Participate, Make, Share – My 2013 Commencement Speech

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Me and my amazing mother, Elizabeth Kelly.

I chose to be the graduate student speaker at the UC Berkeley 2013 commencement ceremony. It was a difficult audience to write for–I probably should have just copied Neil Gaiman’s keynote from last year and called it a day. I’m a little ambivalent about how the speech turned out, but people seemed to enjoy it. Anyway, here it is:

In the years before I had the opportunity to stand in front of you in these fancy robes, I was one of the graduate student volunteers that helped out during commencement. After grading exams, teaching, securing funding, conducting research and finding time to write, graduate students are called on to help our fantastic staff today. When I volunteered during commencement, I selfishly went for the best job…the person who stands just behind and to the side of the esteemed chair of the department. This person hands the scrolls to the chair, but as I discovered, they have an extraordinary insight into the commencement ceremony.

What this person sees is your face as you achieve an epic win.

Jane McGonigal, famous game theorist, humanitarian and UC Berkeley PhD, class of 2006), describes an “epic win” as an “outcome that is so extraordinarily positive that you had no idea that it was even possible and that when you achieve it you are shocked to discover that you are actually capable of such a thing.” The facial expression is singular: joy, fulfillment, attainment of a goal, perhaps a little bit of disbelief and shock.

After several years of basking in the glow of the achievements of both my fellow graduate students and the amazing anthropology undergrads I taught…now I get to join you.

But I have to admit that I am greedy. I want that job again. I am excited by the potential to enact change in the world, but moreso by the potential of seeing other people achieve their own aspirations.

Accordingly, my dissertation research was shaped by three principles: Participate. Make. Share.

In anthropology we learn about the breadth and diversity of human experience and in my sub-specialty in archaeology, we acquire knowledge about this human experience through material culture. Our education is one of discerning patterns and difference, specifically, we learn how to see. My advisor Ruth Tringham would surely protest–we learn about the past through all of our senses, she would say. We touch the edges of still-sharp obsidian, we smell the dank interiors of caves, we hear the rasp of dirt beneath our trowels and the dull and hollow rattle that marks a grave. Still, this experience, this way of seeing requires your attention and participation.

And that is the first principle that I learned during my studies at UC Berkeley–your full participation is required. No half-measures. Learn and live with both hands.

The second principle is to make things. This may seem like a strange imperative coming from an archaeologist–great, now we have even more material culture to study–but making mudbricks at the San Francisco Presidio on a particularly chilly morning, trying to get the straw-to water-to horsehair-to mud ratio correct, hefting them, slapping the bricks together into a wall, and watching the mudbricks melt in the ubiquitous Bay Area fog gave me particular, if unflattering insights into the early architecture of the colonizers in the area. Making ethnographic movies taught me how to watch regular movies…and commercials and Youtube clips. Always always try it yourself. As part of the outreach program mandatory for Berkeley archaeology graduate students, I developed this mudbrick-making into an exercise for 10-year-olds visiting the Presidio and saw them Get It–that elusive link to the past that we archaeologists take for granted.

This dovetails nicely into the final principle, which is to share. It is not enough to participate, it is not enough to make things, these things (and the insights gleaned from them) must be shared whenever possible. The default should be to share. The production of knowledge about humans is for everyone, and should be made available to everyone. Enter your ideas into the commons, publish your own book, and push to make academic journals open access. Though the process is terrifying as a junior academic, it is not only vital for the survival of our field, but imperative that we communicate our knowledge of the diversity of human experience in the face of suffering and violence enacted against alternate ways of life.

What I saw as I stood behind the chair of anthropology and what I am seeing today is the realization of years of effort that resulted in a fantastic, transcendent moment. What I ask of you today is to now work toward the next epic win. Participate, make things, and share.

Thank you.

 

Kroeber Anthropological Society – The University in Crisis

The UC Berkeley anthropology grad student journal put out a new issue and one of my photos is on the cover! I gave them four photos and they picked the photo above. The quality seems a bit low and it’s pretty dark–I wonder if I accidentally gave them a lower rez version.  Anyway, there it is!  It’s a very solid issue as well:

The KAS Journal is the oldest graduate student-run anthropology journal
in the country. Since 1950, it has published scholarly articles in all
anthropology subdisciplines and in related fields that are of theoretical
and practical interest. Internationally renowned and peer-reviewed, the
journal is published twice a year.

Issue 98:  “The University in Crisis”
Revolution at Berkeley: September 1964 – December 1964: An Excerpt from “We Still Have a Dream”
Bethany Slentz

Understanding the True Realities and Politics of Higher Education Funding in California
Stanton  A. Glantz

The University in Crisis: Public Good or Private Good?
Laura Nader

Centralized Power in the UC Board of Regents
Katherine Jamison-Alward

Cuts to the UC and the Unraveling of the American Dream
Alan H. Schoenfeld

A Better Plan for the University of California’s Future
Charles Schwartz

The Habit of Courage
Nancy Scheper-Hughes

When Batons Beat Books: A Study of the UCPD as an Arm of the Administration
Waseem Salahi

SOLIDARITY: Not in My Name
Ananya Roy

Curiosity under Attack: The Anatomy of an Anti-Critical University
Gregg Sparkman

Archaeology and E-Scholarship

Dodging between rainstorms and trying to finish up my Visualisation in Archaeology paper, I managed to make it to the “Taking Control of Your Own Publications” E-Scholarship presentation at the department. Sadly, as usual, it was poorly attended–I really wanted to also check out a talk in Near Eastern studies, but at a place like UC Berkeley you can easily get overwhelmed by the number of interesting events and talks going on. Still, I thought a few more students would be at the talk.

Anyway, it was important that I go, as I was griping in my freshly written paper about the lack of quality institutional support for Open Access scholarship, and this was put into my lap. As you may or may not know, it is International Open Access week and E-Scholarship managed to launch a redesign of their webpage and announce their intention to head a new direction, from being a repository to a publishing and research-oriented set of tools for scholars at the University of California campuses. It makes a lot of sense, as universities in the United States are funded by the taxpayers, who foot the bill for faculty wages and research costs, and then have to pay for the same research again when universities have to buy access to the major journals, and then the average taxpayer STILL doesn’t have access to the research–they’d have to pay for it a THIRD time at an exorbitant rate to buy it for themselves from the journal.

Open Access advocates at this point are nodding their heads weakly. It’s been a long and tiresome fight, and there’s still no guarantee that these big, institutional archives are actually the answer. I asked a couple of pretty simple questions:

Q: So once you are no longer affiliated with the University of California system (as I will presumably get my PhD in a couple of years), do you still get to publish with E-Scholarship?

A: No, with some qualifications, such as in the instance of journal publishing, wherein the journal that you found with E-Scholarship will still be supported after you graduate.

Q: What about non-traditional publications?

A: They are working on integrating data sets, but aren’t quite there yet.

I wanted to ask what the back-up plan would be, and how far away their data storage was from the Hayward fault, but I didn’t want to harass the nice presenter.

While I am really happy to have this kind of support for my research and publications, I guess I just see it as one more tool to add to the Edupunk kit. It might even become the most important tool, but I still can’t emphasize the importance of spreading your research out over a number of platforms, both for wider public dissemination as as a fail-safe measure.

E-Scholarship still does not meet some of the specific needs for wholesale archaeology publishing in that there is not a place for integrated GIS data, images, and the connection to museum collections that we need. I am hoping that when (if?) other large institutional archives come online they will be able to integrate their data. Sadly, when I tried to upload some of my work, I repeatedly got an error message–frustrating as their system requires a decent amount of data entry leading up to that point.