Melanie Angel Medeiros

John L Gwaltney (1928-1998), a groundbreaking African-American anthropologist, demonstrated how thought-provoking ethnography and empathetic and engaged research contribute to both the scholarly pursuit of anthropology and action towards the betterment of people’s lives.  The Association of Black Anthropologists John L Gwaltney Native Anthropology Scholarship supports graduate students of anthropology as they engage in research and writing that contributes to Gwaltney’s legacy.

Reading this as scholars of anthropology, whether you are a professor or first year graduate student, you understand first-hand that the pursuit of a doctoral degree is an immense privilege, but one that requires sacrifice and perseverance.  As peers outside of academia begin jobs with generous salaries, a graduate student instead must be satisfied with earning a living wage, working as a teaching or research assistant and applying for grants to fund research and writing.  Most of us have happily chosen this road, aware that the time we spend getting our PhD is an investment in ourselves, and, for the idealists like myself, an investment in producing knowledge that will improve the world, as well as in the future education of world-changers.

I applied for the John L Gwaltney Native Anthropology Scholarship while completing my fieldwork in the rural interior of the state of Bahia in Northeast Brazil.  My research examines marriage, divorce and distress among low-income, rural Afro-Brazilians. Although divorce and the health impacts associated with it have been heavily studied in North America and Europe, social scientists have not given divorce outside of a western context much attention.  In Brazil, psychological research on divorce and the family focuses almost entirely on middle- and upper-middle class urban Brazilians.  For various reasons, including the fact that low-income, rural Afro-Brazilians do not get legally married, the dissolution of their marriages has not garnered scholarly or social attention in Brazil.  As a foreigner who has spent six years visiting and living with this community, I had a unique opportunity to be an empathetic witness to how social change, structural inequality, and a myriad of other factors impact marriage and experiences of marital failure.  I applied for the scholarship at a critical moment when I was preparing to leave the field, uncertain as to whether anyone other than my interlocutors would be interested in my research, and concerned as to how I would fund my return to the United States.  This insecurity and uncertainty is one I am sure you have all felt, although not necessarily admittedly.

When I received notification that I had been awarded the John L Gwaltney Native Anthropology Scholarship I was proud and elated.  Receiving this scholarship not only greatly helped with my readjustment to life in the United States, but it also renewed my confidence in my research topic.  It assured me that others saw the necessity of my research and were willing to recognize it as a worthwhile undertaking.  As an ABD student at the start of the dissertation writing process I could, and still can not, imagine a better way to begin writing than to receive a scholarship that encourages you to continue on the path you are on.

The John L Gwaltney Native Anthropology Scholarship is a wonderful opportunity for advanced graduate students and junior faculty to receive funding for their work and recognition that most of us desire. I want to encourage eligible members of the ABA to apply.  Once again, I thank the ABA and the scholarship committee for this honor.

The deadline for the Gwaltney Award and other ABA award opportunities is May 1, 2013.  All applicants must be ABA members.  Recipients will be announced during the 2013 AAA Annual Meeting in Chicago.  Please see the ABA website for more details.

Melanie Angel Medeiros is a doctoral candidate at U of Arizona and has her MA in Sociocultural Anthropology from the same institution.  She currently resides in Tucson, Arizona where she is writing her dissertation: An Ethnography of Marriage, Divorce and Distress Among Afro-Brazilians in Rural Northeast Brazil. Comments on this column can be sent to Melanie (

Contributions to this column can be sent to karen g williams (

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