Comments on Culture

Photo exhibit: African-American Kentuckians

March 30, 2010
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A new photo exhibit on display at University of Kentucky presents a visual ethnography* of African-American communities in the state’s central region, by Sarah Hoskins.

The Picture Show Blog : NPR.

Exhibit details here.

These images present several layers of identity: Christian, multi-generational, black, agricultural, Kentuckian. I would love to have been along for these photography trips, to ask each person to tell me about their community. I bet I would hear great stories and many more identity markers than listed above.

*To some, ethnography implies studying “the other.” Not here. Its real meaning is “description of culture.”

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DNA identifies new hominin

March 24, 2010
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And the puzzle of human history in Asia has a new piece…

Scientists have identified a previously unknown type of ancient human through analysis of DNA from a finger bone unearthed in a Siberian cave.

The extinct “hominin” (human like creature) lived in Central Asia between 48,000 and 30,000 years ago. The discovery raises the intriguing possibility that three forms of human – Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and the species represented by X-woman – could have met each other and interacted in southern Siberia.

Via BBC News – DNA identifies new ancient human dubbed ‘X-woman’.

Denisova Cave, Siberia

Curiously, the ground layer in which the bone was found also contained a bracelet and tools associated with modern humans. A result of mixed layers, or cultural artifacts from a previously unknown group? Full results are published in Nature.


New Ghost Towns

March 4, 2010
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What if the American economy began favoring locally produced goods and materials? Could the Buy Local movement help us recover from this long recession?

An article in USA Today, New Ghost Towns, warns, “Industrial communities teeter on edge of survival” (March 2, 2010). The piece focuses on Ravenswood, West Virginia, where 650 of the town’s 4,000 people were laid off during an aluminum plant closing one year ago, leaving the community “one plant shutdown from oblivion.”

The current unemployment rate amongst industrial workers rivals that of the Great Depression. However, in the past, “people could leave a ghost town – miners to new veins, farmers to till fresh land, merchants to move closer to road or rail,” but now the unemployed see no such options. What will happen in Ravenswood? “People will start leaving here. It’s that or a minimum-wage job at Wal-Mart.”

The pattern recurs in so many communities in America: First, local businesses shrink because consumers favor cheap imported goods from chain stores. Then, factory production dwindles against cheap imported materials. What is the ultimate cost of valuing the cheapest option?

What if American culture shifted away from cherishing the cheap to valuing local sustainability? I daresay, what if it became a matter of national pride to support your local economy?