From the President

2018: The Spring of Hope

Alex Barker
Alex Barker, President

By any standard, the American Anthropological Association had an excellent year. We enjoyed a vibrant and provocative Annual Meeting in San José, punctuated (with an exclamation point) with presentations by Dolores Huerta and George Lucas. We joined colleagues from around the world in Florianopolis, Brazil, celebrating the melding of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences and the World Council of Anthropological Associations into the World Anthropological Union; jointly organized the Africa in the World meeting in Johannesburg, in collaboration with the African Studies Association; and co-sponsored the European Association of Social Anthropology’s Why the World Needs Anthropology conference in Lisbon.

These may well be the best of times and the worst of times.

We’ve used anthropological knowledge to inform the public about timely topics, including both the continuation (and revision) of our RACE: Are We So Different? public education initiative, and partnerships to develop our World on the Move: 100,000 Years of Human Migration™ initiative. We’ve expanded our programs serving academic departments, including launching a new summer institute for department chairs and directors of graduate/undergraduate studies; increased participation in Anthropology Day; and redoubled our efforts to make AAA a more welcoming home for anthropologists working in professional practice.

We continue to publish more than 20 peer-reviewed journals, and support the ongoing work of 40 different professional societies within the larger umbrella of AAA. And we’re in the midst of developing an open access, global repository for anthropological knowledge that will be free to all and can be used as colleagues everywhere feel best advances their needs and interests; we expect the Open Anthropology Research Repository to be launched in 2019.

Then again, some may say these are the worst of times. On almost every front we see evidence-based discourse being displaced by partisan rhetoric, trust in science and scholarship waning, support for research dwindling, commitment to teaching and broader educational mandates threatened, and the tolerance and appreciation of difference central to our discipline evaporating from public life.

In these troubled times we actively work to address seven areas of concern and advocacy:

  • Promoting and defending academic freedom
  • Working to preserve and enhance funding opportunities for basic research across the social sciences
  • Protecting cultural heritage
  • Communicating the extent and impacts of global climate change
  • Documenting and reducing health disparities
  • Understanding—and eliminating—racism and race-based injustice
  • Increasing appreciation for the plight of migrants and refugees, and protecting the rights of displaced persons

At the request of our colleagues overseas and here in the United States, through statements and letters, we have added our voice to concerns over academic freedom in India and Hungary, unjust prosecutions

in Turkey, the disappearance of an anthropologist in China, and the classification of anthropology in Poland. Here in the United States, we have voiced our strong support for the National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act (NO BAN Act), the Census IDEA Act (requiring every decennial census to be adequately researched, tested, and studied to safeguard the accuracy of the final count), increased funding for the humanities, and the protection of our nation’s historic/cultural resources and national parks.

This is not Dickens’s winter of despair, but rather the spring of hope. Despite polarization and divisiveness, we know that human difference is not a problem to be solved, but our richest and least-appreciated resource, and the wellspring of innovation, improvement, and resilience. 

Our 9,000+ members continue to conduct groundbreaking research to increase our appreciation of the human condition and our understanding of the human career; to advance knowledge and solve human problems. In their company, I cannot help but look forward to what comes next, and to using the unique insights anthropology offers to meet whatever challenges we together face. 

annual meeting

From the Executive Director

Our Commitments – Making A Difference

Ed Liebow, Executive Director
Ed Liebow, Executive Director

In 2018, our Association stewardship has been focused on pipeline issues (where the next generations of anthropologists will come from), supporting professional development beyond the degree credentials, and boosting public awareness of the important contributions anthropologists make to a more just and sustainable world.

To help address pipeline issues, we received a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation to support our pre-college and employment initiatives. We received assistance from the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research to support an analysis of how graduating anthropology majors decide on their near-term futures upon graduation, and we continue to collate documentation on historical efforts to develop high school curriculum materials.

To help tackle professional development beyond the degree, we recognize that graduation is sometimes accompanied by financial vulnerability that follows. In 2018, we extended the “graduation present” of a year’s complimentary membership to newly minted Master’s as well as Doctoral degree holders from Departmental Services Program partners.

Our public education initiative includes the RACE Exhibition tour, which was extended in 2018 to Chicago; Flint, Michigan; and Davenport, Iowa. AAA now has a letter of intent with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to sell the last replica of the RACE Exhibition after the final tour stops in Omaha at the end of 2019. Our World on the Move initiative includes formal agreements with the Smithsonian Institution and the American Library Association for joint development, fundraising, and touring, which we aim to begin in July 2020.

With another matter of grave public concern, we see global environmental change as an existential challenge about whose resolution anthropology has much to say. In 2018, with the help of a meaningful private donation, we instituted a climate change internship program, participation in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties, and began planning an annual symposium and publication series on climate change, and participation in the Climate Heritage Network.

The list of public-facing issues where AAA has an important stake is formidable: Congressional threats to NSF, NEH, and NIH funding for social and behavioral research; threats to academic freedom in a number of places; human dimensions of global environmental change; socially responsible investments in tropical agricultural lands; immigration policy; health disparities and equal access to medical care; cultural heritage protection; sexual harassment and violence affecting anthropologists on campus, in the field, and in other workplaces; and prospects for legislative and regulatory actions concerning the protection of human research subjects. Internally, we are working more closely with sections on professionalizing meeting planning. This year, we have significantly enhanced our Career Center, grown our Department Services Program, piloted the highly successful Summer Leadership Institute for department chairs and directors of graduate/undergraduate studies, and upgraded our back-office association management system, with better integration of our Annual Meeting management and nominations / elections activities. Thanks to a generous sponsorship from Wiley Publishing, our 2018 Anthropology Day celebration was a great success.

We collaborated successfully with the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage to stage a highly visible series of public events during the 2018 Folklife Festival, as part of the World on the Move initiative. We worked with the African Studies Association, our Africanist section, and several local host institutions to stage the 2018 interdisciplinary conference in Johannesburg. We are actively involved in the Consortium of Social Science Associations, which is instrumental in advocating for legislation that funds social science research, and also helps us with much of our public affairs work broadcasting our messages concerning the importance of social science research. We have a similar involvement with the National Humanities Alliance and the Coalition for American Heritage. We continue to be active in the AAAS Coalition for Science and Human Rights, and in the Coalition for National Science Funding. We continue to work in support of the World Council of Anthropological Associations and the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, now merged into the World Anthropological Union. In September, we opened access to our AnthroSource journals for Brazilian university and museum libraries in a show of solidarity after the devastating fire at the National Museum of Anthropology in Rio de Janeiro. In October, we helped co-sponsor the European Association of Social Anthropology’s Why the World Needs Anthropology conference in Lisbon.

This past year we began work on a determining what is feasible for a major fundraising campaign that is likely to begin in 2019. The Association is in rock solid shape right now, but it pays to be prudent and look out to the horizon for oncoming challenges. Our 2018 Annual Campaign matched the previous year’s funding volume and participation rates, but we need to anticipate possible weakening in membership and meeting attendance patterns, and a publishing ecosystem that may require adaptation. Stepping up our development game now will help keep us on a sustainable footing.

In brief, we should feel good about the Association’s place in the world. We are strengthened by our alliances, and by the extensive network of members who volunteer for governance of our sections and the association as a whole. Our talented professional staff is committed to serving our members, and we are ever grateful for the contributions you make that support our service to the membership and to the field as whole.