Brian Boyce, PhD student, will be presenting “Congo Square: The Meeting Place” at the International Conference “Rethinking Carnival from the Pre-Modern to the Present” in Frankfurt, Germany on October 7, 2023. Good luck, Brian!
The streets of Iran have been filled with chants of “Women! Life! Freedom!” as the nation experiences a vast social uprising against its political leadership led by women and girls.
Sparked by the September 16th killing of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Jina Amini, while in the custody of Iran’s “morality police” for failing to comply with Islamic dress codes, the movement has at its heart an insistence that there is no such thing as political freedom without bodily autonomy. It has spread throughout Iran—prompting a government crackdown that has killed hundreds—and given rise to new visions for political futures both in Iran and globally.
Dr. Narges Bajoghli, an award-winning political anthropologist, writer, and professor whose past research on Iran has given her unprecedented access to those in power as well as to the social movements struggling against the state, shares her insights into what these uprisings mean for Iran and the rest of the world.
Dr. Bajoghli discusses the women and girls at the forefront of this movement, their refusal to comply with laws and systems that oppress them, and the prospects of these struggles to bring about substantive change despite government efforts to squelch dissent.
Dr. Narges Bajoghli is a political anthropologist, media anthropologist, and documentary filmmaker, whose research lies at the intersections of media, power, and resistance in Iran and the United States. nargesbajoghli.com
A lecture by Dr. Narges Bajoghli, Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, co-director of the school’s Rethinking Iran Initiative, and author of Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic.
This past year, cultural anthropology doctoral candidate Mac Archer has been busy conducting research alongside the Haitian social welfare department, IBESR, and the child protection organization, LFBS.
Mac’s research focuses on the importance of emotional labor in orphanages where destitute children are cared for by nannies drawn from poor communities, sometimes the very communities that these children hail from. In her research Mac centers the complicated racial, class, and gender dynamics at play within Haiti’s orphanage system, where the major players running orphanages tend to be US-based, faith-based organizations.
“Over the past year I have connected with some amazing people, heard both heartbreaking and inspiring testimonies from various members of these organizations,” Mac said.
She has also worked as a monitoring and evaluation specialist for the Kellogg Foundation-funded organization, Hope for Haiti, conducting research in schools located in remote areas of the island. With a research regimen that can be physically and emotionally daunting, Mac has found her expertise as a yoga teacher helpful as an avenue to help recuperate while also serving the small expatriate community in Les Cayes.
“I have also been grateful to teach yoga twice a week to a community of expats in Les Cayes since March,” she said. “This past year has been a wonderful experience and adventure.”
Ethnographic fieldwork can be immensely challenging, but nevertheless rewarding academically and as a life-experience.
Message from the Department Head
It has been another busy, productive, and successful year in the department. I’m excited to share with you in this issue of Anthropos the stories of my colleagues and highlight the experiences of some of the wonderful students who make the department such a great place to do and teach anthropology.
This academic year kicked off with the first faculty retreat we’ve had in nearly 20 years. We spent a day together in the beautiful setting of the University of Tennessee Arboretum discussing how university changes in budgeting, enrollment, and organization will affect the department and how best to respond and plan for them. We also strategized about future growth and curricular changes. Most importantly, the retreat was a chance to engage with each other, brainstorm, and share experiences in a setting outside of the daily demands of life in Strong Hall. I hope to make retreats a part of our annual cycle going forward.
Our program continues to thrive, with another year of increasing undergraduate enrollment. Because the interests and needs of our students and the department continue to change, we have been busy adjusting our curriculum and welcoming new colleagues.
Last May, Micah Swimmer of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians led the university’s first-ever course that centered Cherokee language instruction within a broader discussion of contemporary Cherokee culture. The course, housed in anthropology, included students from across the university and was a great success. We will offer it again this year as part of May mini-term. We also put into place a new undergraduate concentration in archaeology, which will start in the fall. The concentration provides a more structured pathway for students interested in focusing their studies on archaeology and will include requirements for field and laboratory work in addition to coursework in archaeological method and theory. We’re also working to build partnerships with local archaeological firms to provide our students with internship and employment opportunities.
In August we welcomed biological anthropologist Steven Lautzenheiser to the department as a new tenure-line faculty member. Steven specializes in biomechanics of the foot and ankle in modern humans and teaches courses in human anatomy, paleontology, evolutionary biology, and primate evolution.
Four new lecturers – Karim Alizadeh, Alemayehu Jorgo, Ehsan Lor Afshar, and Amanda Williams – have also joined the faculty this year. Their courses are providing our students with opportunities to learn about new areas of scholarship, including anthropological perspectives on money, pastoralism in East Africa, ancient borderlands in Iran, and the treatment of the dead.
I am happy to announce that Raja Swamy earned tenure and promotion to associate professor, and Ben Auerbach was promoted to professor. We are pleased to welcome Terrie Yeatts to the department as our new accounting coordinator, and Sarah Taylor from the College of Arts and Sciences as our new undergraduate academic advisor.
We have begun collaborations with the McClung Museum’s new environmental archaeologist Alison Damick, and with Zachary Garrett, the new NAGPRA coordinator, in the Office of the Provost.
We are also at a time of transitions. In the spring, faculty gathered for a farewell dinner to celebrate the career of Distinguished Professor of Science Jan Simek, who retired after 38 years at the university. An expert in the archaeology of Paleolithic Europe and cave archaeology, most recently in the Southeast, he served as department head from 1992 to 2000 and again from 2014 to 2017. He also was chancellor of the university from 2008 to 2009 and president from 2009 to 2010. Jan continues his affiliation with the department as professor emeritus.
Lee Meadows Jantz, associate director of the Forensic Anthropology Center and distinguished lecturer, plans to retire from teaching at the end of the spring semester. Lee joined the department in 2000 and is an expert in skeletal biology, forensic anthropology, and human growth and development. She is responsible for the body donation program and curates the William M. Bass Donated and Forensic skeletal collections.
After a nearly 22-year career at the university, Professor David Anderson, a leading scholar of southeastern archaeology, former associate head, and current director of graduate studies, will retire in July. Staff member Kathy Berry will retire next month after five years with the department, during which time she has been the public face of the department for students in Strong Hall. We are grateful for all of their contributions over the years and wish them all the best.
I hope you enjoy this issue of the newsletter. Please reach out if you’d like to learn more about the department or share your memories and ideas with us.
Professor and Head
In March 2022, Kandi Hollenbach planted a southern foodways garden in a bed adjacent to the Cottage behind Strong Hall with the assistance of students and faculty members. Kandi teaches about plants and foodways in the classroom, but photos do little justice to the vibrant energy of a living garden.
When we think of southern food, cornbread, grits, barbecue, fried green tomatoes, and fried okra come to mind. We owe these ingredients and techniques to Native Americans and enslaved Africans from the South’s colonial past. During the inaugural season of the garden, Kandi focused on plants associated with both groups.
Plants cultivated by Native Americans include sunflowers and the familiar “Three Sisters’ Garden” of corn, beans, and squash. She replaced squash with bottle gourd to limit the amount of food produced, since the chemical inputs drifting into the garden are currently unclear. Bottle gourds are the oldest cultivated crop in the Americas, dating to at least 10,000 years ago. Squashes are a close cousin, domesticated around 5,000 years ago by groups living in the Eastern Woodlands of North America. These groups also domesticated sunflowers by 4,200 years ago. Farming peoples in East Tennessee added corn to their food plots about 1,000 years ago, and beans 700 years ago, both of which were passed along routes that connected all the way to Mesoamerica.
Other plants in the garden, including okra and black-eyed peas (or cowpeas), highlight crops that enslaved Africans brought with them on their forced journey across the Atlantic. They may have also brought bottle gourds with them—plants that Africans also domesticated at least 4,000 years ago—or they may have been relieved to see bottle gourds growing locally when they arrived in the Americas. Africans and Native Americans used bottle gourds for a wide range of purposes, from containers to fishing floats to musical instruments.
Kandi and her assistants planted the garden in complementary groupings rather than orderly rows: the beans and black-eyed peas climbed up the corn stalks and okra and sunflower stems for support. Bottle gourd vines meandered at will, shading the soil to keep in moisture and outcompete weeds for sunlight. After several weeks of regular rain showers, the gourd vines were riotous and took over the whole patch!
The gardeners have learned a lot from the garden already – about the timing of plantings, sunlight requirements, responsiveness to rain, attraction of a wide range of wildlife, reduction in weeds over the course of the season as leaves and vines spread, timing of ripened pods, and harvest and drying of seeds and gourds for storage. Students in the spring 2023 paleoethnobotany class will package the seeds, along with information about their cultural uses, and distribute them to 4H groups in East Tennessee.
The students will also plant maygrass, little barley, and sochan this spring – another set of plants tended by Native Americans in this region beginning about 4,000 years ago – and develop signage for the garden. By May, they will harvest those seeds and plant the next round of crops for the summer.
If you find yourself near the corner of Cumberland Avenue and 16th Street, come by and check out what’s growing in our southern foodways garden!
Dr. Somda’s research focuses on the complex legacies of slavery and its memorialization in Madagascar, Benin, and South Africa, especially in the ways in which the latter relates to common assumptions about race and identity, driving the politics of essentialization and ethnicization in contemporary African societies. Dr. Somda also studies the representational politics around the depiction of women’s agency, slavery and colonialism in film, most notably in recent films like The Woman King, and Black Panther. Her ongoing multi-sited ethnographic work continues to shed light on the everyday lives of African women, as they navigate and contend with challenges and possibilities presented by social, economic and political crises and struggles in the present era.
Dr. Dominique Somda is a Research Fellow with the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. After earning a Ph.D. from the University of Paris Ouest Nanterre, where she was a member of the Laboratoire d’Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative, Dr. Somda conducted research and taught at various institutions in Europe, North America, and Africa, including Fondation des Maisons des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris, London School of Economics, University of Pennsylvania, and Reed College. Her work focuses on how inequality − or conversely egalitarianism − emerges through everyday practices, and engages the anthropology of slavery, democracy, Christianity, as well as feminist and postcolonial studies.
Caste in India: A Conversation with filmaker Leena Manimekalai about her film Maadathy – An Unfairy Tale
The Disasters, Displacement and Human Rights (DDHR) Program in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, presented a free screening of the award-winning Tamil language film (with English subtitles) Maadathy: An Unfairy Tale, followed by a virtual conversation with its director Leena Manimekalai, hosted by Dr. Prashanth Kuganathan and Dr. Raja Swamy. The event was sponsored by the Chancellors’ Council on Diversity and Inclusion and the UTK Department of Religious Studies.
Manimekalai is an acclaimed independent filmmaker and activist from Chennai, India. Her film Maadathy: An Unfairy Tale depicts the violence in rural Tamil Nadu against a caste group that is considered not only “untouchable” but also “unseeable.” This violence continues to plague much of India today. Caste and gender are two of India’s primary victim demographics of violence, particularly of a sexual nature. While gender-based violence is global, caste-based discrimination is restricted to South Asia and its diasporas. The category of caste is unlike any other in the United States. While similar to the concept of class, it is hereditary, sanctioned by religious text, and enforced by violence. This film and discussion with its director will provide attendees with a unique perspective into a system of contemporary apartheid that is not based on skin color or physical attributes but instead on more intangible categories of human classification.
Undergraduate Student Spotlights
A recent initiative through the Office of Undergraduate Research & Fellowships (OUR&F) and the department will provide four anthropology undergraduate students with the opportunity to participate in research projects with faculty this spring. A fifth student received a research award from the OUR&F through a longstanding program. These awards provide financial support and training to the students while contributing to faculty research goals. Awardees will present on some aspect of their projects in August 2022 at the annual Discovery Day poster event, or in spring 2023 in the Exhibition of Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement (EURēCA) Poster Competition.
Timothy Vollmer is working with Associate Professor Kandace Hollenbach to process, analyze, and report on samples of plant remains recently collected from the Boathouse Pond Site, a Woodland to early colonial Indigenous village site on Virginia’s Northern Neck. Professor Barbara Heath and graduate students Rebecca Webster, Elizabeth Tarulis, and Bear Gibbs excavated shell midden deposits at the site in December, and uncovered additional features that they hope to investigate in summer 2022. Timothy will also prepare information based on the analysis to be shared with the Wicocomico Nation Heritage Association, descendants of the historic Sekakawon who lived at the site in the 17th century.
Tessa Carter and Luke Massongill join Research Associate Professor Giovanna Vidoli and Distinguished Lecturer Joanne Devlin to investigate whether sex estimations, based on specific size and shape attributes of human skeletal elements, are possible through the use of cremated human remains. The William M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collection contains more than 100 eligible donors for this investigation. Tessa and Luke are identifying and scoring the remains of skulls and pelvic features.
Sara Anderson is working with Distinguished Lecturer Lee Jantz and Forensic Anthropology Center Research Associate Mary Davis to consider breadth measurements of joint areas from donors in the William M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collection. The collection contains more than 1,600 eligible donors for this investigation. Sara is using previously-collected measurements, examined in light of antemortem records of height and weight of the donor, to determine if the joint measurements are correlated with body size, and whether body size impacts the use of these metrics to estimate the sex and ancestry of the deceased.
Axel Huichapa is conducting research with Professor Barbara Heath on violence at the Coan Hall site in the 17th and early 18th centuries in Northumberland County, Virginia, using artifacts as proxies. He is surveying artifact collections from four areas of the site and identifying, cataloguing, and analyzing artifacts associated with firearms and other weaponry if present. By looking at artifacts associated with discrete archaeological features, he can potentially discern areas where the use of weapons concentrated, and changes or continuities in particular types of weaponry across the period of study.
Assistant Professor Tamar Shirinian joined the department this fall after serving for two years as a post-doctoral teaching associate. She is working on a book manuscript, Survival of a Perverse Nation: Queer Transformations in Postsocialist Armenia, in which she critically analyzes the popular rhetoric of “perversion” in the post-Soviet Republic of Armenia.
Following the end of state socialism, Armenia experienced profound political and economic changes that also had social implications for kinship, gender, and sexuality. In the book, Shirinian argues that the “crisis” regarding homosexuality and feminism – both said to be sexually perverse and threatening the survival of the nation – is intimately tied to aggressive privatization measures, the concentration of public wealth into the hands of a few, and the rise of an oligarchy class who rules through authoritarian power. She traces the ways in which these latter changes are also frequently described as morally perverse. The book offers a queer theory that not only takes political economy seriously, but as its object of study.
In addition to her research on Armenia, Shirinian is collaborating with Professor Donna Braquet on the Voices Out Loud project, an archives and oral history project that chronicles the history of LGBTQ+ people in East Tennessee. They began a new collaboration in spring 2021 focusing on the experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the region during the COVID-19 outbreak. Having conducted 12 in-depth interviews thus far, and looking forward to holding focus groups as well, the team has made some interesting discoveries. While many queer folks in East Tennessee had extreme financial and health difficulties, some also took the time as an opportunity to make life-altering changes, such as having children or transitioning gender without daily public scrutiny or surveillance. Some also felt that their normalized levels of angst had decreased as a result of not having to be in public and thus not having to explain themselves, or deal with microaggressions about their appearance, and fear for their safety. Shirinian is working out some of these discoveries through a framework that considers the space of lock-down and quarantine as “sanctuary,” focusing in on the question of what it means when a space of crisis becomes a comfort.