4/24/2018 Amanda Veile and collaborator Karen Rosenberg organized a symposium "The Evolutionary Causes and Consequences of Rising Cesarean Birth Rates," at the 2018 American Association of Physical Anthropologists Meeting (April 14 in Austin). The symposium drew together anthropologists, biologists, and practitioners who study cesarean birth using evolutionary and biocultural theoretical approaches. The symposium will now be converted to a special issue of the American Journal of Human Biology, with Drs Veile and Rosenberg as guest editors.
3/21/2018 - Melissa Remis and Amanda Veile received grants totaling $17,000 from the Purdue University Laboratory and University Core Facility Research Equipment Program! The funds will be used to purchase equipment that will expand the research and training capacities of our Bioanthropology laboratories.
3/19/2018 - Dr. Ian Lindsay has been awarded two internal equipment grants from Purdue’s Office of the Executive Vice-President for Research and Partnerships to update and expand his use of magnetometry and drone-based aerial thermal imaging of Bronze Age sites as part of his archaeological research in Armenia.
1/16/2018 - Dr. Erik Otárola-Castillo was invited to the Department of Anthropology at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to present his work on “The Effects of Climate Change on the Diet of Great Plains Paleoindians” in their lecture series on Environmental Archaeology on January 18th at 12:30 PM.
12/4/2017 - Congratulations to Jennifer L. Johnson. Jennifer received the 2017 Junior Scholar Award at the recently completed American Anthropological Association meetings. The Anthropology and Environment Society recognized the following article:
Johnson, Jennifer Lee. 2017. Eating and Existence on an Island in Southern Uganda. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 37(1): 2–23.
This article examines contemporary ontological conflicts between people who make their living on an island with fish that are considered by fisheries managers to be “commercially extinct” and people who make their living managing “commercially important” fisheries for this region as a whole. It is an experiment in worlding, the work of wading between content and contexts to configure webs of relevant relations through which the politics of eating and existence play out along Uganda's southern littoral. By attending ethnographically to observable actions and concrete practices, I suggest that fish workers and fisheries managers enact multiple, relatively distinct versions of food, fish, bodies of water, and fisheries. Attending to this multiplicity is crucial for rendering plausible already existing alternatives to an overdetermined future of death, depravity, and collapse that features within scholarly, popular, and policy-oriented accounts of Lake Victoria's fisheries.
11/2/2017 - Amanda Veile and collaborator Karen Rosenberg organized a symposium "The Evolutionary Causes and Consequences of Rising Cesarean Birth Rates," which was accepted for a special session at the 2018 American Association of Physical Anthropologists Meeting (April 11-14 in August). The symposium draws together anthropologists, biologists, and practitioners who study cesarean birth using evolutionary and bio cultural theoretical approaches.
11/1/2017 – Congratulations to Michele Buzon on presenting the Research and Scholarship Distinction Distinguished Lecture on Oct. 30th. Pictured below is (left to right) Suresh Garimella, Michele Buzon, and Lu Ann Aday who has endowed Purdue’s most prestigious research award in the humanities and social sciences. Dr. Buzon received this award for her groundbreaking work on bioarchaeology. Buzon is viewed as a leader in bioarchaeology and strontium isotope analysis. She has earned an international reputation for her expertise and innovation for her research in the Nile Valley.
9/1/17: Dr. Amanda Veile’s recent research on the growth consequences of Cesarean births was featured on President Daniels’ annual address to Purdue University.
8/31/17: Dr. Amanda Veile gave an invited lecture, "Biological Causes and Consequences of Cesarean Birth" at Wabash College as part of their Biology Department Seminar Series.
8/14/2017- New Faces and Transitions in the Anthropology Department! We are very pleased to welcome our two new assistant professors, who have joined us in August 2017. We look forward to having them on the team!
Andrew Flachs' research spans sustainable agriculture, food studies, the anthropology of knowledge, and political ecology. He earned his PhD in cultural anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis and worked with the Karl Jaspers Centre for Advanced Transcultural Studies at Heidelberg University before joining Purdue as part of the Advanced Methods Cluster. His research in South India, Eastern Europe, and North America has been supported by agencies including the US Department of Education, the Volkswagen Foundation, and the National Geographic Society. In addition to peer-reviewed scientific articles, Andrew's writing and photography has appeared in public venues including the National Geographic Magazine, Nature: Plants, and Voices for Biodiversity. This fall, Dr. Flachs will be teaching Anthropology 10000, Introduction to Anthropology.
Stacy Lindshield is a biological anthropologist whose research intersects primate behavior, ecology, nutrition, and conservation. She studies savanna chimpanzees in Senegal at Mount Assirik in Niokolo-Koba National Park and at the Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project. Her current projects include a habituation feasibility assessment of chimpanzees at Mount Assirik and nutritional facets of hunting, meat eating, and meat sharing behaviors. She also serves as director of research at the Monkey Bridge Project, a non-profit organization that aims to preserve and manage Costa Rican primate populations through biological corridor networks and community engagement at the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge. Support for this work has been provided by the National Science Foundation, Leakey Foundation, Rufford Small Grant Foundation, and Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation. In fall semester, Dr. Lindshield is teaching Anthropology 20400, Introduction to Biological Anthropology and Human Evolution, and ANTH 23500, The Great Apes.
At the same time, we are saying farewell to three tenured faculty members and one Visiting Assistant Professor. Associate Professor Su’ad Abdul Khabeer—who received a fellowship for Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music this year—has accepted a faculty position at the University of Michigan in their American Cultures department. We wish her well in her new role. Professor Evelyn Blackwood has retired and been named Professor Emerita. She plans to spend the first part of her retirement finishing her book on the research she has been conducting in San Francisco, California. Professor Richard Blanton has retired and moved out west, to be nearer to his family. And finally, Dr. Shimelis Beyene Gebru has finished his term here and we wish him well in his future plans. We will miss all of you
8/7-11/17: Dr. Amanda Veile was invited to give several lectures at three Peruvian Universities, titled Investigaciones de Salúd Indígena en México y Sudamérica: Contribuciones de la Antropología Biológica (Investigations of Indigenous Health in Mexico and South America: Contributions of Biological Anthropology). At Universidad Ricardo Palma, Lima, Perú (August 11), Universidad Nacional Hermilio Valdizan, Huánuco, Perú (August 10), and Universidad Nacional de San Cristóbal de Huamanga, Ayachuco, Perú (August 7).
5/11/2017 - Congratulations to Michele Buzon! Dr. Buzon is the recipient of the 2017 Research and Scholarship Distinction Award for her work in bioarchaeology. This is one of the University's top three research honors. You can read more about Dr. Buzon’s groundbreaking research here.
4/11/2017- There are many ways that faculty engage with their research—teaching about it, writing articles, giving presentations at conferences. But there is something very special about those rare occasions when faculty publish a book.
“’The gestation period was much longer than 9 months!’ one of my friends once told me. Ever since, I have wanted to celebrate book completions,” noted Department Head Ellen Gruenbaum. “A book is a rare and special accomplishment in the life of a professor!”
So the Department of Anthropology held a special reception on Monday. Students, faculty, and guests gathered to honor seven faculty who have published books this year. Each spoke briefly about their work.
Two of the books are monographs based on intensive ethnographic research. Laura Zanotti’s Radical Territories in the Brazilian Amazon: The Kayapo’s Fight for Just Livelihoods (University of Arizona Press) recounts the struggles she has observed in her many years of research with the native peoples there. Several groups of undergraduate and graduate students at Purdue have accompanied her to the community of Aukre. There they learned from their Kayapo teachers about the forest environment and cultural heritage while also collaborating on developing a media center and movie-making. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer’s book, Muslim Cool: Race, Religion, and Hip Hop in the United States (New York University Press) is a fresh and innovative look at the ways multiethnic American Muslims express themselves and challenge racist norms—through ideas, dress, and social activism.
Professor Rich Blanton completed his opus magnum this year. It’s been called “big anthropology, the likes of which we do not see every day.” How Humans Cooperate: Confronting the Challenges of Collective Action (U Press of Colorado) moves across time and place to investigate human cooperation using anthropology’s broad understanding of biological, adaptive, and cultural dimensions of human society’s efforts to work together effectively. His book is co-authored with Purdue alumnus Lane Fargher. Myrdene Anderson co-edited a collection called Consensus on Peirce’s Concept of Habit (Purdue U. Press.).
Evie Blackwood worked for long years to prepare her new textbook, Cultural Anthropology: Mapping Cultures Across Space and Time (Cengage), coauthored with Janice Stockard. Two other texts round out this year’s crop of books: Using Anthropology in the World: A Guide to Becoming a Professional Anthropologist is Riall Nolan’s new text for courses like the one he pioneered at Purdue. Popular with undergrads, the course “Using Anthropology in the World” has launched many of them along the path toward applying anthropology to solving human problems and to their careers in the “real world.” Also a part of the department’s Applied and Practicing Anthropology focus is the eighth edition of Adjunct Professor Elizabeth Briody’s book, The Cultural Dimension of Global Business (coauthored with Gary Ferraro, Routledge).
College of Liberal Arts Dean David Reingold commented that this degree of productivity for a small department is a remarkable achievement.
The students in the audience were clearly proud of their professors’ achievements. “I really liked hearing about these important ideas!” commented graduate student Allison Kirkham. “We should do this more often.” Maybe. But probably less often than every nine months!
3/28/17 - A record number of faculty and students are participating in the Society for Applied Anthropology conference in Santa Fe, NM,
3/28/17 - Richard Blanton’s Work on Premodern Democracies Featured in Science. It wasn't just Greece: Archaeologists find early democratic societies in the Americas. “‘Blanton and his colleagues opened up a new way of examining our data,’ says Rita Wright, an archaeologist at New York University in New York City who studies the 5000-year-old Indus civilization in today's India and Pakistan, which also shows signs of collective rule. ‘A whole new set of scholarship has emerged about complex societies.’”
3/10/17 - Dr. Su’ad Abdal Khabeer has been awarded a year-long fellowship in residence at Yale University’s Institute of Sacred Music. Her proposed project, Allah and Justice: A Cultural History of Islam and Hip Hop, is a global exploration of Muslims, hip hop and social justice framed by a series of questions: What is the historical relationship between Islam and hip hop? What contributions have Muslims made to hip hop music and culture? How has hip hop become a means for Muslims to answer the Qur’an’s call “to enjoin the good and the forbid the wrong?” There are three thematic foci of the project. The first, “Genealogies of Liberation” focuses on the history of Islam in hip hop’s development and the second theme, “Hip Hop as Sacred Music,” will examine hip hop as a form of sonic religion for Muslims. The third theme, “Hip Hop, Islam and Revolution,” looks the “transglobal hiphop ummah” to explore the ways in which hip hop is being deployed in Muslim revolutionary praxis globally. In line with my commitment to public scholarship and the Institute of Sacred Music’s complementary engagement with sacred arts and public life, this project will culminate in a book-length manuscript--collection of six essays that reflect upon the thematic foci of the project and a performance ethnography. She will spend the fellowship doing research and writing to complete the project.
3/7/2017 - Dr. Su'ad Abdul Khabeer participated in an online forum called "Islam on Trial" that was published in the Boston Review. Dr. Khabeers response focuses on the double burden of being Black and Muslim vis-a-vis the national security state.
1/31/2017 - The work of Dr. Stacy M. Lindshield new Assistant Professor of Biological Anthropology (fall 2017) on chimpanzee politics, titled “In Rare Killing, Chimpanzees Cannibalize Former Leader” is highlighted by National Geographic News.
1/29/2017 – Dr. Suad Abdul Khabeer publishes article “Trumps Muslim ban is a dangerous distraction” in Aljazeera News.
1/9/2017 - Dr. Amanda Veile and Dr. Jennifer Johnson were featured in the Fall 2016 issue of Purdue University's Think Magazine. Their research was showcased as part of an article on "Feminism's Future."
1/9/2017 - Dr. Amanda Veile received a $35,000 grant from the College of Liberal Arts (Exploratory Research in the Social Sciences) for her project "Biology and Socioecology of Birth and Early Childhood Maturational Processes: A Semi-Longitudinal Study of Yucatec Maya Subsistence Farmers." Read details here.
11/28/2016 - The Tippecanoe County Historical Association (TCHA) and Purdue’s Department of Anthropology and Department of History will host MHAC 13 October 13-15, 2017. The theme is Reconstructing, Representing, and Reenacting: Historical Archaeology and Public Education. 2017 marks both the 300th anniversary of the founding of Fort Ouiatenon, a French fur trade post in Tippecanoe County, and the 50th anniversary of the Feast of the Hunter’s Moon, one of the largest annual re-enactments of the 18th century fur trade in the United States. To commemorate these anniversary milestones part of the conference will be dedicated to Fort Ouiatenon past and present, and the fur trade and historical reenactments more generally. Papers, posters, and lightning round talks on any topic related to historical archaeology in the Midwest are also welcome, but we especially encourage potential presenters to focus on the use of historical archaeology data (artifacts, museum objects, buildings, landscapes) to reconstruct, represent, or reenact history for a variety of audiences. Registration and logistical information and links will soon be available online. Keep watching this space for details.
O. Michael Watson Award for Outstanding Graduating Senior
Congratulations to the following students who received the Department of Anthropology's top honors for academic achievement and service, the O. Michael Watson Award for Outstanding Graduating Senior. The Award is named in honor of our legendary professor, Dr. O. Michael Watson (1936-2012), whose dynamic undergraduate courses excited decades of anthropology students. Each year, the student selected goes on to be nominated for consideration for the college of Liberal Arts Outstanding Student Award.
2017 Kate Yeater
Walter Hirsch Award
Walter Hirsch was a Purdue faculty member in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology from 1947 until his retirement in 1989, who specialized in social movements and the sociology of science. His family and friends established this award in his memory in recognition of his long-time interest in and support of graduate students. Each year, the award provides approximately $1,000 to help with the costs of dissertation research for one doctoral candidate in Anthropology and one in Sociology.
2015 Ingrid Ramon Parra
12/19/2017 - Congratulations to Hannah Hawkins on receiving an Undergrad Research Scholarship.
12/6/17 - Congratulations to Matt Pike for being awarded the Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Award from the National Science Foundation, Arctic Social Science Program. Matt’s faculty adviser throughout this graduate program is H. Kory Cooper, professor of anthropology and materials engineering. Click here to for more information.
12/6/2017 – Congratulations to Erik Otárola-Castillo who recently received the Exploratory Research in the Social Sciences grants from EVPRP. Erik received a grant for $47,000 for “Estimating Food Security Risk Management Behavior of early North American Foragers and Farmers.” Click here to read his article about his research also co-authored by Purdue Anthropology graduate student, Melissa Torquato and Purdue Anthropology undergraduate student, Hannah C. Hawkins.
12/6/17 - Congratulations to Stacy Lindshield who recently received the Exploratory Research in the Social Sciences grants from EVPRP. Stacy received a $38,000 grant for “Reconsidering Female Chimpanzees: Nutritional and Political Motives to Hunt and Share Food.”
12/6/2017 – Congratulations Laura Zanotti for receiving a Global Synergy Research Grant. Laura will receive $16,000 for “Biocultural Landscapes: Indigenous Rights and Conservation at Belém +30.”
12/6/2017 – Congratulations to Andrew Flachs for receiving a Global Synergy Research Grant. Andrew will receive $20,500 for “Preserving Probiotics: Biocultural Links Between the Human Gut Microbiome and Fermented Foods.”
12/6/2017 – Anthropology has two graduate students who are recipients of the College of Liberal Arts Global Synergy Research Grant for students. They are:
Humera Dinar, for “Development and Marginalization in Northern Pakistan,” in the amount of $5,000, and
Sarah Huang, for “If we can’t grow rice, then what? Remaking Agroecological Livelihoods in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta” for $9,200.
10/12/2017 - Congratulations to Michele Buzon for receiving Purdue’s 2017 Research and Scholarship Distinction Award. Buzon will deliver the Research and Scholarship Distinction Distinguished Lecture on Oct. 30 in Stewart Center's Fowler Hall. The 10:30 a.m. lecture is free and open to the public. You can read more about this award here and more about Buzon's research here.
9/6/2017 - Congratulations to Purdue University Anthropology doctoral candidate, Liz Hall, who received a grant from the National Science Foundation for support of the project entitled "Doctoral Dissertation Research: Zoonotic Risks at the Human-Primate Interface: Behavior, Nutritional Status, and Immune Function.” Her project is under the direction of Professor Melissa J. Remis.
Liz is conducting fieldwork with local communities in the Dzanga-Sangha Reserve in the Central African Republic and collecting data on diet, nutritional status, and behavior of indigenous and migrant men and women with different subsistence patterns and practices that may put them at varying risk for zoonotic diseases. She is collecting a variety of anthropometric and ethnographic data, and her research will include laboratory analyses of biomarkers of health and inflammation.
8/28/2017 - Congratulations to anthropology doctoral candidate Matthew Pike (mentor: Kory Cooper) on being awarded a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Award for $18,893 from the National Science Foundation, Arctic Social Science Program. His project is on “Northern Innovation: Modeling Copper Technologies.” Matt will be using this funding to travel to several northern Indigenous communities in early November 2017, specifically Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk in Nunavut, Canada. There he will be presenting his dissertation research on Innovation in Prehistoric Indigenous Copper Technologies to local descendant Inuit communities. He will also conduct copper-working workshops where participants can experience the process of replicating copper tools from the archaeological record, seek feedback from the community on ways to provide digital access to the database of copper archaeological artifacts that forms the core of my dissertation research, and document any personal collections of copper artifacts that have been collected in the community.
3/21/2017 - Congratulations to Lily Anderson (ANTH Senior)! She was offered a “full ride” to pursue her MD/PhD in Anthropology at Michigan State University: a Distinguished (5-year) Graduate School Fellowship AND a Spectrum (5-year) Fellowship from MSU’s College of Human Medicine to investigate Amish women’s reproductive health issues.
3/20/2017 - Purdue Anthropology Graduate student Melissa G. Torquato receives National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program Award. Melissa is 1 of 11 Purdue students, and 1 of 16 in Biological Anthropology to receive this year's award.
3/10/2017 - Dr. Su’ad Abdal Khabeer has been awarded a year-long fellowship in residence at Yale University’s Institute of Sacred Music. Read here for more information about her project, Allah and Justice: A Cultural History of Islam and Hip Hop
3/9/2017 - Congratulations to Assistant Professor Zoe Nyssa on her Library Scholars grant.
On June 4th through the June 8th, Dr. Laura Zanotti will be attending and presenting the keynote presentation at UTADEO (University of Bogata Jorge Tadeo Lozano). This event, “Education and Adaptation to Climate Change” will explore our academic experiences to formulate collaborative educational research projects that would facilitate not the adaptation processes to climate change
4/26/18 Watch this video of Dr. Jennifer Johnson’s presentation at the Rachel Carson Center for the Environment and Society in München, Germany. Dr. Johnson received a Carson Writing Fellowship and was invited to present at the Rachel Carsen Center on April 19, 2018.
3/23/2018 - Dr. Erik Otárola-Castillo and Melissa Torquato will be teaching a workshop on geometric morphometrics to the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) community this Monday (3/26). This seminar provides participants with examples of innovative 3D geometric morphometric analysis in the R programming environment. Instructors will work through archaeological examples to import, digitize, manipulate, analyze, and display 3D data using “GUImorph”, a user-friendly Graphical User Interface to R.
3/19/2018 - Research led by Dr. Erik Otárola-Castillo hopes to further understand early hominids' life with the use of statistics. Read more about his research in this article from The Exponent.
3/7/2018 - Dr. Ian Lindsay is featured in the annual report publication from the Executive Vice President for Research and Partnerships. The article discusses his research using drone technology in order to capture data from Bronze Age sites in Armenia.
11/17/2016 - Congratulations to Dr. Richard Blanton on his book publication "How Humans Cooperate: Confronting the Challenges of Collective Action In How Humans Cooperate." Richard E. Blanton and Lane F. Fargher take a new approach to investigating human cooperation, developed from the vantage point of an "anthropological imagination."
11/17/2016 - Congratulations to Dr. Su'ad Abdul Khabeer on her recently published book, Muslim Cool: Race, Religion and Hip Hop in the United States (NYU Press 2016)
Dr. Melissa Remis was featured in Purdue News discussing a recent feature article and cover in American Journal of Human Biology. Click here to read the research article by Carolyn Jost Robinson and Melissa Remis about how Older women in the Central African Republic forager communities suffer most from food shortage. Or click here for the Purdue News article and link to the research article.
Dr. Kory Cooper is featured in this Purdue News article discussing his artifacts’ metallurgical analysis showing Old World metals were traded on the Alaska coast several hundred years before contact with Europeans.
Dr. Michele Buzon shows new bioarchaeological evidence that Nubians and Egyptians integrated into a community, and even married, in ancient Sudan. Read about her research here.
Amanda Veile, Erik Otárola-Castillo recently published their research titled Sibling Competition & Growth Tradeoffs. Biological vs. Statistical Significance, Kramer KL, Veile A, Otárola-Castillo E (2016) Sibling Competition & Growth Tradeoffs. Biological vs. Statistical Significance. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0150126. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150126
You can read about the research of several of our Anthropologists who were featured in the Executive Vice President for Research and Partnerships Annual Report. Dr. Briller (p. 9), Dr. Buzon (p. 12), Beth Gravalos (p. 30), Dr. Remis (p.33).
Read a recent publication by one of our graduate students, Jonas Ecke Continuity and Discontinuity: Cultural Change in a Refugee Camp in Ghana. PentecoStudies: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Research on the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, 14(1)
Congratulations to Dr. Riall Nolan for his recent book publication: Internationalizing the Academy: Lessons of Leadership in Higher Education, Edited by Gilbert W. Merkx and Riall W. Nolan
Professor Abdul Khabeer spoke in a discussion on American Muslims recently on Aljazeera English. You can watch the video here.
Recently some of our faculty and graduate students attended the SfAA annual meetings grad fair. Pictured on the right is Dr. Sherylyn Briller, Dr. Riall Nolan, graduate students Elizabeth Wirtz, Sarah Huang, and Ale Wundram Pimentel.
2/24/17 - This poster (below, right) was created by Anth undergraduate Claire Sigworth, PhD candidate Katie Whitmore and Dr. Michele Buzon (translated by Dr. Mohamed Faroug Ali) for the Tombos Elementary School. The school teachers (one pictured here, Khateb) and the principal were very excited and appreciative of the three posters we made to assist them in educating students about archaeology, Nubian history, and the Tombos archaeological site.
Recently a group of our graduate students met with an Anthropology class at a local high school. The class of mostly seniors have been studying anthropology. Katie Whitmore, Sarah Huang, and Garett Hunt talked with them about anthropology and shared some of their own experiences and research within the field. After speaking to the class they had a question and answer session where they talked more generally about anthropology and its disciplines.
Students and faculty of the department frequently reach out to local schools and community groups to present anthropological ideas and research findings. Here are just a few samples:
Pictured below, Erik Otárola-Castillo (left) and Ian Lindsay (right) participating in Cumberland Elementary School’s annual Math Night, where they created a geo-caching game to get kids excited about developing map reading skills.
Remembering Those That Went Before
O. Michael Watson (1936-2012)
Dr. Watson was born in 1936 in Knoxville, Tennessee, and grew up in Colorado. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he studied anthropology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and earned a BA and Ph.D. In 1967 joined the Purdue University faculty as one of the founders of the Anthropology Department. Professor Watson’s early research focused on proxemic analysis, which he published in Proxemic Behavior: A Cross-Cultural Study (Mouton, 1970). He subsequently turned to visual anthropology, which led to a number of publications and graduate seminars, as well as his production of the classic film Spirit of Ethnography. Professor Watson was one of the founders of anthropology at Purdue, and he devoted his career to the growth of the discipline and to the department. A renowned teacher and beloved professor, he won numerous teaching awards during his 40 years at Purdue. Generations of students took his love of anthropology and enthusiasm for human cultural diversity along with them as they pursued their many directions. Known for his energy and amazing ability to find humor everywhere, he is remembered for the joy and laughter he brought to so many lives. When Professor Watson retired in 2007, the Department of Anthropology honored him by naming our annual student award after him.
Jay O’Brien (1947-2013)
Jay O’Brien was born in New Jersey, in 1947 and grew up in California. He came of age influenced by the music, activism, natural beauty, and the social concerns of 1960s California. After being an exchange student in Sweden when he was 17 and doing a study abroad in Germany, he was inspired to become an anthropologist. He studied anthropology at Stanford University and the University of Connecticut (Ph.D. 1980).
Professor O’Brien studied the long-term effects of colonial regimes in Africa, and wrote his master’s thesis on Portuguese empire in Africa, 1415-1961. Subsequently, he spent 5 years in Sudan, researching agricultural labor and development, using political economy and ethnography to understand family dynamics, ethnic identification shifts, and development dilemmas in Sudan. Among his publications were three books—on political economy and development in Sudan, and on the intersection of history and anthropology.
His career was about social justice and the process of change, analyzing the conditions of poverty, the dilemmas of development, and their impacts on human cultural life. He became deeply engaged in teaching, achieving tenure at Lawrence University and teaching at a dozen other universities in Sudan, Sweden, Botswana, and the U.S. He came to Purdue in 2008 with his life partner, Ellen Gruenbaum, to be part of the newly launched independent Department of Anthropology.