Joseph B. Shead

Shead Programming

Aspiring Anthropologist

I got my BA in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma in 1994. I wanted a PhD, but one reason that I didn't pursue it was that I didn't have the money. So, I worked at what I called a "grocery store job," although, ironically, no grocery stores would hire me. That's what I figured I would probably end up doing when I started in Anthropology.


However, I kept my little dream alive by trying to answer the question of what my bailiwick would be, because I was told I would need one. My method was to use a process of random selection. I had been taught that Anthropology is Global, Holistic, Non-judgemental, and Comparative. My impression while in school was that certain areas seemed to be getting more anthropological attention than certain other areas, a lot more. So, this was my solution. In 1996, I half-split the world, with Africa and the Americas on one side, and Eurasia on the other, and flipped a coin to decide which side I would be on. Then, I half-split that part, and so on, about 13 times. I ended up in Suriname, formerly Dutch Guyana. I've been studying Dutch now for over two years, and can read it well, write it Ok, listen to it niet zo best, and speak it...? Well, I'm going there in January 2009, so we'll see. Immersion, it's sink or swim.

8/23/2009 — It has taken me a little while, as you see, to talk about my little experience in Suriname. I spent a month there, in Paramaribo, 1/19 - 2/20/2009. A car was never used, except at beginning and end for travel to the airport. Although I ride a bike at home, I never even rented a bike there. I should keep it short, but on my first day, I ate at a bar/restaurant (not for vacationers) across the street from my guesthouse on Verlengde Hoogestraat. In there, I watched President Obama give his inaugural address. I had never heard his voice before (I don't have a TV, on purpose). You might say, it was a little like going to the moon, turning back, and seeing the earth.

One of my most striking experiences was, on my first or second day, looking at a house on Kalkbranderstraat, about a block from where I stayed. It was old gray wood, the paint mostly gone, separations between boards on the siding of about an inch in a lot of places, perhaps leaning, listing, in a word, ramshackle. As I was looking at the second floor windows, at some point I noticed curtains. They were colorful, much newer than the rest of the house, and then I realized, "Somebody lives up there."

I got what I surmise to be dengue. On my 5th or 6th day, my left big toe bled under the toenail, and on the ninth, I got a fever. It was pretty severe and scary, with alternating chills, fever, bed-soaking sweats in the middle of the night, aches, etc. I just wanted to go home. It lasted five days. I, of course, projected that it would go on till it was time to go home, and I would have to stay, in a hospital, and that it was malaria, and how that would screw up everything, etc., etc.

As soon as I did get home, however, I just wanted to go back. I think I may be infected with Suriname. "Ik kom hier om de mensen en het land te ervaren." That (with slight variations) was my stock explanation, developed as I tried to explain to people what I came there for, what I wanted, and did not want, "I come here to experience the people and the country." Did I sink or swim? Will I go back?

2/2/2013 — Given that four years have passed, and that I'm all out of dough, I think it's safe to say that I sank. Maybe something good will come out of it all. Maybe it has already.

11/3/2013 — Out of place and out of time.

For the first six months of 2008, and passim thereafter, I have been working on a bibliography for the Environment and Anthropology Section of the AAA. It now covers the period from the beginning of the EANTH listserve in 1998 to the end of 2008, and has grown from 3800 to over 6700 items and 700 journals. It also has a list of special issues of many journals that anthropology and environment-alists publish in. I periodically update it here on the web site. It is an html document, but since it is 2.28MB in size, I am offering it as a zip file, below. It is also available as an xml file (and its associated css file), which I offer together with the html, in I hope you find it useful and as engaging as I have.— 11/3/2013
xml and— 11/3/2013