Induction Ceremony, April 8, 2016, the induction address was given by Adrie Kusserow, PhD, Professor of Anthropology
Even before I became an anthropologist, I grew up peering over the edges of American culture, watching the lives of others with a sense of fascination, curiosity and bafflement. Bulky assumptions which often blind us from seeing ourselves as cultural beings, were always so easy for me to shed, to see as bizarre and foreign. When I think back to how I developed this “talent,” ironically I go back to the day of my father’s sudden death. After the horror of his car accident, for the next few years I walked around in a liminal state, acutely “other” watching the other 9 year olds hopping around the gymnastics floor, while I sat in the corner nursing the chill of another panic attack spreading across my chest. It was from that corner I learned some finely honed skills of observation, detachment, participant observation, humility and empathy. It is also this state of suffering that I’m convinced led me to seek out work with Tibetan, South Sudanese and Bhutanese refugees later on, feeling somehow akin to their status as outsiders.
After a year at Amherst College, I grew restless. The rituals of the dining hall, the posturing and wealth felt ludicrous and I could no longer sink into them unannounced without deep questioning. So, at 19, I traveled to Nepal and northern India, home of the Tibetan government in exile, living with Tibetan refugees and studying the Buddhist concept of suffering, where red robed monks clapped their hands together in wild dances of intense philosophical debate. I kid you not, Tibetan monks dance their philosophical points into existence, punctuating their claims with sudden moves of the body, slaps of the hands and intense vocals. Was this philosophy? Or was this drama, theater, art? It was neither. It was both. I was enchanted. My sense of being displaced, liminal, was thrilling- instead of alienation, I felt a vast sense of discovery and immense appreciation, for all the width and possibility the human spectrum contained. Most of those nights in the Himalayas, as all anthropologists do after a long day “in the field,” I wrote. What came out was more like the monks philosophical debates - a hybrid of art and science, cultural analysis mixed with the longing, soul, emotion, imagery and rhythm of poetry.
Years later, in graduate school I would learn that since it’s beginning, cultural anthropology has had the act of writing at its very core. How anthropologists write has become as much a part of methodological reflection as the cultural subjects we write about. Field notes and thick description are a fundamental component of any cross-cultural encounter- picture the stereotype of the lone anthropologist scribbling feverishly in a notebook late at night, swatting flies and craving privacy as the locals peer through the hut. Thankfully, the discipline has moved from single authored supposedly objective British male ego-laden tomes written in dry, cachectic prose, to multiple authored “team” ethnographies now interwoven with photography, poetry, film and creative nonfiction.
If anthropology is supposedly science (objective) and poetry is supposedly fiction (subjective), then how do I now straddle both? Or is it even a matter of straddling? First of all, how could I not? For me, metaphor, adjectives, rich creative writing with insight and rhythm was what the people, landscape and culture, demanded, anything short of this would be to represent their lives inaccurately like sterile one dimensional stick figures. I fell in love with creative ethnographic writing because it helped me bring to the forefront of consciousness a whole landscape of deep emotion, unspoken inequalities and conceptual complexity I wasn’t seeing or feeling in conventional anthropological writing.
Second of all, the dichotomy, is too simplistic. Poetry is not completely fiction and anthropology is not completely science. Writing ethnographic poetry is not for me a form of confessional psychotherapy, but one of the many tools I use that allow me to dig further into the field experience for new insights, associations and memories. It is a kind of hyper-focused meditation that brings me to places I could not always reach through non-aesthetic modes of thought. Consider that anthropology’s famous “Thick description” requires all of one’s aesthetic antennae to be fully alert, so that we can not only enhance, but bring meanings to the supposed “literal facts.” Hence, ethnographic poetry is not just about accurately describing an experience, but using the insight of its acutely nuanced language and artistic aesthetic to bring a wider array of meanings to these facts than conventional writing and wisdom sometimes offers.
Often times I am part of my ethnographic poems. They allow me to explore and acknowledge my complicated presence in many of these human interactions. Rather than pretend the researcher doesn’t exist and is having no impact on the subjects she studies, my poems allow me to elaborate on the ways I am shaping this encounter. Anthropologists stick their feet into the mud of culture, they do not come and go in clean, unnoticed ways, they are viscous, sticky, they both intrude and drag bits of the mud of culture away with them. The rethinking of objectivity being carried out by feminists who study the sciences today has put at the top of the agenda the importance of doing social science more subjectively so it will ironically, be more objective.
In this globalized age, the people anthropologists try to understand do not come to us in bulk form, as past or present, East or West; they carry their pasts and the cultures they are bristling against, stereotyping or swallowing whole, as well as their hopes for the future, right into the present moment. My ethnographic poems, especially about refugees, have to be able to accommodate the hybrid consciousness of the displaced as they live through the global friction and violence of cultures existing inside of each other, as well as the power differential between the refugee and myself. Furthermore, since the topic of my field work is about grave inequalities, global poverty, and refugees, like many current public anthropologists I feel I have an ethical responsibility to deeply engage the reader, not to leave them stone cold, distant and emotionless. I now use poetry, film, novels and plays with my students as a way of bringing emotion back into the study of culture, where it never should have left.
For years, British colonial anthropologists preached leaving the self/emotions out
of anthropology, that they could do nothing but muddy the waters, bias and spoil objectivity. Ironically those very emotions are often what act as core places of connection between myself and the Other. Anthropologists are observers with emotions that can sharpen their vision rather than blur it. When I sit in South Sudan, under a tree, talking to a Nuba refugee girl who has fled the bombings, her fingers black from digging termites, her cloudy eyes dopey with malaria, I am not trying to erase myself of emotion or write about her scientifically. These are wars fought on planets of fire and drought that must be described, with every tentacle of emotional and aesthetic antennae I can muster. When I go out into the public to fundraise, it is my poetry that sends more girls to school, not my stats on refugees.
At a recent workshop at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe on literary ethnography, most of us (all anthropologists) were engaged in discussions around: What do we risk losing without deeper, multidimensional and more subtle and poetic portraits of social realities and patterns? How might we write to a wider audience in gripping, charged and yet still comprehensible ways that get the public to viscerally engage? Are there qualities about humans that are in fact best depicted through metaphor, line break and poetic form and not academic jargon, charts and graphs? Why are so many of the best ethnographies, now written in a style as enveloping, creative and nuanced as a brilliant novel? Because human life demands it so. If we go back to our admittedly simplistic dichotomies - Science needs Art. If we really want to engage with the whole messy emotional human encounter with its power relations, masks, shadows, hungers, deviations and globalized identities, we will acknowledge its dizzying effect on what we once thought was the work of the sterile, neutral anthropologist representing the passive Other. I guarantee, once OUT of the stiff, one dimensional social scientific grids of writing that neither moves, nor inspires, neither irritates, illuminates or sings, the whole human will never want to obediently march back in.
Induction Ceremony, April 10, 2015, The induction address was "A-walk-around-The-Waking", given by William H. Marquess, Instructor of English.
On April 7, 2014, John Churchill, National Secretary of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, gave a talk entitled "What's At Stake: The Arts and Sciences in American Higher Education".
Monday, October 1, 2012
Lecture by Visiting Scholar Dr. Sarah Keller
How Playing with Unrealistically Simple Systems Gives Insight into Real Cell Membranes
Sarah Keller is a biophysicist who investigates self-assembling soft condensed matter systems. Recently, her research has focused on how simple lipid mixtures within bilayer membranes give rise to complex phase behavior. She joined the department of chemistry at the University of Washington in 2000 and is the recipient of the department's 2004 Outstanding Teaching Award, as well as the university's 2006 Distinguished Teaching Award. She is also currently the Associate Dean for Research Activities for the UW College of Arts and Sciences. Her research has been recognized by the Avanti Young Investigator Award (American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology); the Margaret Oakley Dayhoff Award (Biophysical Society); a Cottrell Scholar Award (Research Corporation); and a CAREER Award (National Science Foundation). In 2011 she was elected to the Washington State Academy of Sciences and was named a fellow of the American Physical Society.
On Friday, April 20, 2012 in McCarthy Arts Center, in addition to the induction of our Chapter's newest mambers, Dr. George Dameron, Saint Michael's College Professor of History and Department Chair, gave the talk entitled: "Becoming Invisible: Economic History and the Past, Present and Future of Medieval Studies."
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Lecture by Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, Michael McCormick
Michael McCormick, historian and archaeologist of the late Roman Empire and early medieval Europe, taught at Johns Hopkins University from 1979 to 1991, and was a research associate at Dumbarton Oaks (1979-87). He moved to Harvard in 1991, where he is Francis Goelet Professor of Medieval History. His books include Origins of the European Economy: Communications and Commerce, A.D. 300-900 (Haskins Medal, Medieval Academy of America; Ranki Prize, Economic History Association) and Charlemagne’s Survey of the Holy Land: Wealth, Personnel and Buildings of a Mediterranean Church (forthcoming). He is currently working on natural scientific approaches to the past, including the history of human health and the environment, and applying computer science to the study of ancient texts.
He has been awarded fellowships by the Guggenheim Foundation, the ACLS, and the Max-Planck-Institut, and was honored by the Mellon Foundation with its Distinguished Achievement Award in 2002. He is a fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, the American Philosophical Society, and the Society of Antiquaries (London); and a corresponding member of the Monumenta Germaniae historica (Munich) and the Académie royale de Belgique.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Lecture by Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, Sandra Harding
"Sciences From Below: An Introduction to Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies"
Sandra Harding is professor of education and women’s studies, and from 1996 to 2000 was director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women. A philosopher of science, she taught at the University of Delaware, 1976-1996, prior to joining the faculty at UCLA. She co-edited the journal Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society from 2000 to 2005 and is the author or editor of fifteen books and special journal issues. Among them are Science and Social Inequality; Is Science Multicultural? Postcolonialisms, Feminisms and Epistemologies; Whose Science? Whose Knowledge?; The Science Question in Feminism; and Sciences from Below: Gender, Imperialism, and Modernity (forthcoming, spring 2008).
She has been a consultant to several United Nations organizations, including the Pan American Health Organization, UNESCO, the U.N. Development Fund for Women, and the U.N. Commission on Science and Technology for Development. She was a visiting professor at the University of Amsterdam, the University of Costa Rica, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and the Asian Institute of Technology.
March 6-7, 2006
Lecture by Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, Ronald L. Graham
"Mathematics in the 21st Century: Problems and Prospects"
During his two-day visit, Professor Graham delivered one public lecture and met with students in classes and seminars.
Ronald Graham spent thirty-seven years at Bell Labs as a researcher, leaving in 1999 as chief scientist. During that time he also held visiting positions at Princeton, Stanford, Caltech, and UCLA, and was a part-time University Professor at Rutgers. He currently holds the Irwin and Joan Jacobs Chair of Computer and Information Science at California, San Diego. His research within the field of discrete mathematics includes Ramsey theory, the development of the theory of quasirandomness, as well as contributions to the number theory, approximation algorithms, and computational geometry.
Professor Graham has received numerous awards, including the Pólya Prize in Combinatorics, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and the Steele Prize for lifetime achievement, American Mathematical Society. Past president of the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America, he is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as of the AAAS.
The Visiting Scholar Program
The Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program makes available each year twelve or more distinguished scholars who visit 100 colleges and universities with chapters of Phi Beta Kappa. They spend two days on each campus, meeting informally with students and faculty members, taking part in classroom discussions, and giving a public lecture open to the entire academic community. The purpose of the program is to contribute to the intellectual life of the institution by making possible an exchange of ideas between the Visiting Scholars and the resident faculty and students. Now entering its 50th year, the Visiting Scholar Program has sent 518 Scholars on some 4,500 two-day visits since the 1956-57 academic year.
Participating Visiting Scholars for 2007-2008 were: Michael J. B. Allen, Distinguished Professor of English, University of California, Los Angeles; Roger S. Bagnall, Director, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University; Lori F. Damrosch, Henry L. Moses Professor of Law and International Organization, Columbia University; Morris P. Fiorina, Wendt Family Professor of Political Science, Stanford University; Alejandro García-Rivera, Professor of Systematic Theology, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley; Sandra Harding, Professor of Education and Women’s Studies, University of California, Los Angeles; Daniel Huttenlocher, Neafsey Professor of Computing, Information Science and Business, Cornell University; Lawrence M. Krauss, Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics, Case Western Reserve University; Eric Mazur, Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, Harvard University; Saskia Sassen, Member, Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University; James J. Sheehan, Dickason Professor in the Humanities, Stanford University and 2007-2008 Phi Beta Kappa/Frank M. Updike Memorial Scholar; Pamela S. Soltis, Curator, Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolutionary Genetics, Florida Museum of Natural History; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 300th Anniversary University Professor, Harvard University.
April 15, 2005
Induction Lecture by Dean John Kenney
“American Catholics and the Intellectual Life”
Fifty years ago Monsignor John Tracy Ellis, a distinguished scholar of American history, published a celebrated and controversial essay by this title in the Catholic journal Thought. Fr. Ellis decried what he regarded as “the impoverishment of Catholic scholarship in this country.” And he insisted that Catholic colleges should “maintain a strong emphasis on the cultivation of intellectual excellence.”
February 3, 2005
Lecture by Gamma Chapter Vice President George Dameron
"A Hallowed Sense of Place: Buildings, History and the Virtuous Dead"
Focusing on thirteenth and fourteenth century Florence as a case study, this presentation will explore a tradition of devotion to the dead that is rooted in a sense of place. More specifically, it will argue that attention to, veneration of, and concern for the souls of those Florentines who had died in the past helped shape and transform the city into one of the most prosperous and culturally creative centers of the world. Drawing on a wide variety of disciplines in the liberal arts ranging from mathematics and architecture to history and literature, this lecture will demonstrate how the commitment of Florentines to their ancestors and their saints helped them cope with dramatic change. In the devotion of twenty-first century Americans for the site of the former World Trade Center, we can see how this tradition of veneration for the virtuous dead continues to help the living cope with the difficult challenges of the present.
April 16, 2004
Chapter Installation and First Induction Ceremony for Students