“We are the stories we tell ourselves” — Aja Monet
Hello, Associated American Anthropologists!
A dispatch from your cultural anthropologist in DC:
This city is steeped in stories. Anecdotes about this or that president, quips about a landmark, a post office, a theater; tales about memorialized generals, cast in bronze, watching over their square, trying not to rust. The narratives we use to describe a place are powerful. They bind it in place; stories solidify; they fix the facts in ways that stone masons and sculptors never could. The generals won’t rust—and not only because it’s chemically impossible. Anthropologists, especially, have a keen understanding of this. We’ve been talking about myths for a while. But, if we are the stories we tell ourselves, we are also the stories we don’t tell. (By ‘we’ here I am referring to the American public, particularly the members of it whose stories have received the most attention and the least rust, due to one injustice or another.) We are the stories we forget, the stories we deliberately neglect.
I have twice now had the pleasure of visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture since I came to DC (one privilege that the Smithsonian badge affords). It contains stories of hope and joy, struggle and resistance, justice and triumph. The museum is a place for stories that haven’t been shared or heard as often as they should have been, or as often they should be. From the P-Funk Mothership to Ida B. Wells’ journalism to first edition Zora Neale Hurston treasures, this museum is an epic time. If you are in DC and have the means to get there, you must see this museum.
These last few weeks have been some of the hottest and rainiest I’ve seen. I can see why some people call this town a swamp (although this misperception? metaphor? has been thoroughly debunked). I have found that the best way to beat the heat is to plant oneself in the American Anthropological Association office and crunch numbers because, let’s face it, what could be cooler? Led by Daniel Ginsburg, Evan and I are tracking National Science Foundation grants for anthropology projects. Our goal is to find meaningful trends in money going to discipline over the past 35 years—basically: how do we get more of that money coming our way? Look out for information like this coming out on the AAA website soon! The project has been a blast. Most of it requires looking at data sets from the NSF website, and using Excel to make pretty graphs, then drawing conclusions about the trends. Hopefully we tell a lucrative story.
P.S. I average about six or seven street falafel from the vendors outside the Capitol Gallery Building, weekly. Maybe that’s too much information, but I want to be transparent about how interns spend their stipend.
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