Hosted by AAA President Virginia R. Dominguez, “Inside the President’s Studio” features interviews with anthropologists about their ideas, research and passions. It is part of an ongoing effort to foster public, visible and active engagement with anthropologists. Become a part of the conversation by reading and listening to the interviews, adding your comments to the blog, and suggesting people or topics for future pieces.
This month the studio features Lee Baker, Dean of Academic Affairs, Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, Duke University.
Dr. Baker was provided with a series of questions before the podcast was recorded, and his written answers are provided below.
(1) What are you most passionate about–in life and/or work–and where does anthropology fit in?
I AM A PEOPLE PERSON, AND AM PASSIONATE ABOUT MAKING CONNECTIONS AND ADVANCING PEOPLE AND THEIR EFFORTS TO MAKE A BETTER WORLD. I KNOW IT SOUNDS GOOFY, BUT I HAVE FOUND THAT BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER WITH SIMILAR IDEAS CAN PRODUCE AMAZING RESULTS. IT’S ABOUT ENABLING PEOPLE TO GAIN BRIDGING SOCIAL CAPITAL, WHICH IS MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE THAN BONDING SOCIAL CAPITAL FOR GETTING AHEAD. BONDING SOCIAL CAPITAL IS GOOD FOR GETTING BY. I AM ALSO PASSIONATE ABOUT FISHING AND MY ROLE AS A FAMILY MAN—HUSBAND AND FATHER. I AM NOT SURE HOW ANTHROPOLOGY FITS INTO THAT BUT I USUALLY BRING UNUSUAL SUSPECTS TOGETHER TO MAKE CHANGE.
(2) Does your answer above surprise you? If so, in what way? If not, might it still surprise students you teach or mentor, administrators you work with on a daily basis, old college classmates, or even your current Duke colleagues in anthropology or African and African-American Studies?
NO, JOHN JACKSON HAS THIS SUPER HERO HE CALLS ANTHRO MAN AND, AS A RESULT, MANY OF US HAVE THOUGHT THROUGH WHAT KIND OF SUPER HERO/caricature WE WOULD BE. I HAVE ROUTINELY BEEN CALLED THE COMMITTEE MAN. FROM COLLEGE ON, I HAVE BEEN ON VARIOUS COMMITTEES THAT HAVE ADVANCED AGENDAS TO MAKE INSTITUTIONS MORE RESPONSIBLE AND INCLUSIVE. I LIKE TO BE A CRITICAL CHANGE AGENT, NOT A LEADER PER SE BUT AT THE TABLE MOVING AGENDAS FORWARD.
(3) What were you like in high school? Rebellious? Artistic? Athletic? Studious? And is there any chance you’d be willing to let us see (and post) a picture of you in high school?
ATHLETIC AND REBELLIOUS: I WAS POPULAR AND CHARISMATIC, BUT BLACK IN AN ALL WHITE HIGH SCHOOL. I DID NOT KNOW WHAT WAS RACISM OR JUST A RESPONSE TO MY BAD BEHAVIOR.
(4) How and when did your passion for history begin? I think of you as a historian of anthropology and I think others do, too. Clearly your 1998 book, From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896-1954, presents itself historically. Do you think of yourself as a historian first and an anthropologist second? Do historians think otherwise?
I AM NOT A HISTORIAN. I HAVE NEVER TAKEN A HISTORY CLASS, IN COLLEGE OR GRAD SCHOOL. I HAVE TAUGHT HISTORY, THOUGH. I SEE MYSELF AS AN ANTHROPOLOGIST WHO TRIES TO CONNECT THE HISTORY OF ANTHROPOLOGY WITHIN THE INTELLECTUAL TRADITIONS OF THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.
(5) What made you accept your current position as Dean of Academic Affairs at Duke’s Trinity College? Somehow I doubt it was that you had stopped being interested in teaching or writing.
THE WORST THING ABOUT BEING AN ADMINISTRATOR IS THAT ONE CANNOT WRITE OR TEACH AS MUCH AS YOU LIKE. THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING AN ADMINISTRATOR IS THAT YOU ARE NOT EXPECTED TO WRITE AND TEACH AS MUCH!
I HAVE BEEN AT DUKE FOR 15 YEARS, AND HAVE BEEN INVOLVED WITH MANY INITIATIVES. I THINK I CAN MAKE DUKE A STRONGER INSTITUTION WHERE STUDENTS PURSUE A LIBERAL ARTS AND SCIENCES CURRICULUM GROUNDED IN CIVIC AND GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT AND CAN CONTRIBUTE TO THE PRODUCTION OF KNOWLEDGE.
(6) As you know, I was on the Duke faculty for 12 years (all of them unfortunately before you joined the Duke faculty), and last year I confessed to you that I still root for the Duke basketball team whenever they play almost any other team even though I left Duke in 1991. You seemed surprised. But I have a hunch that you are an even more active fan than I ever was and that you travel with the team. Am I right? Is it just in your role as Dean of Academic Affairs of Trinity College? Please tell us what those trips are like! Do you maintain your composure throughout each trip? Do you become a rabid fan? Do you periodically just become a participant observer?
I HAVE OCCASIONALLY TRAVELED WITH THE TEAM, INCLUDING THE TRIP TO THE WHITE HOUSE WHERE COACH K PRESENTED BARACK OBAMA WITH A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP JERSEY. OVER THE YEARS, I HAVE A HAD SOME OF DUKE’S GREAT BASKETBALL PLAYERS IN MY COURSES. THEY ARE JUST NORMAL STUDENTS, BUT THEN YOU SEEN THEM ON THE COVER OF SPORTS ILLUSTRATED OR DOING AMAZING ON THE COURT. YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT RELATIONSHIP WITH THESE GUYS AND GALS. FIELD HOCKEY AND VOLLEY BALL PLAYERS GRAVITATE TO MY COURSES AS WELL.
(7) What first drew you to Franz Boas? When did you first hear about him or read him? And do you remember what you thought at the time?
I WAS TAKING A CLASS AT PORTLAND STATE IN BLACK STUDIES AND WE WERE STUDYING THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE AND, AT THE SAME TIME, I WAS TAKING A THEORY OF ANTHROPOLOGY CLASS AND GOING OVER THE IMPORTANT WORK BOAS WAS DOING IN IMPROVING RACE RELATIONS. MY HUNCH, AT THE TIME, WAS THAT BOAS WAS AT COLUMBIA, BASICALLY IN HARLEM, AND THAT HE WAS NOT DOING THIS ALL BY HIMSELF.
I PUSHED MY PROFESSOR, DAN SCHEANS, AT THE TIME AND HE TOLD ME TO FIGURE IT OUT. I GUESS I AM STILL PURSUING QUESTIONS I HAD AS AN UNDERGRADUATE.
(8) Have your thoughts about Boas changed significantly since then?
YES, HE IS A MUCH MORE COMPLICATED CHARACTER THAN MOST OF US REALIZE.
(9) You are a very recent past Editor of Transforming Anthropology, the journal of the AAA’s Association of Black Anthropologists (ABA). What did you enjoy the most about that experience? What did you enjoy the least? And did the entire experience make you think of scholarly publishing in unexpected ways?
I LIKED BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER AND I HAVE A REAL RESPECT FOR THE PEER REVIEW PROCESSES. IT MAKES PEOPLE WRITE BETTER. I ENJOYED BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER TO HELP ACHIEVE A COMMON GOAL.
(10) You are also a recent past president of AAA’s Section dedicated to anthropology in and of North America (SANA). Did that experience in some way spark an interest in running for public office (i.e. running for an elected position outside the AAA)? Do you think anthropologists should run for public office more often than we seem to do? Wouldn’t Boas approve of my asking (and perhaps of your answering my question)?
IT DID MAKE ME UNDERSTAND AND HONE MY LEADERSHIP STYLE. BOTH JOURNAL EDITING AND BEING PRESIDENT OF SANA GAVE ME CONFIDENCE IN MY LEADERSHIP. PEOPLE ACTUALLY WANT TO SUPPORT A STRONG LEADER, AND I REALLY NEVER UNDERSTOOD THAT UNTIL I WAS IN A POSITION OF LEADERSHIP. THE AAA IS A GREAT VEHICLE TO NURTURE ACADEMIC LEADERS.
(11) Do you have people you consider your heroes–2-3 of them, perhaps more?
IDA B WELLS, NANA YAA ASANTEWAA, THURGOOD MARSHAL
(12) What is the one question you really wish I had asked you in writing?