I came to Brown in 1992 with undergraduate degrees in Africana studies and Sociology & Anthropology – I knew I was going to work in the African continent for my dissertation fieldwork and was interested in gender and health – but my interest in African arts and museum studies in general were sparked by my work at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology and the collections opportunities I received.
During my time at Brown (1992-1999) I focused in medical and demographic anthropology and conducted my fieldwork in southern Africa, and in Botswana in particular. My research is on HIV/AIDS and fertility and I have continued this work for over the past two decades. What was clear from the very start of my work was that one of the best ways in which I could learn about the community, about the ins and outs of everyday life, of intimacies and lives was through learning what women do. In northern Botswana this meant learning about basket making.
Jim Schevill and I moved to Providence in 1969 for what we thought was one year, as he was invited to develop Brown’s Creative Writing Program with Edwin Honig. My previous career had been as an opera and concert singer in the Bay Area, and I had attended the University of California for one year before I married the first time. We both enjoyed living in Rhode Island, and Jim was offered a tenured position in the English Department.
He resigned from S.F. State and we moved to the east side of Providence. I met Charlotte Lowney who encouraged me to attend Pembroke College and finish my undergraduate degree – which I did majoring in Music and Spanish. During that time, with Gerard Shapiro, of the Music Department, we formed The New Music Ensemble of Providence that performed contemporary classical chamber music, and I was the singer.
Thomas Urban using ground-penetrating radar to survey an alpine ice field in the Brooks Range, Gate of the Arctic National Park, Alaska. Such features sometimes contain cultural resources that have remained frozen for many years and may now be threatened by environmental change. Photo by Jeff Rasic, National Park Service, 2016.
My first experience with the Haffenreffer Museum was taking the graduate seminar in museum studies as an undergraduate student at Brown University. This course culminated in the development and installation of a student co-curated exhibit featuring a range of textiles from the museum’s collections, drawing on both archaeological and ethnographic examples from different places and time-periods organized around the common theme of globalization. Warp Speeds, as it was titled, was also the inaugural exhibit of the newly renovated Manning Hall gallery, the museum’s first on-campus gallery. Manning Hall now serves as the museum’s primary exhibition space, though the paint was barely dry on the walls when Warp Speeds launched in 2005, the year I graduated from Brown. I was subsequently employed by, or collaborated with, the Haffenreffer Museum in several capacities, including assisting with this new exhibition space and participating in a variety of research projects associated with the museum, both collections-based and field-based.