About a year ago now, I submitted my final assignment for a class with Yannis Hamilakis called Decolonizing Classical Antiquity: White Nationalism, Colonialism, and Ancient Material Heritage. The prompt was “Decolonizing the Museum”: we were to select one object from the nearby RISD Museum, research its history and context, and present it from a decolonial perspective. The object I selected is shown above. It was previously known as “Vase and Lid in the Form of the Head of a Nubian Boy.” I argued that the name should be changed to avoid racial language. Why? To answer, here’s an excerpt from my paper:
I argue that the name used for this object should be changed from “Vase and Lid in the Form of the Head of a Nubian Boy” to remove racial (and gendered) language. An example of an alternative title is “Vase and Lid in the Form of the Head of a Child.” I suggest that the word “boy” be replaced with “child,” since there is no clear evidence that the subject is male. Making this change acknowledges the legacy of patriarchy in naming museum objects; the “unmarked” term should not be masculine. Most importantly, I strongly believe that racial terms like “Nubian” should be avoided when naming objects. As I contended earlier, using such terms – even with the best of intentions – reinforces the structural racism that still pervades our world today. Removing racial language from the label of the object is not a panacea, but it does signify the commitment of the RISD Museum to a just future. Leaving out racial language also does not mean ignoring the continuing legacy of racism, especially in the United States. Ideally, a name like “Vase and Lid in the Form of the Head of a Child” would force the viewer to reflect on their ideas of race. Whiteness is currently the norm; no object is (or should be) described as a “Vase and Lid in the Form of the Head of a White Child.” Using unmarked language (with no racial descriptor) for the object under question normalizes blackness. Rather than ignoring race, changing the label to remove racial terminology provokes reflection on race and racism while also avoiding ahistorical vocabulary that is inappropriate when referring to classical antiquity.
My full paper is available here if you’re interested in reading more. What I was happiest about, though, is that this paper actually made a difference (albeit a small one). After the class, I emailed Gina Borromeo, the curator of ancient art, suggesting this change. It took nine or ten months, but I’m very glad to say that the object is now called “Bust of a Child”!
I want to take the chance to reflect somewhat on how Roger Levine’s A Living Man From Africa (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011) intersects with other things I’ve done and am interested in. First, I want to elaborate a bit on the similarities and differences of Levine’s project from my work on John Wesley Gilbert. Second, I want to discuss my work with Women’s Refugee Care in light of Jan Tzatzoe’s life as an intermediary and interpreter. Finally, I want to think a bit more about Levine’s method — particularly his relationship to “theory” — and consider what I can learn from A Living Man From Africa. Continue reading Jan Tzatzoe, John Wesley Gilbert, and Women’s Refugee Care
Our trusted friend Wikipedia tells us that prior to 1927 the name of the modern village of Neo Monastiri was Τσιόμπα (Tsioba). This name appears to be the Turkish, based on the word çoban (Felipe Rojas, email correspondence, 2018) meaning shepherd, which is a fairly common component of Turkish place names. This name is also linked to a popular Turkish producer of Greek yogurt, Chobani.
In 1927 there was a deliberate name change to Neo Monastiri. Where things get a little foggy is the progression of names prior to this change. The use and existence of Tsioba is documented below, but another name is noted in this source: Biclerer (Μπικλερέρ), also Turkish. There is also mention of the village being called Malamidohori in honor of the Fthiotida representative Efstathios Malamidas, who founded the village, though this name didn’t stick (1925). One reference was found to the toponym Hajoba as the name of the village prior to the arrival of the Bulgarian immigrants. As we know, the village was rebuilt after a 1955 earthquake, and now the former location is referred to as the “old village” (Paliohori). The toponym Neo Monastiri was directly transferred between places.
The oldest known reference to a village toponym is from an 1897 map (figure 1) in the book The Wars of the Nineties, published in 1899 in London. This map shows the town of Tsioba in the correct location for Neo Monastiri based on comparison with the surrounding towns. From this, it’s obvious that there was a small village, as it was described in sources contemporary to the map, at the location prior to the establishment of the current community living there. One source writes that that itinerant shepherds or vlachs lived in the village for fifty years prior to their own arrival . There is a note that these names applied to older ‘settlements’, not villages, although no distinction is made between what that means, exactly. There’s no record of a Greek toponym in use prior to 1927, which is interesting given the array of possible Turkish names used prior to this time. Continue reading Toponyms at Koutroulou Magoula
In this post, I wanted to talk a bit about an archaeologist I admire, Sonya Atalay. I saw her speak two weeks ago here at Brown and her work will continue to inspire and problematize my research projects.
Overview and context
Sonya Atalay is currently Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Massachussets, Amherst. Her research interests include community-based research and indigenous archaeology and heritage. Her book Community-Based Archaeology: Research with, by, and for Indigenous and Local Communities (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012) is a pioneering work in the field of engaged archaeology. Atalay’s interest in community-based participatory research (CBPR) draws on her Anishinabe (Ojibwe) heritage. She has worked extensively with American Indian communities, especially in the Midwestern United States. Here I will focus not on this research but rather on Atalay’s work in Çatalhöyük, an archaeological site in southern Turkey.
Çatalhöyük is most famous for the remains of a large, densely packed settlement from around 9000 years ago. The ruins point to a community that was remarkably complicated for its time. The site is particularly important because it testifies to “the evolution of social organization and cultural practices as humans adapted to a sedentary life,” including early forms of religion (to quote from the site’s inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Çatalhöyük was first excavated in 1958, but the current project dates to 1993. This second phase of excavation is based on the principles of post-processual archaeology developed by Ian Hodder, the site’s director. In short, this theoretical movement emphasizes the subjectivity of archaeological interpretations, undermining positivist tendencies and universalist claims. In other words, Çatalhöyük is a natural environment for the implementation of Atalay’s engaged archaeology. Continue reading Engaged Archaeology: Sonya Atalay’s Work at Çatalhöyük
This paper was delivered as part of a student-led symposium on the life and legacy of John Wesley Gilbert held on 2 March 2018, as part of the Joukowsky Institute’s conference entitled State of the Field 2018: Archaeology and Social Justice. A video recording is available here; my presentation begins at 30:30. The slides I used are available here, and I’ve added the appropriate images below when possible. Any questions or comments are very much appreciated (as are requests for sources)!
In this paper, I analyze primary sources to reveal contemporary attitudes to Gilbert and his work as a cleric, a writer, and a scholar. First, I discuss Gilbert’s relationship with Methodism, including his mission to the Congo. I then turn to Gilbert’s political activity and contemporary reception, before ending with Gilbert’s modern legacy. I argue that these three facets of Gilbert’s life – his religion, politics, and scholarship – reflect three different approaches to John Wesley Gilbert, the man and the symbol. Paying close attention to the shifting emphases in the legacy of John Wesley Gilbert pushes us to be more reflexive in our own approaches to him and reflect on how our politics are entangled with the representation of the past. Continue reading Scholar, Activist, or Religious Figure? John Wesley Gilbert’s Reception and Legacy
As a concentrator in Archaeology here at Brown, I am also a member of the Engaged Scholars Program. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the nature of engaged scholarship and my relationship with it. I wanted to summarize and comment on three seemingly disparate strands of engaged scholarship that I’ve recently come across: the more traditional idea of service learning; Antonio Gramsci’s concept of the “organic intellectual”; and Cornel West’s more recent evolution of this idea, as demonstrated through an essay on Martin Luther King, Jr. I end by drawing together these three thinkers and articulating a critique of dominant understandings of engaged scholarship.
This semester, I am in SOC 0310: Theory and Practice of Engaged Scholarship (with Allen Hance and Lynsey Ford). We’ve been talking a lot about what engaged scholarship means for the program, particularly as an evolution of “service learning.” The traditional idea was that students gain valuable skills and experiences through direct service. More recently, Tania Mitchell has encapsulated a trend away from this idea towards a kind of “critical service-learning,” which emphasizes the importance of critical reflection as a way of addressing structural and systemic issues that underlie the most apparent problems. Brown offers a number of courses that fit within this philosophy, and has recently approved the introduction of a course designation in Community-Based Learning and Research (CBLR). Indeed, I would argue that the idea of service learning (mostly in its critical form) is at the heart of engaged scholarship as the Swearer Center currently understands it. Other definitions abound. For example, as used by New England Resource Center for Higher Education, engaged scholarship focuses on the role of faculty “in a reciprocal partnership with the community, is interdisciplinary, and integrates faculty roles of teaching, research, and service.” This definition (focused on faculty) has greater ambit than the idea of service learning, which is focused on student experience. I feel that this difference points at the crux of the issue with engaged scholarship as it is currently understood — more on this later. Continue reading Engaged Scholarship and the “Organic Intellectual”
In Fall 2017, I was fortunate enough to take an engaged course in the French department called L’expérience des réfugiés et immigrés (The Experience of Refugees and Immigrants). This course was developed last summer and offered for the first time this year (see article for more). It combined a survey of Francophone texts by and about migration with an engaged component: working with Women’s Refugee Care (WRC). My French improved because I got the chance to use it in a setting with no safety net: in the community engagement portion of the course, French really was the best means of communication. More importantly, this course was a great opportunity to get involved with a local nonprofit and explore the idea of engaged scholarship (which I’m continuing to do through the Engaged Scholars Program in Archaeology).
My work with Women’s Refugee Care centered on three interviews I did with members of the Congolese refugee community here in Providence. Along with Jeanelle Wheeler, my wonderful colleague, we got to know the community, attending a few gatherings and meeting lots of interesting people. We then arranged interviews with a few of those we met at their homes. After recording the interviews, we translated them into English and then posted them on the WRC blog.
I’m particularly happy with the final result: interviews with Katerina, Aline, and Sylvie. I encourage you to read what they have to say — not just to admire their successes and appreciate the challenges they faced, but to acknowledge them as multifaceted human beings. I also wrote an introduction to the interviews (in French), where I reflect on the entire experience, including obstacles, challenges, and the path we took in presenting them as we did. If you find this interesting or stimulating, I would love to know — just add a comment here or send me an email.1