1998 PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS BY PETER ALLEN, RHODE ISLAND COLLEGE
I want to thank the membership of SAE for electing me president. It is a great honor and I hope I will be worthy of the office. Thanks to the efforts of my predecessors, especially Caroline Brettell, the association is healthy and thriving. We have a large and stable membership, surplus revenues, an informative and timely bulletin, a high profile at the annual AAA meeting, and a dedicated and enthusiastic group of officers. We also have a website and electronic discussion list that are models of the art – providing valuable information and a forum for lively discussions. We have had vigorous and productive discussions on the boundaries of the European culture area and even on the concept of culture area itself. There have also been discussions about east-west differences. I hope discussions of these issues will continue and that other issues will be discussed and debated as well.
My goals for the SAE include the publication of the long awaited guide to films and videos on Europe (it should be available soon), an updating of our syllabuses and the posting of them on the website, an expansion of the slide sets to accompany monographs on Europe and the possible posting of them on websites, and greater collaboration with other sections of the AAA. As “Convenor” of the Section Assembly I am in a good position to facilitate any interaction with other sections and welcome input from all members of SAE on this and other section issues that concern SAE. I would also like to see more cooperation between SAE and the East European Anthropology Group.
I want to begin with a personal note. When Caroline Brettell stood on this podium two years ago she observed that there was a strong Brown University connection here, noting that her own doctorate was from Brown and Susan Carol Rogers, the founder and first president of SAE, had been a Brown undergraduate as had Caroline’s immediate predecessor, David Kertzer. I represent a continuation of that line in that I also received my doctorate from Brown. But my connections go much deeper. You see, David Kertzer was a student in the first anthropology course I TA’ed in at Brown in 1967 and Susan Rogers was a student in the last class in which I TA’ed there in 1972. So Brown (and I) have a long and deep connection with SAE. But that is not all. Two of the former presidents of SAE are Greek specialists Michael Herzfeld and Jill Dubisch. Not only am I also a Greek specialist, but I also have close ties with Michael and Jill. I first met Michael in Athens in 1970 when he was completing a master’s degree in Greek folklore and trying to decide what to do with himself. He was drawn to anthropology, so I invited him to visit me in the field which he did and then I encouraged him to accompany me to Cyprus for a Mediterranean conference where I introduced him to John Campbell. The rest is history. Earlier that year I had come to Greece for my doctoral fieldwork and before heading for my “own” village, had visited Jill Dubisch on the island of Tinos where she was just wrapping up more than a year of her own doctoral fieldwork. We have been close friends ever since.
So I represent a continuation of the disproportionate representation of both Brown and Greece in this office and I have strong personal and professional connections with all these predecessors, all of whom with the exception of Jill, I might add are younger than I. That leaves only John Cole among the former presidents and my ties to John also go back many years. We often met at East European Peasant conferences and the like in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but it was in 1975 that we really sealed the bond between us. I had flown up from Athens to Bucharest to visit a young woman there and had run out of money. I was on my way to the post office to place a call to my parents asking them to wire me some money when I passed a cafe where a man was sitting alone in at a table in the garden. He looked vaguely familiar and it occurred to me that it might be John Cole, but that seemed like too much of a coincidence in a city of 1.5 million people until I realized that the glass on the man’s table was a pilsner of beer. It was ten o’clock in the morning and I said to myself, “Only John Cole would be drinking beer alone at 10 am in Bucharest.” I hailed him and sat down. After a brief exchange of “what are you doing here, etc.” I informed him that I was on my way to have some money wired. “Oh, you need money?” said John, pulling out a thick wad of twenties, “How much?” and he began peeling off bills. “I am leaving for home tomorrow and have plenty of extra,” he said, “tell me when to stop.” I stopped him just short of $200. All the while my Romanian girlfriend’s eyes were popping more and more out of their sockets. Later I explained to her that not only was John an old friend, but my father was a dean at John’s university and he would have little problem getting the money back. John also let me stay at his apartment for a few days which saved me even more money, so I am eternally grateful, not only for the loan and the apartment, but also for the story upon which I have been dining out for the past quarter of a century.
So, now that I have established my pedigree, on to more important matters. First of all, I want to say that anthropological interest in Europe is strong. There is a group of very fine young scholars coming along to swell the ranks of Europeanists in departments nationwide and replace those of us who will be retiring in the next decade or so. I know this in part because I was a member of a small group of scholars who evaluated proposals for Columbia University’s Center for European Studies pre-dissertation fellowships earlier this year. Of the 70 or so applications submitted, 13 or 14 were in anthropology and they were all first rate. In fact, they were really outstanding in every way and it was tough to choose the best (my sincere apologies to anyone in the audience who was rejected – you were in good company). They measured up very well against the competition from literature, history, political science and other disciplines. Unfortunately, this program has been discontinued, at least temporarily, but the SAE will offer their pre-dissertation fellowship and I encourage all who are eligible to apply.
Membership in SAE continues to hover around 600 and we have a full slate of sessions at this meeting. Moreover, at the AAA annual retreat and Section Assembly meeting in May, I was elected “Convenor” of the Section Assembly, a kind of ambiguous position, but what it means is that I prepare the agenda and preside over this assembly of the heads of all 32 sections of the AAA.
In the fall of 1997 I had a sabbatical leave and returned to “my” village in southern Greece to do a restudy of the community I had researched for my doctorate in 1970-71. Although my chief interest was in assessing the impact of various changes that had taken place in the slightly more than a quarter of a century since my first visit, I had to find some funding, so I wrote proposals about investigating symbolic and other resistance to the hegemony of the state in a peripheral region, using the current buzzwords and so on, but I was really curious to see just how much change had occurred. It was great to be back in the field and back at my original fieldsite and there was a great deal to take in. However, my great epiphany occurred several weeks into my study when I read Jill Dubisch’s book, IN ANOTHER PLACE. It had been sent to me by a journal just before I left for the field, so I tossed it into my suitcase and once I got settled and found a free moment, pulled it out and read it. It is a fine book and good anthropology, but it is nothing like the anthropology Jill and I were doing in Greece 28 years ago and not much like most of what we have done since. Among other things that struck me was the fact that the word kinship does not appear in the book, nor is there any discussion of kinship or related topics anywhere in the volume. Later, just before I left Greece I had lunch with the woman who has translated Michael Herzfeld’s books into Greek and I mentioned my observation on Dubisch’s book to her. “Well,” she said, the word does not appear in any of Michael’s books either.” She knew this because “kinship” is a difficult word to translate into Greek and always gives Greek translators fits. Of course, Herzfeld does talk about lineages and other aspects of kinship in several of his books, which is perhaps why I never noticed the absence the word kinship, but there is little of what used to be the meat and potatoes of mainstream anthropology, especially in his recent work. So, when I returned to the states after my sabbatical and someone asked me how much the village had changed, I found myself saying that although it had undergone quite profound changes, the discipline of anthropology has changed even more in the intervening quarter of a century. Of course, this is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, but there is, nevertheless, some truth to it. I would like to conclude my remarks with some reflections on our past and future. 26 years ago I was hired as a Mediterraneanist at Rhode Island College and for approximately 20 years I taught a course on the Peoples and Cultures of the Mediterranean. More than 20 years ago at the AAA meeting in New Orleans I attended an organizational meeting for a Mediterraneanist association. It never took off, but it was another dozen years before the SAE was launched and the Middle East group has only come together in the past 3 or 4 years. On the other hand, the East European group, which has never achieved full section status, has been active for at least 20 years.
I taught my course on the Peoples and Cultures of the Mediterranean as, essentially, two courses – one on the Middle East and North Africa and one on Southern Europe. Now I teach a course on the Peoples and Cultures of Europe which I prefer to call the Ethnography of Europe but haven’t yet been able to get that through the departmental and college bureaucracy. The lines of fracture in this course are still largely geographic as I have come to appreciate the myriad and substantive differences between the southern tier of Europe and the northern states as well as lingering east-west differences, notably in political culture and other legacies of the (late) cold war; but overall I am far more comfortable with this format than the old Mediterranean one.
Within the SAE there have been vigorous and healthy debates about not only the boundaries of the European Culture area, but on the whole concept of culture area itself. There have also been productive discussions about east-west differences. These have not necessarily been resolved and will certainly continue, but this is good since these are important issues and should be addressed periodically.
As NATO and the EU expand into the former eastern blok countries and debate about further expansion of both continues, I believe it is time for us to consider such an extension/merger ourselves. The Eastern Europe group has an impressive record and a very attractive and high quality publication, but to continue an organization or publication delineated “East” or “Eastern” Europe is inevitably to look back rather than forward. It is a denial of present realities and contributes to a perpetuation of what was always a contrived, albeit very real, distinction. Europe needs more unity and less fragmentation and I believe the same can be said of our organization. So, I invite the East European Anthropology Group to consider (once again) joining with us as a UNITED Society for the study of a united Europe.
This is one of my goals as president – unification of east and west. Another is the publication of our guide to films and videos on Europe and I am happy to report that this document is almost finished and will be going to the printer early next year. I would also like to see an updating of our syllabuses and the posting of these on our web site, along with an expansion of the slide sets to accompany various monographs. Membership is always a concern and I will work to see that we sustain our numbers and possible add to them. Finally, I hope to promote cooperation between the SAE and other sections, especially in the area of joint sessions for the annual meetings.