The Great Parks of California

caIn June, I had the amazing opportunity to participate on a Penn Alumni Travel tour to the northern California National Parks including Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia.  We saw and learned so much that, among other things, the trip altered my thoughts about guided tours. If you want real R&R, expert insight into nature, history, and the cultural aspects of what you are seeing, and to cover a lot of ground getting to amazing places, this kind of trip is for you.

The group included two tour guides and 42 university alumni representing Penn, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Purdue, Columbia, Boston University, and the University of Texas. After our first happy hour we were all old friends, and it stayed that way for the full nine days! We started out in San Francisco, but beat feet to Sonoma Valley’s wine country where we toured the Kunde Family Winery, a five-generation vineyard. After sampling the Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and the Cabernet, we entered the underground wine caves and sipped from an unfinished barrel of red while listening to legends of the family business. Though my personal preferences tend toward gin, this visit definitely rekindled my interest in California wines. Just yesterday I found Kunde Estate wines in the Pennsylvania liquor store!

From Sonoma we headed east into the Sierra Nevada, and eventually climbed 6,225 feet to Lake Tahoe, the highest and largest alpine lake in the United States. I’ve wanted to see Tahoe for a long time and, in fact, it is what inspired me to sign onto the trip. Although there in the wrong season, and without my skis, I was not disappointed. An incredible blue, Tahoe is 21 miles long and an impressive 1,600 feet deep, surrounded by snow covered peaks.


Enjoying our time on Lake Tahoe. Photo by author.

As a specialist in Native American material culture, it was my pleasure to fill the group in on the fact that while a vacation retreat and tourist destination for many, Lake Tahoe is also the spiritual center and place of origin of the Washoe Indian people, and remains as such today. Through my lectures, I introduced the weaving traditions of Washoe and northern California Indian tribes, some of the finest basketry in the world. In the late 1800s, weavers skillfully adapted their work to meet the demands of the burgeoning tourist industry in California. The American Craftsman Movement (1895-1920) celebrated handmade Indian weaving and encouraged a collecting obsession of Indian art across the country. This was also the Golden Age of Museums, and it is no surprise that the Penn Museum houses exceptional California baskets, of which I shared many examples. The tragic irony of saving Indian art while killing off Indian people was not lost on my audience. Later in the trip I introduced them to United States’ NAGPRA legislation and the repatriation movement with a special focus on issues important to California tribes today.

Yosemite Museum

A Mono Lake Paiute basket by Lucy Tellas at the Yosemite Museum. Photo by author.

From Tahoe we traveled east over the Sierras and into Nevada’s Mono and Paiute Indian country, back into California, past Mono Lake (one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen), and entered Yosemite National Park from the east. We spent two days in Yosemite, taking in all of the sites along the Yosemite Valley floor (Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, the Ahwhannee Hotel named after the Chief of the tribe that inhabited the Valley), and had free time for hiking on our own or for group tours. My son took off on the 7-mile hike to Nevada Falls, and I spent the afternoon with Barbara Beroza, the Curator of the Yosemite Museum, looking behind the scenes at Washoe, Paiute, and Miwok Indian baskets, and with Phil Johnson, a Miwok/Paiute interpreter in the gallery. Phil showed me a clever and rarely collected woodpecker trap—a long and skinny twinned basket that is tied to a tree over a hole where the ubiquitous woodpeckers are nesting!

Yosemite valley

Yosemite Valley Photo by author.

From Yosemite we spent two more gorgeous days in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Sequoia is less traveled and incredibly vast and wild. In addition to much welcomed snow and rain, we saw an abundance of woodpeckers and blue Steller’s Jays, and a total of seven black bears eating grass in open meadows.

But the highlight of the trip was the magnificent Giant Sequoia trees, Sequoiadendron giganteum, the world’s largest living trees that are well protected and cared for in these parks. The General Sherman and General Grant trees standing 275 and 268 feet tall, respectively, were massive and incredibly impressive. While taking them in, I revisited John Muir’s writings and the early history and struggle to secure these incredible parks. I was continually awed by the grandeur of the woods and reminded of the difference a single person’s actions can make. And it was a pleasure to be traveling with so many like-minded enthusiasts of nature and of our National Parks.

Sequoias at Yosemite

Sequoias at Yosemite Photo by author.

With reluctance, we descended west from the cool, quiet, and lush seclusion of Sequoia and across the northern edge of the Central Valley, aka “the salad bowl.” Impressively, this region grows a staggering one half of the produce in the United States! We passed mile after mile of thriving walnut, pistachio, almond, peach, pear, nectarine, plum, cherry, and date trees, acres of lettuce, miles of artichokes, and on and on. After a private tour and elegant dinner at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we ended our trip at Carmel by the Sea with a tour of the still active Carmel Mission Church, established by Spanish Jesuits in 1793.

The trip gave me the opportunity to experience some of the United States’ most incredible natural beauty, where some of the Penn Museum’s California collections were made and used, and the time to reflect on the importance of our mission to steward and share those collections broadly.

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Two Perspectives on the Financial Crisis: Part 2: A Year in the Perspective – Kurtis Tanaka

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.

As Amanda Ball has illustrated in Part 1 of this series, the crisis here, in the small farming village of Pagouria, seems distant, the fiscal year far removed from the yearly rhythms of the agricultural cycle. Throughout the past year, the farmers have planted their wheat, cotton, or other crop (this year, fields of sunflowers along side the traditional cotton and wheat have created a stunning patchwork of gold, yellow, and green), they still water and weed their fields, life goes on. However, having spent the last year living in Greece, I can see the crisis, even here, both in the bigger picture and in the small details.

Pagouria from a distance. Photo by Amanda Ball.

Pagouria from a distance. Photo by Amanda Ball.

I’ll start with the small details. Greece is a cash economy; I have lived here for a year and have yet to pay for anything with a card. This, of course, is the reason for the long lines at the ATMs used as the cover photo for every news story on the current crisis. The first time I came to Greece, I remember being surprised both by this fact, and the general impatience of most shopkeepers with making small change, everything was always, informally, rounded up or down to a convenient multiple of ten. I never saw the endearingly small euro penny. Now, however, exact change is all anyone gives, carefully counted out, down even to that diminutive penny (endearing, and I should also add, a complete annoyance; I have collected an overflowing jar of 1, 2, 5, and 10 cent coins that I am not sure what to do with).

Perhaps the most striking detail, however, is the extent to which the Greeks, and indeed, I myself, have become inured to the crisis. Calling it “the” crisis is, I think, the wrong term for the situation in Greece as well. Rather, “the” crisis is just a series of mini-crises coming along every few weeks (the next deadline is July 23). Over the past year I have lost count of how many deadlines have come due, how many critical, doomsday level, on the precipice moments have gripped the headlines for a week or two only to be replaced by the next looming financial disaster. After a while, it becomes hard to keep track or to imagine the gravity and consequences of each of these deadlines. So now, even as we are about to find out, it’s not surprising that there is so much confusion here over what all of this actually means.

The bigger picture of what these crises mean for Greece was thrown into high relief by a recent trip to Istanbul, a seven-hour bus ride from Pagouria. Istanbul is a mass of new construction, high-rise after high-rise after stadium after school after shopping mall fly past as one enters the city. This frenetic pace of construction could not be more different from Athens, where investment in infrastructure seems to have completely stalled. Standing on the Acropolis and looking out upon the vast urban sprawl of the city, you can see one, maybe two large building projects, made noticeable only by the spindly yellow cranes, usually idle, looming above them. From this perspective, the city seems paused, as if, like the people who inhabit it, the very bricks of the city are holding their breath between this crisis and the next.

Far from Athens, the crisis takes on a different feel in Pagouria, less public, more private. Major construction works are not anywhere near as common here as in the nation’s capital and largest city. Instead it clings about the house, in the half-finished renovations, for example, of the reoccupied family homes of those who have had to leave Athens. Beyond that, however, it is hard to calculate how much life has changed here. The people are still warm and welcoming, they press on. One can only guess at all the ways, big and small, their lives have been interrupted.

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Migrant Matters – Enika Selby

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.

June 15, 2015

As interviews for my research on Burmese migrant identity in Bangkok near their end, I reflect on related activities that have given me further insight into the life of migrant workers.

For the past few Saturdays I have attended a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church frequented by many laborers from Myanmar. Most of the churchgoers are ethnic Karen, so the service mainly takes place in the Karen language with some songs in English. I learned that migrant workers typically negotiate their days off with their bosses, and many SDA ask for Saturday off in order to worship. Additionally, the church is a place for the community to gather, which therefore attracts people from a wide variety of professions and backgrounds. I met people engaged in jobs ranging from factory work to housekeeping, who had all come from different regions in Myanmar. At the church, I was fortunate to taste homemade Karen cuisine that some church members had prepared to serve in between services. During the meal I also spoke with some attendants who explained that the church served as a religious space, place of rendezvous, and a safe haven.

Traditional Karen food in Bangkok

Traditional Karen food in Bangkok. Photo by Enika Selby.

Apart from visiting a Burmese church, I had the opportunity to explore a small marketplace where people from Myanmar had set up eateries and clothing stores. At one restaurant I shared a typical Karen meal with a friend. I also spoke with the shop owner who explained that despite establishing a restaurant—and thereby a stronger sense of permanence—he still considered himself a migrant worker and wished to one-day return to Myanmar. The shop owner’s desire to return home was shared with nearly every single migrant I interviewed, even with some people who have been in Thailand or Bangkok for a decade.

There have been many places, such as the church and the marketplace, that have revealed unexpected details about migrant workers and their lives in Bangkok. As my work slowly comes to an end and I reexamine my notes, there are certain social patterns that have emerged. Going forward I will work to synthesize my research and make sense of my data. Although I will miss being in the field, I will forever remember the enlightening experience of engaging with migrant workers from Myanmar.

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Getting Ready at Pojoaque Pueblo

We have awesome tech support for videography at the Poeh Museum!

Shawn and Isabel getting ready! Photo by author.

Shawn Tafoya interview 2015

We have awesome video tech and exhibit support at the Poeh. Photo by author.

POB prep July 2015

The exhibit is designed for a Pueblo audience and includes Pueblo language spellings in Towa and Tewa. Photo by author.

Paths of Beauty: Isabel Gonzales and Shawn Tafoya opens at Pojoaque Pueblo’s Poeh Cultural Center and Museum (in New Mexico) on August 20, just a month away! I am grateful and excited to be curating this exhibition about two of my favorite people, both dedicated teachers and specialists in Pueblo embroidery and pottery. We spent last week together in Pojoaque, gathering the 50 pieces for the show, writing labels and text panels, identifying the correct Towa and
Tewa words in their language to get it just right, shooting video, and planning the installation. And there was lots of talk about the food for the opening celebration, to which the entire Pueblo community (and the public!) is invited.

The exhibit celebrates Isabel Gonzales of Jemez Pueblo and Shawn Tafoya of Santa Clara Pueblo who have dedicated themselves to continuing and passing on their creative gifts. Both are incredibly talented textile artists and teachers who make the traditional cotton garments needed and worn in Pueblo ceremonies throughout the year. Shawn is also an accomplished potter. The exhibit is developed primarily for a Pueblo audience, and will highlight the very special role of handmade cloth within living Pueblo contexts.

I’ve worked closely with Shawn and Isabel for years now and it is fantastic to see the Pueblo community honoring them in this way. Meet Shawn and Isabel on video in the Penn Museum’s own Native American Voices exhibition.

Read an essay we co-authored in 2007: “WaHa-belash adi Kwan tsáawä / Butterflies and Blue Rain: The Language of Contemporary Eastern Pueblo Embroidery”

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In Which the Worlds of Canada, the UK, the US, and China Collide – Eileen Wang

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.

Jining, Shandong, China
July 11, 2015

One of the most exciting things about having a topic I am passionate about researching is that I get to network with academics and professionals who are interested in the same issues. Before coming to China, I read up on all the literature possible on cesarean deliveries and C-sections on maternal request, and had contacted both Chinese and American researchers, who responded and gave me further contacts and resources to pursue while in China. It was through these efforts I was connected with Mavis, the founder of a Chinese doula-training and post-partum recovery company, through an international organization called Midwifery Today. (Note: doulas are trained personnel who support women before, during, and after delivery). One thing led to another and Mavis later invited me to come to Jining, a (relatively) small city in Shandong province for a “forum”/”discussion” with doctors, midwives, and nurses. I had presumed, from what she had told me, that it would be an informal meeting of Canadian and Chinese doctors and midwives, but little did I know that it was actually quite a well-organized affair involving a hotel conference room, name tags, and lots of photographers. Furthermore, the group of expert “Canadian doctors” turned out to be just one Scottish-Canadian professor of midwifery, Professor Edith Hillan, who is currently the Vice Provost of the University of Toronto and previously a professor of midwifery at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. It just so happened that she was in China vacationing and accompanying her husband for his own conference keynote in electrical engineering. As she was interested in the issue of childbirth in China, she also connected with Mavis, hoping to perhaps visit a hospital and talk with doctors or midwives while her husband was doing his own academic work. However, also to her surprise, that “casual” visit turned out to be a formal symposium with many doctors and midwives from provincial hospitals in attendance.

Professor Edith Hillan and me at the symposium

Professor Edith Hillan and me at the symposium. Photo by the author.

I think what was exciting for me was that I had, in fact, come across Professor Hillan’s name in the literature on post-operative morbidity for cesarean deliveries—and it was just by pure chance we were brought together for the same purpose. Therefore, it was quite exciting to hear her speak in a Chinese context, especially because it is so different from that of the UK (or the US). It was also lovely to be able to converse in English with her about these issues. The big takeaway from her lecture, which was about the need for midwifery care all over the world as well as the rising rates of cesarean sections, was that particularly in the UK, maternity care serves the woman, putting her needs and that of her infant at the center both in and out of the hospital. From my point of view, this is not the case in China. “Midwives” in China are simply nurses who develop skills to work in the delivery room only after interning there for a year or two. Maternal-child care revolves entirely around the hospital’s and doctors’ authorities—a biomedical hegemony, perhaps. This means that women experience labor and deliver lying down, and are subject to more cesarean deliveries and episiotomies—unlike in the UK where midwives lead low-risk births usually without much intervention. Moreover, women in the UK are educated about the care they receive and have the ability to make choices about their childbirth experience, unlike in China where many women do not receive childbirth education, have no birth plan, and follow doctor’s orders. I think that this, in turn, leads to a fear of pain and childbirth, and eventually perhaps to the refuge of a surgeon’s knife during their labor. It is clear that while China’s maternal-child health indicators have improved dramatically by moving birth into the medical realm, there is still a large deficit in trying to make that childbirth experience humanized and empowering for women. Now, Mavis and her company are trying to change that culture, particularly by working to increase partnerships with hospitals to increase the number of doulas—but a lot remains to be done, especially in getting women much-needed community care outside of the hospital, for which I think the UK can serve as a model.

Edith, Mavis, and local nurses

Edith, Mavis, and local nurses posing for a picture. Photo by author.

Overall, this conference was quite a wonderful experience, complementing my fieldwork and interviews, and I loved being able to learn from other perspectives as well as share my own. After all, this is the power of cross-cultural research and exchange, where we cross-pollinate ideas and values to continually improve society. The moral of the story is, don’t be afraid to network and reach out to other people—the world of academia actually gets quite small, especially within a discipline or field of practice and even more so in foreign countries. It definitely proved fruitful for me.

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Excavating the Stories behind the Numbers – Eileen Wang

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.


June 26, 2015
Jiading, Shanghai, China

Ethnographic research is all about going into your fieldwork expecting one thing from your background research, and then in the midst of it, encountering an entirely different set of circumstances. As I prepared for my “on the ground” research in China with the literature from previous years, I was thinking that the cesarean section rate would be sky high, that women perhaps would be requesting them left and right, and doctors would be wielding their surgical tools very liberally. Perhaps I was hoping to encounter all of this to confirm my expectations and then parse out the details from there.

Of course, the reality is quite different, and quite a bit more nuanced than the picture my imagination painted. In fact, at a secondary hospital in the outskirts of the city, I find myself surrounded by women who overwhelmingly prefer natural, vaginal delivery, and by doctors and nurses who encourage it. In fact, everywhere I look—on the walls, on brochures, even on the little pouches given to pregnant women to place their medical slips—the hospital clearly broadcasts: “Natural delivery is good.” Apparently, in the past few years, the government has been vigorously trying to lower cesarean section rates with more education, brochures, and TV ads, as well as new penalties for hospitals who have unacceptably high rates. Therefore, rather than having a cesarean section rate of 50%, as I was expecting, the hospital has since dramatically decreased it to around 30%—still high, but comparable to the US.

Nevertheless, confronting the differences between my expectations and reality allows me to keep an open mind, and to adapt and build off of this unexpectedness. It gives me the opportunity to attempt to understand how that change has occurred, how women’s experiences have evolved, and what hasn’t changed at all. Indeed, many of these women have given birth and the doctors have attended births through this change, and from their narratives, I have noted that while rates of cesarean have decreased, the general birthing culture and experience remains largely the same.

For example, one of the most peculiar things I discovered was that a number of the midwives, who work in the delivery room, had themselves requested cesarean deliveries. One of them did it 5 years ago during the era of very liberal use of cesareans, and one did it less than a year ago even after the changes were implemented. Wait a minute. Why are the midwives, who are supposed to promote vaginal delivery and who are perhaps the ones who most clearly know the health risks and benefits of each, asking for cesarean deliveries? Even more curiously, how were they getting around hospital regulations largely prohibiting women from requesting cesareans? Clearly something was contradictory here.

When I probed further, the midwives told me they felt like they themselves couldn’t go through the natural delivery experience. After all, they worked day in, day out in Labor and Delivery where women labored in an open room with other laboring women, without family, and mostly without anesthesia (there is very little use of epidurals in China, for reasons that require a whole other explanation). Although many of the women I talked to preferred vaginal delivery, citing the benefits to their baby and the harms of surgery, there seemed to be a universal fear of delivery magnified in an open, public space of shared pain. The midwives felt that they might as well undergo the cesarean without the long, painful process of labor; and then accept the post-surgery pain.

This contradiction signaled to me that while incentives for hospitals and education reforms are, on the surface-level, successful in lowering the “alarming rate” of cesarean deliveries, they simply do not change the generally negative experience of vaginal birth that may be driving the fear underlying requests for cesareans. Looking only at the numbers to determine what is wrong or what has been successful brushes over these deeper reasons for cesarean deliveries on maternal request.

Of course, I am not meaning to say that this is true of all women who want cesareans or of all midwives in China, as I am merely a participant observer at one local hospital. But I think the great thing about focused ethnographic research is that I am able to collect particular stories and pinpoint these slight contradictions in order to tease out their meaning in the larger context. In a world where numbers and rates are highly valued, ethnographic research and anthropology can play a powerful role in revealing cracks in those numbers.

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The Museum Porch: Bicentennial Wedgwood Plates, 1940

Bicentennial Wedgwood Plate, 1940: The Museum Porch by Thorton Oakley

Bicentennial Wedgwood Plate, 1940: The Museum Porch by Thornton Oakley. Photo by Michael Condiff.

I’m like the Museum in a sense that I’m a collector of things. I tend to be most interested in coins, which is why one of my favorite galleries at the museum is the Greece Gallery. There’s something interesting about currency and commerce; who and how many people held the currency, what was it used to purchase? But that’s not to say I do not have an interest in other collectibles. Above is a picture of a Wedgwood plate titled “The Museum Porch” that I recently acquired in exchange for some of my less interesting, modern electronic-currency. Of particular interest to me is that the very top portion of the Museum drawing has either cut off or intentionally left out the lion sculpture which sits atop the entrance on the roof. I have actually found it to be difficult in dealing with photos of the Kamin Entrance (Museum Porch) to get the entire scene without cutting out the top portion of the roof with the lion. It seems the same problem existed in 1940 as it does some 75 years later.

The plate I purchased is part of a set. In 1939, the University of Pennsylvania commissioned a set of a dozen plates of Wedgwood China to commemorate the University’s bicentennial, each designed by Penn alumni. The Museum Porch was drawn by Thornton Oakley, an accomplished illustrator, writer, and teacher. One of my favorite works of his is a World War I patriotic drawing of a scene at the Hog Island shipyard, titled Riveters at Hog Island.

Riveters at Work at Hog Island Shipyard (Philadelphia) by Thornton Oakley, from Harper's Monthly Magazine October 1918

Riveters at Work at Hog Island Shipyard (Philadelphia) by Thornton Oakley, from Harper’s Monthly Magazine, October 1918.

Here is the reverse side of the plate and you can notice some crazing. Lynn and Tessa in our Conservation Department gave me a crash course in what crazing is and why crazing occurs. It’s nice when you can walk down the hallway and ask experts why and how this happens.

Reverse Plate Side

Reverse Plate Side. Photo by Michael Condiff.

Above you can see that Thornton Oakley graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in ’01. That’s 1901 and not 2001, as I’m more used to seeing the latter. Imported apparently by Jones, McDuffie & Stratton (JMS). With a little digging I found an article with a little bit of the back-story of JMS.

Here is a shot of the lion that always gets cut out of photographs.

Here is a shot of the lion sculpture that often gets cut out of photographs and the 1940 Wedgwood plate. Photo by Michael Condiff.

Unfortunately for my wallet, I do have the itch to collect the remaining 11 plates in the set.

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The Work Goes (Sub-Awning, Yawning) On – Jeremy Cohen

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.

When George Washington University Professor, Tel Kabri Excavation Co-Director, and impromptu limerick enthusiast Eric H. Cline notified me of his “just having happened to stumble upon” my first post on the Penn Museum website (there’s no shame in self-Googling, sir), I realized that I had a tangible audience for these posts. To be precise: four, counting also my parents and Dr. Tiballi, to whom the posts are sent for initial review. Less fortunately, the wireless available at our field school—otherwise a great facility, I hear, by “dig standards”—has been less reliable than my nascent fan base. Though it is hitting the web in mid-July, this post was composed on 25 June, a mere two weeks into my dig experience.

N.B. The following is a work of historical fiction; any similarity to real individuals, locations, and events is unintentional and should not be the basis for a misconceived lawsuit, tabloid, M.A. thesis, etc.

Once, while in elementary school, my parents woke me up at a quarter to four in the morning so we could see the Battle of Lexington and Concord, reenacted. It was Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts—which, I would later learn, is the only state to recognize this holiday.

In the decade since, by unofficial decree, I had never awoken prior to dawn’s rosy-fingered arrival. But starting a few weeks ago, by semi-official mandate, je me levai before l’élévation of the sun levantin. By four forty-five, I find myself planted firmly in the seat of a northern Israeli bus on the winding, wakening road to Tel Kabri.

Assaf, in his natural habitat

Assaf, in his natural habitat (Photo by the author)

Accompanying me are roughly thirty undergrads and graduate students, roughing it with hiking boots and water jugs, trowels, and pencils. Many students hailed from The George Washington University (in the eponymously named city of Washington, of the District of Columbia, definitely articulated on its bookstore-sold clothing to avoid confusion) or Brandeis University (Waltham, MA). Yet, I found myself immediately welcomed as “Jeremy, from Penn!” by Profs. Eric H. Cline (“Cline”, GAS’91) and Andrew J. Koh (“Koh-Koh”, GAS’06), leading to easy conversations centered on, if you’ll believe it, the youthful shenanigans of now-tenured Penn professors. (Career Services, feel free to cite this blog post “What a Penn education can do for you!”) For Professor Assaf Yasser-Landau, formerly of the 1980s New Wave music movement and now of the maritime and coastal archaeology program at the University of Haifa, consistent mutual reference to Kafka or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has accomplished the same ends. As they watch us work through six-hour shifts, taking notes or photographs or turns with the pick-axe, each professor casually, smilingly sells their own graduate program (and/or personality cult).

A leader by example

A leader by example (Photo by the author)

I came well-equipped with sunscreen, patience, and an open mind. Yet, while my “un-apologetically lanky” physique may help me blend into hip Tel Aviv establishments, my muscles have been paying the piper—pick-axing, crouching, balancing, carrying, emptying, and high-fiving—at the local rate of 12 Israeli new shekel/day, or whatever an after-shift non-iced coffee (with ice) costs at the local gas station. It is rewarding work, though, worth the increased hummus appetite and penchant for falling asleep at 8:30 pm. The uneven tanning may take more getting used to, especially when any tanning is a fairly novel concept; armistice lines run along my legs, upper arms, and lower neck, separating two Euxenine shades between which only a 1028-pack Crayola could distinguish.

Trench acrobatics

Trench acrobatics (Photo by the author)

Still, the work goes on, as the self-described Clininites more deeply and widely delve into the Middle Bronze Age Canaanites’ palatial storerooms. Depending on your politics within the archaeology community and willingness to accept data collected by first-of-its-kind, on-site residue analysis, you may well nod toward Kabri’s claim of “world’s oldest known palatial wine cellar.” Indeed, even if you are skeptical of superlatives, The New York Times’ public interest journalism, and (definitely not member-edited) Wikipedia pages, there is still great merit in discovering wine residue, indicative of recipe-based mixology, in dozens of storage jars housed within several separate rooms, adjoining uniquely paired Syrian-style architecture and Aegean-style frescoes, all abandoned enigmatically some 3,700 years ago.

At least, I think there is. And it’s worth all the toe-bottom blisters and four o’clock wake-ups in the world.

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Two Perspectives in the Financial Crisis in Greece: Part 1: From the Field – Amanda Ball

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.

July 5, 2015

Pagouria and the Molyvoti Peninsula, Rhodopi, Greece

The “You are leaving Pagouria” sign. Photo by Amanda Ball.

The “You are leaving Pagouria” sign. Photo by Amanda Ball.

My mother called me this past Saturday night, as I wandered the streets of Istanbul. She and my father were worried I wouldn’t be able to make it back into Greece after my weekend off in Turkey, despite my assurances that I was fine and there was no reason to worry.

A picture from the border on July 5th, 2015. The line to leave Greece for Turkey. Photo by Amanda Ball.

A picture from the border on July 5, 2015. The line to leave Greece for Turkey. Photo by Amanda Ball.

“Don’t be a hero, Amanda,” she said. Easily the coolest thing anyone has ever said to me. “If things get bad, get out. Get over the border. We have a friend with friends in your area. Don’t be the last one out. Call us.” I laughed then, but later skimmed several articles on the possibility of violent fallout between then and when my bus back to Greece was scheduled to leave. As we headed back over the border the following day, with no trouble, the line of cars trying to get out of Greece extended absurdly far.

The Molyvoti, Thrace Archaeological Project (MTAP) inhabits a village called Pagouria. Pagouria has no bank, no ATM, and almost no one in it. There are two convenience stores, two kafeneias, a hardware store, and a gas station. Often it feels like more dogs inhabit Pagouria than people. The residents of Pagouria largely work in the farmland surrounding the village. From here, the crisis is merely something that shows up on the news programs every so often and is discussed by the locals in resigned voices. The Greek media is calling the crisis “the German problem” or “the European problem,” making the issue seem even more distant from daily life.

Pagouria from a distance. Photo by Amanda Ball.

Pagouria from a distance. Photo by Amanda Ball.

The closest city, Komotini, is a different story. From the last week of June, every ATM I’ve seen has had a line of four or more people standing outside of it. The only instance I’ve seen a vacant ATM since has been in the middle of a rainstorm. We foreigners are exempt from the 60 euro limit of ATM withdrawals from Greek bank accounts. It definitely makes one feel guilty to withdraw hundreds when the people behind you in line are withdrawing just enough to get by.

A Greek ATM line. Photo by Noah Kaye.

A Greek ATM line. Photo by Noah Kaye.

Greece’s division over whether to vote yes or no to the referendum is apparent only in the cities. Friends who went into Komotini on Wednesday, July 1, saw groups handing out fliers and waving posters labeled “Οχι”, in English, “[Vote] No.” These protestors seemed more determined than hostile and after my friends attended their lecture, they returned to quiet Pagouria.

Of course, this comes from an outside perspective. I spend most days walking cotton fields in the middle of nowhere, as part of the survey team run by Tom Tartaron, chair of the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World Program at Penn. In the day-to-day, I am much more afraid of shepherd dogs than I am of Greece defaulting on its loans. The scope of the problems being discussed on every channel, on every news source, seems so abstract as to be meaningless. However, that’s not to say we have not been affected at all.

A picture of the Yes/No ballot. Picture by Noah Kaye.

A picture of the Yes/No ballot. Picture by Noah Kaye.

At a meeting on June 30, MTAP’s director, Nathan Arrington, outlined the changes that were being made in the general running of the project. Shopping would now be limited to what could be bought with credit cards. The project’s account at the local hardware store had been closed, as had the account at the copy shop in Komotini. Supplies were stockpiled and further shopping trips would be limited. Everyone was instructed to take out Euros from the ATMs, in case of emergency. Otherwise, the project would continue as normal. “It will take much more than this to stop this project,” Nathan said. The words had the ring of a coach’s motivational speech in a sports movie. The whole staff applauded, as he stepped outside to speak with a workman who seemed concerned about his pay.

Following this speech, two staff members drove to a larger village nearby that did have ATMs in order to withdraw cash. The ATMs were closed upon arrival. The locals seemed to be having a party at the restaurant next door. When they saw our friends, they yelled, “Haven’t you heard, there’s no money in Greece?” while drinking and listening to music. The Americans replied with the obligatory, “Well, at least you’re happy!” The situation seemed and seems farcical. The ATMs are empty. Why not have a beer?

Financial crises seem faraway when this is your everyday. Photo by Amanda Ball.

Financial crises seem faraway when this is your everyday.
Photo by Amanda Ball.

On Sunday, the day of the vote on the referendum, the Muslim school has voters trickling in and out and more old men than usual are sitting outside the two convenience stores and kafeneias. These are the only signs anything is different from normal. Several voters showed up to our dighouse because they believed this is where the voting would happen. These local voters were dressed to the nines, clearly seeing a vote on a major issue as a significant event. There are no riots, no one shouting, no anger. The farming village seems almost indifferent. International politics seem far away, merely a new topic for the ever-present grumblings over a Vergina at the local bar.

Though to our families back home the financial crisis seems like a terrifying thing, we in the boonies of Greece remain almost unaffected. If the banks do not open on Monday the 6th, they may open later this week, or in the next one. We do not know how the vote will go. The crisis is currently unresolved and, no matter the results, will remain unresolved for a bit longer. Our dig is scheduled to end July 28. All we in Pagouria can do is hope the crisis is resolved before then in some manner or another. ‘Til then, we work.


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Sawadee ka from Bangkok! – Enika Selby

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.

May 31, 2015

During my past three years at Penn I have heard many of my anthropology professors recall their glory years of research when they traveled to far away places to tackle questions from anthropological perspectives. Although I’m not an anthropologist just yet, my own questions soon began to form, and this summer I find myself in Bangkok, Thailand, conducting research on Burmese migrant workers.


The author in Bangkok, Thailand.


Soon after arriving in Bangkok, I began my work with my main contact and translator—a woman named Mai who runs her own home care business. She mainly recruits migrants from Myanmar, in order to provide them with job opportunities that may otherwise be difficult to find. Her office is where I began interviewing the diverse array of Burmese people who have come to Bangkok for better employment or education. In the upcoming weeks, I also plan to observe church services attended by migrant workers and explore neighborhoods where Burmese people have started their own businesses.

Through interviews and observations, I am looking to explore the social transition migrants make when they move from one environment to another. For many of the people I have talked with so far, this means going from either a rural village, small town, or a refugee camp to the rather international city of Bangkok. The particular focus of my research is how Burmese migrant workers’ identities are shaped under the influence of globalization. This entails understanding what kinds of communities, ideas, and social patterns emerge within the migrant population after moving to the big city.

As I slowly begin to discover these processes, I am also learning more about migrant people’s personal histories and opinions. Many describe the difficulties they had to endure just to arrive in Thailand. Some people tell of the constant discrimination that they face due to what they believe are ethnic and national differences between themselves and Thais. Meanwhile, others I have spoken with describe no such trouble, and even view Bangkok as their home. This dichotomy is just one of the many interesting details that I have learned on my trip so far.

I am only a few weeks into my research, and fascinating information has already emerged. As I conduct more interviews I will continue to work to understand what is happening with the Burmese migrant workers in Bangkok!



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