I’ve been watching, with an administrative eye, the great autumn migration of anthropologists to West Hall. You arrive in a predictable mix of moods. Some of you have just returned from fieldwork abroad, eager to write up your findings but feeling detached from academic routine. Others have spent the summer in Ann Arbor, designing new courses, finishing up book projects, and reading novels (to clear and feed the mind). Some of you are new to the program and anxious about what lies ahead. Whichever description fits you best, September has brought you to a campus and a department where some of the world's best anthropology is made.
The quality of the research done here is amazing, but so is the scale and pace of our program. In the Fall 2017 semester alone, we will teach anthropology to 1,482 students in 56 courses. From ANT 101, where hundreds of freshmen and sophomores meet our discipline for the first time, to our advanced seminars, in which small groups of students explore the oldest and newest trends in research, we will actively rebuild the discipline by teaching it, in classrooms, lab spaces, and field sites. At the heart of this process are 110 undergrad majors and minors and 124 graduate students whose close interactions with faculty and staff give our department its collective life. The intellectual ties that develop in this vibrant core have a tremendous impact on anthropology at large, shaping how the discipline grows and engages with the world.
This year, the autumn migration is rich in signs of departmental growth and dynamism.
I am delighted to welcome three new members of our faculty. Mike Galaty, Professor, Director of the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, and Curator, does research on state formation in ancient Greece and on problems of inequality in human societies more generally. Melissa Burch, Assistant Professor, studies race, incarceration, background checks, and discriminatory hiring practices in the U.S. Yasmin Moll, Assistant Professor, focuses on Islam, popular and mass media, and new forms of religious identification in Egypt and other Muslim-majority societies. We have two new postdoctoral scholars: Christopher Sheklian, Manoogian Fellow in Armenian Studies, and Mary Leighton, who will collaborate with Liz Roberts on the “Mexican Exposures” project. We also welcome 16 first-year grad students, who arrive with fascinating plans for research. Finally, two new staff members have joined us: Kari Beall, our ever-resourceful graduate program coordinator, and Helen Lund, who is improving our communications, online and off.
Fall 2017 will also have a notable departure. Elisha Renne, one of our extraordinary Africanists, has retired after 19 years of teaching, research, and service at Michigan. A symposium in Renne’s honor, “Uncommon Connections: Aesthetics, Anthropology/History, Health,” sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, will be held on October 19.
Another era ends this semester, as the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology begins its slow migration from the Ruthven Building, where it has been located since 1928, to new quarters in the old Chemistry Building, with a four-year interlude in the School of Education. Most of the museum’s collections (3 million artifacts and counting) have been transferred to state-of-the-art facilities on Varsity Drive, and the new museum will be ready in 2022; until then, it will be a period of detailed logistics, heavy lifting, and (always a mixed blessing) liminality for our archaeologists.
Amid all this coming and going, dozens of visiting and local speakers will grace our workshops, colloquia, brown bag series, and co-sponsored events in Fall 2017. Biggest and boldest of these conclaves will be "“Interrogating the Histories and Futures of ‘Diversity’: Transnational Perspectives,” an international symposium hosted by the department and organized by Damani Partridge, who invites participants to ask whether diversity initiatives uphold or subvert the status quo. It is a timely, compelling agenda. As racism, inequality, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, and fascist movements gain political ground around the world, we need to assess institutional responses, placing dominant American notions of equity and inclusion in larger cultural/historical contexts, asking how DEI policies work, what they accomplish, and how they might be imagined differently and improved. The symposium will be held on October 17-18.
In short, we have a semester of relentless, exhilarating work ahead of us. Inspire each other, and share the load!
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Chair
Department of Anthropology