Anthropology

The garden as a cultural institution

June 25, 2008
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The garden as a cultural institution

Last week in the June 16 New York Times cultural critic Edward Rothstein had an interesting commentary on the New York Botanical Garden drawing on Robert Pogue Harrison’s new book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, to help him place the concept of the garden in the wider context of western history and demonstrate its enduring cultural and historical importance. Rothstein writes: From medieval cloisters, botanical gardens made their way into universities, beginning with the University of Pisa in 1544. Later the garden’s terrain expanded with botanical expeditions, oceanic trade and imperial adventures. Victorian botanical gardens could be encyclopedic in scope, arranging their displays according to Latin classifications of species by the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus. Now, in our humid, dry, cooled or heated greenhouses, we shun such systematic display. Instead we replicate ecological niches, miniature worlds that supposedly show nature at work: the desert, the rainforest, the tropical pool. But peel back the environmental stagecraft, and the scientific cultivation continues with even greater passion… There is something moving about the entire enterprise. In a remarkable new book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, Robert Pogue Harrison (who wrote similar meditations on cemeteries and on forests) elicits some . . .

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Interview with Mary Pattillo on WNYC

June 17, 2008
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Interview with Mary Pattillo on WNYC

Mary Pattillo, author of Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City was interviewed yesterday on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show to discuss the gentrification of urban African American communities. Pattillo’s book is an eye-opening sociological exploration of Chicago’s North Kenwood–Oakland neighborhood and the community’s embattled process of revitalization, where the often conflicting interests of the black middle-class, their less-fortunate neighbors, and the established centers of white economic and political power frame a dramatic tale of the transformation of black communities in the twenty-first century. In the interview Pattillo touches on many of the issues discussed in her book and fields some interesting questions from WNYC listeners. Listen to the audio on the WNYC website. Also read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Press Release: Harrison, Gardens

June 2, 2008
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Press Release: Harrison, Gardens

Nothing banishes winter’s lethargy more quickly than that first sight of the green of spring, as trees bud and our gardens, once again, burst into glorious bloom. For Robert Pogue Harrison, it’s not just the depths of winter that gardens help us escape: throughout human history, gardens—both real and imagined—have been essential places of refuge and comfort in the face of a harsh, often violent world. Employing the richly learned and allusive approach that he brought to his classics, Forests and The Dominion of the Dead, Harrison explores here the central importance of the human urge to nurture and cultivate gardens. Beginning with ancient conceptions of the garden as a place for the quiet work of self-improvement that is crucial to serenity and enlightenment, Harrison then travels widely through the history of Western culture. Enlisting such varied thinkers and writers as Voltaire and Calvino, Boccaccio and Arendt, Harrison profoundly demonstrates the role the garden has long played as a necessary, humanizing check against the degradation and losses of history. Read the press release. . . .

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An innovative blend of storytelling and scholarship

May 7, 2008
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An innovative blend of storytelling and scholarship

In a recent review posted to the Bookslut website, Barbara J. King praises anthropologist Richard Price’s most recent book Travels with Tooy: History, Memory, and the African American Imagination for its unique ethnographic account of the author’s encounter with the enigmatic subject of Tooy—a priest, philosopher, and healer living in a shantytown on the outskirts of Cayenne, French Guiana. Commending the book for drawing not only on Price’s ethnographic and archival research, but also on Tooy’s teachings, songs, and stories, King writes: The book glows with knowledge, Tooy’s as much as Rich’s, as Rich is the first to say; he writes of Tooy with love, as a friend, but also with respect, calling him “a fellow intellectual.…” The complexity of Rich’s analysis sits side by side with the complexity of Tooy’s time-and-space travel. As I close the book (and begin to listen to Tooy’s voice at Rich’s website ), I know that I grasp only a small fraction of what Tooy knows. It’s a good feeling, in a peculiar way; after all, that’s what inhabiting an unfamiliar reality will do for a person—teach her what she doesn’t know, and how to learn something more. Read the article at Bookslut. Also . . .

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Tenure as a fact on the ground

April 14, 2008
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Tenure as a fact on the ground

We have previously noted the tenure battle over Nadia Abu El-Haj, at the center of which is the book we published in 2001, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society. Abu El-Haj was granted tenure by Barnard last November. A sort of post-mortem on the whole affair appears in today’s issue of the New Yorker. Jane Kramer reviews Abu El-Haj’s academic career, the controversy over her tenure decision, and the continuing debate—at Columbia University and elsewhere—over fact and bias in Middle Eastern studies departments. Throughout the swirl of rhetoric, the articles and editorials, speeches and screeds, petitions and counter-petitions Abu El-Haj remained silent, trying to avoid the distraction. She finally spoke to Kramer for the New Yorker article. “What happened last year—it wasn’t about me. I was a cog in the big wheel of the Middle East and Israel.” Only an abstract of the article is online at the New Yorker website. But a pdf has been posted elsewhere. Also, Jane Kramer spoke with Jon Wiener on KPFK’s On the Radio (starts about 21 minutes in). . . .

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A Runyonesque tale of schemers and suckers

March 25, 2008
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A Runyonesque tale of schemers and suckers

An interesting piece on David Grazian’s new book On the Make: The Hustle of Urban Nightlife is running as the cover story in the current edition of the independent Philadelphia weekly City Paper. A.D. Amorosi’s article begins by comparing Grazian’s sociological study of Philly’s nightlife to Damon Grunyon’s scabrous tales of prohibition era New York: When David Grazian started working on his most recent book, he wanted to find the skin and bones of Philly’s latest nightlife renaissance. Now that it’s finished, On the Make: The Hustle of Urban Nightlife paints the scene like something out of a Damon Runyon novel, full of schemers and suckers born every minute. Flirty waitresses, winking hostesses and grinning bouncers make appearances in On the Make. So do PR consultants, drinking wing men, snobby DJs, event planners and paid partiers—the mod equivalent of Runyon’s bookies and mooches. (No one in On the Make is named “Nathan Detroit” or “Sky Masterson,” but a name like “Nicole Cashman” does the trick.) You can’t help but expect a chorus of “Luck Be a Lady” to come swinging through the text. Both entertaining and illuminating On the Make offers a riveting look at the various gambles, hustles, and . . .

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Larry McMurtry on Custerology

February 20, 2008
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Larry McMurtry on Custerology

In the most famous defeat in American military history Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer lost his life along with most of the rest of his 7th Cavalry at the now famous Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand. In the ensuing years the defeat has become a powerful symbol of America’s bloody past, with everyone from tourists and historians to Native American activists attempting to interpret and explain the battle in the context of the multicultural present. In the March 6 New York Review of Books, Larry McMurtry reviews Michael A. Elliott’s new book Custerology: The Enduring Legacy of the Indian Wars and George Armstrong Custer and explores the complicated question of why the battle retains such power for Americans today. McMurtry writes: Even as the sun set for Custer, dawn broke for the Custerologists—as Michael Elliott calls them—whose numbers now darken the sky. If you don’t believe me, write yourself some life insurance, then head up to Hardin, Montana, toward the end of June, and you’ll be able to take in not one but two reenactments of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, one sponsored by the town of Hardin itself (admission $16) and one put . . .

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David Grazian on the BBC

February 6, 2008
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David Grazian on the BBC

Last Wednesday David Grazian, author of On the Make: The Hustle of Urban Nightlife was featured on BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed with host Laurie Taylor. In the show Taylor and Grazian engage in a fascinating discussion about the various schemes and scams that the nightlife industry employs in order to separate customers from their money, as well as the scams perpetuated by the clientele themselves in their relentless search for sex, self-esteem, and status. Listen to archived audio from the show on the BBC Radio 4 website. Also, read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Review: Akerman and Karrow, Maps

January 29, 2008
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Review: Akerman and Karrow, Maps

James R. Akerman and Robert W. Karrow Jr.’s Maps: Finding Our Place in the World has been given quite a positive review in this month’s issue of the British science and technology magazine, BBC Focus. Praising the book for its thoughtful exploration of maps and the many divergent purposes they have served throughout human history, reviewer Nick Smith writes: If you though maps were merely aerial drawings of places that help us get from point A to B, you will be astonished by the depth and breadth of this book. The editors have cleverly set out the book’s structure in terms of what function maps perform, instead of ranging from continent to continent as with traditional atlases. There is macro-mapping throughout the ages and maps portraying land use, as well as those concerned with commerce, art, advertising, entertainment and national identity. There is plant distribution, cartographic analysis of the geology of the US and even the “distribution of the slave population of the Southern States.…” Fascinating stuff. See a collection of unusual maps from the book. . . .

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The fraud of nightlife

January 23, 2008
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The fraud of nightlife

David Grazian’s entertaining exploration of the bars of Philadelphia in On the Make: The Hustle of Urban Nightlife, continues to attract attention. Two new articles have recently been published featuring Grazian’s new book—the first appeared in the January 18 Chronicle Review and includes some great praise for the book’s revealing look at inner city nightlife: Grazian’s new book is, among other things, a long catalog of confidence games. Nightclub managers strain to persuade the world that their typical patrons are younger, less suburban, and more female than they actually are. For a secret payment of $500 per week, one Philadelphia publicist… will bring four attractive, well-connected friends to a club… There are also the more-familiar kinds of interpersonal fraud: In bars like Tangerine, people sometimes lie about their ages, their names, their jobs, and their marital statuses. Women give out fake phone numbers to shake off obnoxious suitors. People feign a sexual interest in others in order to score free drinks, to make their lovers jealous, or simply to make the evening less boring. “What’s skillful about the book is that these are settings that people are familiar with, but often don’t think very hard about,” says Joshua Gamson, a . . .

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