact of life, and a wonderful part of the human experience. And, believe it or not, it's not indoctrination to point out that our own assumptions about the world say a lot about our bests interests as a culture, and aren't necessarily in the best interests of other people.

The more I thought about the question, the more I realized that issues of multiculturalism and social justice are at the heart of teaching in anthropology. And you know what, they're at the heart of our country, too. Need proof? Read some of the angst-ridden articles about demographic trends written by Republican party operatives.

So embrace it, fellow anthropologists! Our business is creating paladins for diversity. Let's teach our students to go out and make that multicultural world safe for human difference!

OK, technically, paladins must have a lawful good orientation, and I consider anthropology to be a force for chaotic good, or, at most, neutral good, but you get my point. (Have I geeked you out yet?)