Part 2: On Anthropology, Inspiration from Haiti

While planning the relief event, I could not see the magnitude of our efforts – I was simply too busy. The total weigh-in of donations was undoubtedly impressive, but with no prior experience in planning disaster relief events, I pondered how I acted so quickly and without reservation. It was difficult to see where my actions stemmed from. Was I motivated out of human compassion or more so because of my profession? Or, was it a combination of both? Or, perhaps something else? Then I recalled why I was drawn to the field of anthropology – other cultures, people, and my own place within the world. Simply put, I recognized anthropology fulfills my sense of human interest and compassion. I have never considered myself an applied or public anthropologist per say because I think it is essential for all anthropologists to engage beyond professional rigor, academic or otherwise. It behooves us to harness our knowledge and skills within the scientific community and share it with others. As an anthropologist, I represent a field that is oftentimes misunderstood by the general public, so working outside the academy is essential for me and as I assert here, for the profession itself. Irrespective of the sub-field, public engagement is critical for anthropologists because we all strive for better understandings of the human condition. Without such engagement, our specialized skills and knowledge are only meaningful within the profession – a profession that values, above all else, the entirety of humanity. Public engagement ensures anthropological advancement by offering anthropologists the opportunity to learn and help others while honing their skills.

Humanitarian efforts move people toward action and I observed this with many people in the greater Valdosta area. Public outpouring made me realize even more clearly the importance of community and global solidarity in extraordinarily difficult times. My role as an educator aided me in cultivating and soliciting assistance from others at the university and beyond, and my role as an engaged cultural anthropologist provided me the necessary insight to work successfully with and for diverse populations. Whether serving as an educator, researcher, or humanitarian, a common thread is that my motivations are grounded in moral obligation. By moral I mean living, working, and adhering to the values within a cultural group, mine and otherwise. This sense of moral commitment is a responsibility we all share and one the American Anthropological Association supports as illustrated in the recently approved Code of Ethics (2009). Being an anthropologist is more than working in a traditional research setting or within the university. Only by extending our skills outside the academy, do we truly experience the full breadth of anthropological engagement. Consequently, utilizing anthropology in the public sphere has affirmed my compassion for people and my passion for the field which together permeates every aspect of my personal and professional lives.

This ends our 2 part series by Dr. Melissa A. Rinehart. Click here to read Part 1 if you missed it on Friday. Also, keep an eye out for a companion photo essay illustrating Valdosta's Haiti water and food relief event – coming later this week!

Dr. Melissa A. Rinehart is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia. With a specialization in Native American Studies, her work bridges ethnographic and historical methodologies. As an ethnohistorian, she has several areas of interest including the removal and boarding school eras, language shift and revitalization, identity and performance, and indigenous resistance. Ongoing research projects include Native American participation at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and a book project concerning a former Catholic Indian boarding school, St. Joseph’s Indian Normal School, in operation from 1888 to 1896, in
Rensselaer, Indiana.