Monday, January 21, 2008

Just Coming up for Air

At dinner on Saturday night, one of my grad students asked which book we would be discussing first in our upcoming seminar. Not wanting to admit to her that I was still (still, still, still) mulling that over, I made a decision in favor of the most difficult first (for both substantive and strategic reasons—the faint of brain will immediately drop). Having made that first commitment, I decided I’d better move this syllabus off the “Still To Do” list asap or I would still (still, still, still) be “working on it” six days from now. Done: 5:30 pm, PST. I’m sure the students in this seminar would be shocked to learn that I have dedicated the better part of the last two days to this task. But, their grad experience and the tone of the seminar over the course of the next 16 weeks will be shaped by this document, so it has surely been a critical investment of time. I kept six of the seven ethnographies and texts that I used when I taught this course two years ago (this decision made six weeks ago, courtesy of pressure from the university bookstore). However, I am mining these same books for slightly different material this go-around. I’ve refocused the thematic emphasis of the course, made substantial changes to list of supplementary readings (updated it with some more recent journal articles and deleted others that are peripheral to the new thematic focus), and altered the nature and type of writing assignments. I have absolutely agonized over the order of readings, wanting to provide solid footing in terms of some standard (though highly contemporary) ethnology, before plunging these often theoretically unschooled students into the fray of epistemological and political critique that inevitably animates any post-colonial-era research and writing about Indigenous peoples (much of it produced by Indigenous activist-scholars who are, themselves, puzzling out and helping to establish both new theoretical paradigms and gate-keeping standards for social science research within contemporary Native communities). In an effort to ease the transition between readings that feel comfortably authoritative and those that require some serious critical and reflexive thinking about disciplinary history, method, and theory, I have incorporated a "buffer session" or two that will examine work by anthropologists who claim Native/Other/hybrid identity as either primary or secondary to their anthropological identities and agendas. I’m hoping that the epistemological plate tectonics to follow (in the next set of texts and articles) will be more productive by this particular route. Cross your fingers. One thing in my favor is that I don’t have an over-enrolled seminar this semester for just about the first time in four or five years; I have only ten students (and surely some of those will drop). Recent changes to our graduate program also mean that there will be very few students in the class who are taking it as a required seminar outside their sub-disciplinary specialization. This means that a) most of the students will come in having a better foundation in cultural anthropology and b) there will be fewer students (and maybe not a single one, dare I hope) resentful about having to take a course in ethnography.

On to the fun part of the weekend. On Saturday morning, MGC and I set off for Sebastopol, headed to an antique shop where, several weeks earlier, he had spotted an advertising sign from the 1930s (?) that he decided he just couldn’t live without. While he ended up NOT buying the sign after all (that’s an entirely different story), it was wonderful to get out of the city and into the countryside. I took a few quick photos I've uploaded below, plus one of my big $9.00 purchase that day—I just couldn’t resist the beautiful graphics, the brilliant green, or even the pelican, which just so happens to be the state bird—albeit in brown, not green—for Louisiana (the state in which I was born).

Where we're having lunch NEXT time we go to Sebastopol
Bucolic Bliss, near Petaluma
Sonoma Vineyards at Dusk

A Great Crate Label (c. 1940s or 50s?)

The Democratic debate tonight is pretty exciting; I think tomorrow’s primary will be too.

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