A celebration of the study of humans, past and present, as well as the complexity of cultures across all human history will take place at UMD on Thursday — all part of National Anthropology Day, put on by the American Anthropological Association (AAA). As part of Professor David Syring’s senior seminar requirements, students were tasked with putting together different exhibits, programs and other interactive activities to educate and inform students about the anthropology field. “National Anthropology Day is a way to highlight what anthropology contributes to society,” said Syring. “We are just trying to bring the public into what anthropologists do and get them involved,” said senior Jannel Juganaru. This is the first time the AAA has designated a National Anthropology Day. Syring took this opportunity to get his students to organize an action at UMD. “As much as possible, I like to get students involved in talking about — especially advanced students who know the discipline now — what (anthropology) offers,” he said.
Besides being the study of humans and culture, anthropology draws and builds upon knowledge from the social and biological sciences, as well as the humanities and physical sciences, according to the AAA. “Anthropology is the scientific student of humankind in all times and places, using comparative methods,” Juga naru said.
“It’s an attempted systematic study of cultures,” added senior Caitlin Vanderwal. A central concern of anthropologists is the application of knowledge to the solution of human problems, such as racism and sexism. “Anthropologists have been some of the leading figures in undermining racism in American society and globally,” Syring said. “Anthropologists have done a lot of the research that shows that race is really a social construct, not a biological reality, and used that to point out that what we perceive as differences are actually very minimal and don’t have any real depth other than what we ascribe to them socially.” Syring said the field of anthropology sheds light on the importance of understanding how to live and communicate effectively in a globalized world, where one might not agree with another’s culture.
“There’s a real value in having what I call an ‘anthropological consciousness,’” he said. “If you have the ability to understand that everyone in the world, every society that’s in the world, every culture system that’s in the world has it’s own coherence to it, and it’s valuable to understand that people living different ways than we live are not failed versions of our version of the world. They have their own being and identity in the world.” Syring’s students will try to spread these different messages to UMD students, staff and faculty in a number of different ways. One group will have a table set up from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Lake Superior Hall lobby where they will have a trivia game for students to play. Another group will be tabling there from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., handing out fortune cookies with facts and statistics about anthropology, while another group will show anthropology-based TED talks from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in RDC 311, across from the Dining Center. Part of the reason that Syring wants his students to spread their knowledge of anthropology around UMD is that the major now has six new courses that students can take in the fall (see sidebar). Syring saw National Anthropology Day as an opportunity to promote the new courses and to hopefully bring students into the program. “People should be
an anthropology major because it is so broad,” said Vanderwal. “It opens up so many new avenues, so many new skills; you really can go just about anywhere with it.” “It fits with any career field,” added Juganaru. “If you go into medicine, you’ll be dealing with people from different cultural backgrounds, same goes for engineering, education.” The accessibility of the major is just another reason that students may take interest in a program that focuses on the holistic study of diverse people and cultures and, at the end of the day, what it means to be human. “The world is full of all kinds of interesting ways to be human,” Syring said.
BY SAM STROM News Editor