Saturday, October 15, 2011

Anthropology during Economic Depressions

I probably shouldn't take it personally, but I just recently moved from North Carolina to Florida to be closer to family while finishing up thesis. I am hoping to find a job. And I'm an archaeologist. I've felt very welcomed by local anthropological societies and historic preservation societies, although none of the local archaeology companies or state historic sites are currently hiring (in part due to recent budget cuts). And then Governor Scott came out with his statement about not funding social sciences like anthropology because he doesn't think there are any jobs for Anthropologists (click here for original news article). It felt like a slap in the face. I know he wasn't talking about me personally but having just recently moved here and looking for a job, I was a little hurt. How could I not be after statements such as “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.” Ouch (for more hurtful comments, click here).

To me, one thing keeps coming to mind: the contrast between Scott's response in this economic recession and Roosevelt's response to the Great Depression. The study of culture (anthropology) was an important part of numerous New Deal programs. Ethnographers and anthropologists scoured the country to record the voices of passing generations as a part of Federal Project Number One. Hundreds of people born into slavery were given a voice, and their words, their thoughts, their feelings can be heard today as a result of anthropologists  Some of the most evocative photographs I've ever seen were taken by Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor in 1935 as a part of the Farm Security Administration and the California State Emergency Relief Administration. The cultural projects of the 1930s illustrate the many professionals that add to the cultural and historical records and the many disciplines the compliment anthropology.


Applied anthropology has its roots in the Indian Reorganization act of 1934. Salvage archaeology also has it's roots in these New Deal projects, particularly in the building of new highways and new dams. Just an FYI-Governor Scott, new economic growth stimulates construction which requires archaeologists, assuming you are successful at stimulating Florida's economy, there will be a need for archaeologists in a few years, although you probably won't be around to deal with those problems.

Salvage archeology being conducted 1930s during dam construction. (NPS)
The Federal Writer's Project, the Historical Records Survey, Works Progress Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps, provided employment and were major stepping stones to preserving our cultural heritage. I don't see how limiting funding to anthropology in any way helps our economic situation. And I'm not the only one, Edward Tenner, geologist turned historian, wrote an article in response to Governor's Scott's words that compares employment in STEM fields and the anthropology field.

Nor did the governor's comments pass idly by the Anthropological community. There were a number of really  great responses (much better than my simple musings) from universities, professional organizations, and the private sector. The American Anthropological Association immediately wrote Governor Rick a letter, noting that his view of anthropology is short-sighted. The Society for American Archaeology also sent Governor Scott a letter, which included Bureau of Labor Statistics and a call for politicians to "base their decisions on factual information." Charlotte Noble, a student at the University of South Florida, put together a presentation, This is Anthropology, which captures the diversity of careers available to anthropologists.

To see what archaeologists are doing today, check out my post on the "Day of Archaeology" project.

More information on New Deal Anthropology and Archaeology:

The difficulty of compliance archaeology, written by Pennsylvania SHPO Archaeologist, Joe Baker.
http://www.nps.gov/archeology/cg/vol2_num1/view.htm

The Great Depression and Archaeology in Somerset County, PA, written by Bernard K. Means.
http://antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/means325/

The effect of the New Deal on Museums, written by Samuel Redman
https://bspace.berkeley.edu/access/content/user/300450/The%20Hearst%20Museum%20of%20Anthropology%20and%20the%20New%20Deal%20-%20Redman%20-%20Museum%20Anthropology.pdf

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Archaeology, Conservation and Curation by Whitney Rose Petrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License