Monday, November 24, 2008

Cheap Anthropology Books

as a part of my research project, I needed a chapter from the book Lowland Maya Settlement Patterns. The copies at both ASU and U of A were checked out, so I headed to

Delightfully, there were seven or eight used copies available, ranging in price from $10 to $54. I snapped up the $10 copy, and it arrived just four days later. I wouldn't do this for every source I might need, but this looks like a book I would own, so I went for it.

In Amazon's Marketplace (books sold by Amazon customers), one can find numerous out-of-print archaeology and anthropology books and reports, often for very reasonable prices. There are a surprising number of excavation reports available (e.g. Archaeological investigations at the Arroyo Hondo site: Third field report, 1972).

You can even browse Anthropology or Archaeology books by subtopic. Take a look at these starting points, and use the subtopics in the left-hand nav:

Archaeology Books at Amazon

Anthropology Books at Amazon

You can sort the results by price, customer rating, etc. I've also found several of my textbooks over the last few years on Amazon, usually paying significantly less than the used prices at the university bookstore.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Why don't I want to do this?

I have three weekends left to finish my research paper for ANTH 553 (Mesoamerican Archaeology). Why can't I make myself get it done? The task seems daunting, so I guess I'm avoiding it.

25-40 pages, including bibliography. I have most of the sources, but I've read only a fraction of them. A little advice: Don't do it like this! I began collecting possible sources back in late September, thinking I had a great start. But now, my back is against the wall, and I may not be entirely successful.

I think the #1 thing getting in my way is one big fact: My original idea for the research paper isn't going to work. I had hoped to find sufficient data on the Late Preclassic Maya Lowlands that would allow me to identify the way that neighborhoods were organized. Unfortunately, that information is buried several meters below Classic and Postclassic construction phases.

So the big challenge is to read about the Late Preclassic sites and try to identify some other indication of changes in social organization, since floorplans of the communities will not be available.

I wrote this hoping that admitting my anxiety and avoidance might help get me back on track. We'll see!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Not too early to think about Field School

Most summer field schools begin accepting applications after the first of the year, and that is right around the corner. I'm starting my search now.

Another student in the seminar I'm taking at the University of Arizona worked at Baking Pot last year, a large Classic capital in Belize. The Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance (BVAR) project is entering its 20th year, and there is still a lot of work to do there. I'm putting this one at the top of my list for several reasons:

  1. It's in Belize, where the official language is English;
  2. Instead of living in tents, you get to stay in a modest hotel;
  3. The amount of time you stay is flexible (minumum of 2 weeks).

I also see that academic credit may be obtained for the course through Galen University/University of Indianapolis (But the additional costs for the classes are significant).

If you are interested in attending a field school in the Maya area, this might be a good choice. As I continue my search, I'll compile a list of field schools and create a permanent link to a post which can just keep growing.

Anthropology and WoW

I've recently begun playing World of Warcraft (I have four different characters hovering between level 15 and 20), and I've wondered about studying it as a culture.

I'm not the first to think this way-- Anthropologist Alex Golub from the University of Hawai'i is doing just that. He has an op ed piece up at Inside Higher Ed where he compares guild raiding parties to classrooms, and believes that the good leadership traits which lead to success in WoW would also help achieve success in teaching.

Take a look at Fear and Humiliation as Legitimate Teaching Methods.

Dr. Golub isn't alone either. Bonnie Nardi from UC Irvine has received a NSF $100,000 grant to study why Chinese players (numbering over 5 million) take a different approach to the game than their American counterparts. Here's more on her work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More ethnographic work: Dog Show

I went back into the field again last weekend, spending three days among members of the AKC (American Kennel Club). My wife has gotten pretty deeply involved in showing our 9-month old Dalmatian Charlie, and this time I went along.

As with most special interest groups, they are a quirky bunch who take what they are doing very seriously. I've seen similar patterns in a taekwondo community, a Star Trek fan club, an astronomy club, and an amateur archaeology club.

Some observations:

As in any culture, there are unique shared ideas and values. These are most readily identified by the special terms they use when speaking to one another. There are the official terms and phrases (e.g. major, best of opposite, reserve), and those that have evolved informally (e.g. stack, bait).

There are standards and rules, but it all comes down to the various judge's highly subjective decisions. It is clear that participants believe that winners are not chosen solely on the basis of the dogs' characteristics, but that the reputation of the breeder or the handler (or whether the judge knows them personally) plays a significant part. It is also believed that judges from different regions of the country have significantly different standards by which they judge the dogs. Something besides the documented standards is certainly at work here... in each day of the three-day event there was a different judge, and there were different winners each day. A specific example: On the final day, a judge declared that she would award NO winner among the winners of the previous round since none of them were worthy... and one of these dogs had won a "major" only the day before with a different judge.

There is a high level of segmentation within the dog show culture. The divisions are naturally drawn along breed lines-- I saw very little interaction across breed groups. There are several coexisting hierarchies:

  1. The official stratification of the show itself. This is structured with the show officials at the top, then the judges, and the breeders and handlers at the bottom.
  2. I thought I also observed an informal hierarchy or pecking order, with dog owners (who do NOT show their own dogs) at the top. They are followed by the professional handlers (hired by these owners), breeders who show their own, and dog owners who show their own dogs at the bottom.
Unlike other groups I've observed, the dog show culture's competitive nature results in a broad range of emotions and strained relations between the members. There are, by definition, a lot more losers than winners, and the highly subjective manner in which the winners are chosen leads to continual controversy. In general, I saw a lot of unhappy people. I spoke with more than one individual who questioned whether they wanted to continue their participation.

Note: The photo above shows four pups from the same litter. Charlie is the dog on the far left, and that's Teri (my wife) handling him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Out of town... lots of posts to make up!

I've been out of town since last Thursday-- I spent four days in Tucson at an AKC-sponsored dog show (Charlie came home without earning any points toward being a Champion...), and this is now my last night of a three-day trip to Minneapolis on business.

I've had little or no time on the internet, and very little to blog about. No excuses, though! I still need to create 30 posts by the 30th, and this one counts.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Studying Human Origins

The Spring 2009 semester is quickly approaching, and I just registered for my final undergraduate Anthropology course: Human Origins. The really great news (beyond the obvious fact that I'm nearly finished with my B.A.) is that this course is taught by Donald Johanson.

Yep, the famous paleoanthropologist who discovered Lucy teaches an undergraduate course on the subject every other semester right here at ASU (the home of his Institute of Human Origins).

Even though I'm planning to specialize in archaeology, I've always been fascinated by the mysteries involving the human family tree. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Understand University Procedures

I found myself in a bit of a predicament when I went to register for Spring classes.

I'm taking a graduate seminar at the University of Arizona in Tucson this semester, so I am not currently enrolled at ASU. Before I did this I checked with my department, and I was told that I could take one semester off from ASU without any problems, but that if I took two or more off consecutively, I would need to re-apply and get admitted all over again.

It turns out that the person in the anthropology department was misinformed, and when I chose not to enroll this semester, I was dropped from the university. When I called to find out why I could not register, I was told that:

  1. I would need to fill out an all-new application to the university ("Better start it right now, sir."). This includes listing my high school, all colleges I attended...
  2. Because of a high volume of applications, I should not expect an answer (i.e., am I accepted) for at least three weeks...
  3. I would have to move to the latest catalog (i.e., my degree requirements might change)
  4. I should have filed a Leave of Absence form to avoid the whole mess.
The lesson here: Ask the right questions, at the right time, of the right people. Know the process at your university!

I have worked it all out, and I will be able to register. All is well, but it was a wild ride.

Us and Them

I attended Monday Night Football in person Monday night, and experienced life in the upper deck of a sold-out pro football stadium.

It was an interesting experience from several angles. Television has spoiled me... I miss having the TV announcers and decent replays, and I frown at paying $6 for a cold, chewy order of french fries. Being in the upper deck meant the field was a good distance away, but the game was entirely watchable from there.

The most interesting part was the crowd around us. I've been to quite a few professional baseball games (I'm a fan of the Arizona Diamondbacks), and I can tell you this was NOTHING like that. Here are a few quick observations, in no particular order:

  1. Nearly everyone was wearing a football jersey (myself excluded).
  2. A majority of the people around me consumed multiple large cups of beer during the game.
  3. A lot of the people around me yelled at each other as much as they did at the teams or the referees.
  4. It appeared that a disproportionate number of people in the crowd were significantly overweight.

When I titled this post, I was not referring to myself or "my group." I wanted to draw attention to the way people so easily form into two factions (from their point of view): "Us" and "Them." Even when so many of these people clearly have a lot in common, the fact that some were fans of the Cardinals and others were San Francisco supporters meant it was okay to draw the line. People who did not know each other had no trouble yelling unkind things back and forth over a short distance, and did so for most of the night.

I can understand this kind of thing if you are contending for limited resources (e.g. food, water), but this was conflict for the sake of conflict. Is this the remnant of a survival adaptation? I doubt it is a genetic adaptation to hate people who are different, but I suspect it might be a social adaptation passed on through societal beliefs and behaviors (culture).

More thoughts on this later.


Okay, I participated in National Novel Writing Month a few years ago (I only managed 16,000 words), and Now I'm 10 days late to the beginning of National Blog Posting Month. It sounds gimmicky, and clearly favors quantity over quality, but maybe committing to a post a day might just get me in the habit.

A few unanswered questions:

  1. Does this count as one day's worth of posts?
  2. Do I need to make up for lost time and still post 30 times before December 1?