The Tradition of Anthropology Subfield Gatherings
In 1986 Patty Jo Watson, the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished Professor Emerita of Anthropology, started a tradition in the Department of Anthropology that continues to thrive 27 years later.
“Patty Jo conceived Friday Archaeology as a conscious attempt to build a professional community of archaeologists that would include graduate students, faculty, and avocational archaeologists, and she considered it quite an important part of her departmental legacy,” says Professor Fiona Marshall, acting chair of the Department of Anthropology.
Friday Arch, as it’s known colloquially, occurs weekly throughout the academic year. Fifteen minutes of refreshments and socializing take place before the main attraction: a one-hour informal scholarly talk by the featured presenter. Graduate students are encouraged to present their research; they often use this venue as practice for job talks or talks to be given at professional conferences like the Society for American Archaeology annual meetings. Every graduate student in the archaeology program will give at least one talk at Friday Arch before graduating, reports Marshall. The event also is often used to celebrate the triumph of its members, for example, the winning of an award or publication of a paper. Friday Arch is meant to provide a supportive environment that promotes professionalism and camaraderie.
Presenters also include faculty, who all help to recruit speakers and attend the events regularly, as well as local archaeologists from outside the university community. Several years ago, Marshall was able to acquire money from the administration to invite a few prominent speakers from outside the St. Louis region. Last fall’s schedule included three such speakers:
- Dr. George Crothers from the University of Kentucky who spoke on “Early Woodland Ritual Use of Mammoth Cave, Kentucky”
- Dr. Jeanne Sept from Indiana University with a talk entitled “Exploring Early Hominin Subsistence Behavior with Agent Based Modeling”
- Dr. Olivia Navarro-Farr from the College of Wooster who spoke on “Royal Ritual and Sacred Memory: Recent Research at El Peru-Waka’s Civic Ceremonial Center”
With close to 25 weekly presentations a year, a mailing list of hundreds of contacts, and average attendance of 20–60 people a week, which includes grad students and faculty across subfields as well as some undergrads, there is a fair amount of organization necessary to keep the wheels of the organization turning. When Watson retired in 2004, she considered the continuity of the Friday Arch program to be a high priority and asked the archaeologists to continue the tradition. Marshall, with the help of Professor Gayle Fritz, has overseen the program for close to 10 years. She is ably assisted by other faculty and graduate students, who are a critical component of the organization as they act as web coordinator, treasurer, and refreshment crew. Every Friday as 4:00pm approaches, grad students can be seen hustling down the hallways lugging coolers behind them and balancing trays of food that will often relate to the topic of the week or the region represented. Although it is the end of the week and the start of the weekend for all, in a community that understands ritual, tradition, and history better than most, many will gather in scholarship each week, keeping alive a tradition that honors their unique profession.
Though much newer in origin, the physical anthropologists and sociocultural anthropologists in the department also have clubs that give graduate students and faculty opportunities to engage with each other and share their work.
The BioAnth Journal Club meets weekly on Wednesday afternoons, typically around pizza and other refreshments, and has a regular attendance of graduate students and faculty. Students sign up for presentation slots at the beginning of the semester and, on their given week, they can choose to circulate a recently published journal article for discussion or give a talk based on their own research. Certain weeks are designated for topics related to professionalization, such as strategies for publication. Additionally, in the weeks prior to the annual meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, students share their posters and podium presentations as a way to receive feedback from a broader audience.
Culture Club, a professional organization for sociocultural graduate students, faculty, and post-docs, meets on Fridays from 2:30-4:00 to avoid conflicting with Friday Arch. After beginning the session with refreshments and socialization, the group addresses weekly topics that vary based on members’ interests. On some weeks, students host a film screening followed by a discussion; other weeks, students or faculty speak on professional issues like publication, grant writing, the tenure process, and tactics for succeeding on the job market. Students are invited to speak on their fieldwork and present dissertation chapters for discussion. The group recently launched a website with a list of Culture Club events for the coming year.
All these groups are open to anyone who is interested, regardless of subfield affiliation. Individual groups have staggered their meeting times so that none overlaps, and weekly events are publicized both on the department website and on flyers posted throughout McMillan Hall.