As the AAA heads to Philadelphia to discuss the End and End(s) of Anthropology, it will find itself face-to-face with a readymade case study.
The story of “What Really Happened at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology” started in November 2008 when the research scientists of the museum were informed that their positions were being terminated as of May 2009. The 18 or so researchers (the number is uncertain because of odd job categories) were told that this was a cost-saving move to protect the future of the museum. Soon after the announcement, the administration of the museum began defending its decision, explaining that the researchers had originally been hired on grant money (which was not the case; most were never on grant money) and now that the grants were over the museum could no longer afford to keep them on.
Some mild protests were lodged in the press and an online petition campaign aimed specifically at saving the archaeologists and lab scientists who were supposedly under the knife garnered several thousand signatures. The administration of the museum had to explain in several press interviews that it had every intention of “saving” (their term) the researchers who did worthwhile work. Internally, several curators and administrators announced that they would make every effort to “save” the people in their own sections (geographic areas).
In the end, all but three of the researchers were “saved” and are still working in the museum, most at similar or the very same jobs they had before the economic crisis that was supposed to be solved by their departure. The only cost saving came from the three researchers who were not offered a continuation of their employment. All these researchers were women, all were over 50, but perhaps most significantly, all were cultural anthropologists. In fact, they were the only full-time cultural anthropologists in the museum. As Agatha Christie would say: And Then There Were None.
Coincidence? To understand what really happened, we need to step back to the first months of the new administration of the museum (see note below•). Quite often when the new director mentioned the name of the museum, he called it the Museum of Archaeology. Now, granted, the museum’s full name is a mouthful but everyone had gotten used to taking the necessary extra gulp of air needed to say the whole thing. After a few months of this shortened version of the name, several of the cultural anthropologists took to saying out loud, “and Anthropology,” when this happened at staff meetings.
At the same staff meetings, this archaeology-only agenda for the museum started becoming more specific with direct and unambiguous statements about the need for the museum to pull away from the influence of anthropology. The long history of association between the museum and the Department of Anthropology at Penn was being presented as a problem that was about to be solved. Also about to be solved was the entire field of anthropological archaeology which, it was stated in several contexts, was misguided and needed to be entirely revamped. It was the plan of the current director to lead this charge to remake American archaeology in the image of British archaeology.
A few weeks before they were formally told that their jobs were being eliminated, the researchers met with a representative of the museum administration to discuss why they had not received information about their research money. Again, this person said “The Museum of Archaeology” several times and I finally asked directly, “Why do you and the director say the name of the museum that way, without saying ‘anthropology’?” His answer confirmed for me that the naming was deliberate and was in support of the goal of eliminating anthropology at the museum. His answer was that the director felt that the term “archaeology” covers both archaeology and anthropology, just like it does in the British model. If I am not mistaken (and I have taught the history of anthropology), the exact opposite is true: archaeology in most of Britain does not include socio-cultural anthropology at all.
The end of anthropology at the museum has come and gone. Some of the curators at the museum are anthropological archaeologists but no full-time socio-cultural anthropologists remain either as researchers or in other capacities. The museum has a series of lectures and programs that are almost exclusively focused on archaeological sites and its newest venture is a degree at both the undergraduate and graduate level in “world archaeology.”
The greatest loss, in my mind, is the larger perspective that cultural anthropology always introduces. The collections of the museum are ethnographic as well as archaeological and both types of material benefit from the attempts made by cultural anthropologists to connect material culture with living people. Whether it is using the depth of time provided by archaeological artifacts to demonstrate some continuity with contemporary behavior, or it is using more recent ethnographic materials to draw people to their past, cultural anthropology has the tools, the perspective, and the history of doing this. But this is no longer the case at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Dr. Louise Krasniewicz
Penn Department of Anthropology
•Full disclosure: my husband was the previous director of the museum and was replaced by the current director. He is an archaeologist and I have been an archaeologist in the past so there is no denigration archaeology intended in what follows.

As the AAA heads to Philadelphia to discuss the End and End(s) of Anthropology, it will find itself face-to-face with a ready-made case study.

This story of “What Really Happened at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology” started in November 2008 when the research scientists of the museum were informed that their positions were being terminated as of May 2009. The 18 or so researchers (the number is uncertain because of odd job categories) were told that this was a cost-saving move to protect the future of the museum. Soon after the announcement, the administration of the museum began defending its decision, explaining that the researchers had originally been hired on grant money (which was not the case; most were never on grant money) and now that the grants were over the museum could no longer afford to keep them on.

Some mild protests were lodged in the press and an online petition campaign aimed specifically at saving the archaeologists and lab scientists who were supposedly under the knife garnered several thousand signatures. The administration of the museum had to explain in several press interviews that it had every intention of “saving” (their term) the researchers who did worthwhile work. Internally, several curators and administrators announced that they would make every effort to “save” the people in their own sections (geographic areas).

In the end, all but three of the researchers were “saved” and are still working in the museum, most at similar or the very same jobs they had before the economic crisis that was supposed to be solved by their departure. The only cost saving came from the three researchers who were not offered a continuation of their employment. All these researchers were women, all were over 50, but perhaps most significantly, all were cultural anthropologists. In fact, they were the only full-time cultural anthropologists in the museum. As Agatha Christie would say: And Then There Were None.

Coincidence? To understand what really happened, we need to step back to the first months of the new administration of the museum (see note below•). Quite often when the new director mentioned the name of the museum, he called it the Museum of Archaeology. Now, granted, the museum’s full name is a mouthful but everyone had gotten used to taking the necessary extra gulp of air needed to say the whole thing. After a few months of this shortened version of the name, several of the cultural anthropologists took to saying out loud, “and Anthropology,” when this happened at staff meetings.

At the same staff meetings, this archaeology-only agenda for the museum started becoming more specific with direct and unambiguous statements about the need for the museum to pull away from the influence of anthropology. The long history of association between the museum and the Department of Anthropology at Penn was being presented as a problem that was about to be solved. Also about to be solved was the entire field of anthropological archaeology which, it was stated in several contexts, was misguided and needed to be entirely revamped. It was the plan of the current director to lead this charge to remake American archaeology in the image of British archaeology.

A few weeks before they were formally told that their jobs were being eliminated, the researchers met with a representative of the museum administration to discuss why they had not received information about their research money. Again, this person said “The Museum of Archaeology” several times and I finally asked directly, “Why do you and the director say the name of the museum that way, without saying ‘anthropology’?” His answer confirmed for me that the naming was deliberate and was in support of the goal of eliminating anthropology at the museum. His answer was that the director felt that the term “archaeology” covers both archaeology and anthropology, just like it does in the British model. If I am not mistaken (and I have taught the history of anthropology), the exact opposite is true: archaeology in most of Britain does not include socio-cultural anthropology at all.

The end of anthropology at the museum has come and gone. Some of the curators at the museum are anthropological archaeologists but no full-time socio-cultural anthropologists remain either as researchers or in other capacities. The museum has a series of lectures and programs that are almost exclusively focused on archaeological sites and its newest venture is a degree at both the undergraduate and graduate level in “world archaeology.”

The greatest loss, in my mind, is the larger perspective that cultural anthropology always introduces. The collections of the museum are ethnographic as well as archaeological and both types of material benefit from the attempts made by cultural anthropologists to connect material culture with living people. Whether it is using the depth of time provided by archaeological artifacts to demonstrate some continuity with contemporary behavior, or it is using more recent ethnographic materials to draw people to their past, cultural anthropology has the tools, the perspective, and the history of doing this. But this is no longer the case at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Dr. Louise Krasniewicz

Penn Department of Anthropology

•Full disclosure: my husband was the previous director of the museum and was replaced by the current director. He is an archaeologist and I have been an archaeologist in the past so there is no denigration of archaeology intended in what follows.

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