Looking back comes naturally to me. As an archaeologist and museum anthropologist, the past is always part of my present, sometimes as a topic for research, sometimes as retrospection regarding lived experience, and often as both. And as you’ll hear in my presidential address at the Annual Meeting, the present can be a rather slippery concept, perhaps best understood as a series of proximate and successively more distant pasts. But from the vantage point of this endlessly eroding present, as I complete my term as AAA president and look back over the past two years, several things stand out.
First is how much I’ve learned. The range and breadth, depth and diversity of what anthropologists actually do is astounding. Because the discipline examines the whole scope and span of the human career there are vanishingly few topics where one cannot say “there’s an anthropologist working on that…” Often we examine problems and processes from multiple directions at once, bringing a camera bag of subdisciplinary lenses to bear on both longstanding theoretical questions and more immediate practical concerns. With each of those different perspectives come different ways of perceiving the discipline, its promise, its potential, and most of all its needs. Finding ways to address those needs and advance those interests has been an endlessly challenging (albeit rewarding) task.
Second is how much we have left to do. Anthropology offers insights that help us better understand the world, past and present, but too often our voices are not heard and our scholarship doesn’t inform decisions or help shape knowledge beyond the academic bounds of the discipline, or beyond the immediate beneficiaries of a contract or project. We need to become more effective—as scholars in communicating our work and increasing its recognition, as public scholars incorporating the discipline’s insights into both public debate and public policy, and as advocates making a clear case for why anthropology matters in all contexts of practice.
And finally is how grateful I am. Over the past two years I’ve worked with a remarkable group of people, and we’ve made substantive progress on topics I think are important—ranging from the launch of new journals to reductions in the costs of AAA membership for our most vulnerable members, from piloting a virtual meeting initiative to developing an international consortium to inform the new Open Anthropology Research Repository, providing a free platform to all anthropologists anywhere to share preprints, conference presentations, syllabi and course materials, media, or other materials to a global audience. Some, such as the Summer Department Leaders Institute, are inwardly focused. Others, such as World on the Move: 100,000 Years of Human Migration or finding a permanent home for our influential RACE: Are We So Different? exhibition, engage the broader public.
We—meaning all of us as a community of practice—do an enormous amount, and over the past two years I’ve been privileged to see that clearly, consistently, and constantly. Often it seems like the tasks accumulate at ever-faster rates, the demands on our time multiply, and we hear kind words less often than the sounds of deadlines passing by. It’s worth taking a moment to recognize all we do, to feel pride in both the outcome and the effort, and to pat a colleague on the back.
As we approach the Annual Meeting and the opportunity it provides for us to gather, learn, and share, I’d also like to ask you to consider including AAA in your year-end philanthropic plans. Your support will enable AAA to continue its vital efforts to channel the strength, insights, and compassion of our global anthropological community to better understand the human career, broadly defined, and, where possible, to use that knowledge to also better the human condition. To that end we have included an envelope with this issue of Anthropology News to facilitate your generous support of AAA and all it does to sustain and enhance our field.
I urge all of you to become more involved with the Association. One of the logical corollaries of the present endlessly slipping into the past is that what we do today makes our disciplinary history—nothing more, nothing less. We have a long and proud tradition that was and is created by us, and like any family a few rough spots we’d rather forget. We are the AAA, and I encourage each of you to contribute in making that history something in which we can all take pride.
Cite as: Barker, Alex. 2019. “Looking Back.” Anthropology News website, December 6, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1323