Welcome to the 37th Annual Meeting of the Northeastern Anthropological Association. This is the fourth time we have held the meetings at Bridgewater State University, and our Anthropology faculty is enthusiastically looking forward to meeting all of you and showing off our new, East Campus facilities – in past years we have hosted the meetings on West Campus. In addition, our co-sponsor, the Massachusetts Archaeological Society, is hosting a Friday evening open house at the Robbins Museum of Archaeology and Native Culture in nearby Middleborough, including museum tours, and entertainment by a local bluegrass group, Whiskey in the Jar. In addition, we have received generous support for the meeting from several programs on campus: the Middle East Center, the African Studies Program, the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program, the Ethnic Studies Program, and the Center for International Education. Our Saturday evening keynote speaker, Lawrence Waldron, is a brilliant, multi-faceted scholar who has investigated the interface between Caribbean archaeology and cultural anthropology.
These are challenging times for Anthropology as a discipline. If we take a world perspective, as I believe it is our responsibility as social scientists to do, we can observe a disturbing trend towards centrifugality which manifests in many nationalist movements and political extremisms. We observe direct threats to the academy in countries like Turkey; the suppression of ethnic minorities in places as diverse as Myanmar and South Sudan; the threatened break-up of the European Union over the issue of refugees from conflict zones; and of course the ongoing promulgation of “alternative facts” here in the U.S. As William Butler Yeats wrote almost a century ago,
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
(A 2016 analysis by Factiva showed that lines from this poem had been quoted more often in the first seven months of 2016 than in any of the preceding 30 years.)
In such times, no matter what our political orientations might be, I feel it is essential that we come together to reaffirm the central tenets of our discipline: that despite its diversity, which we celebrate, humankind is one; that this demands of us that we respect all, no matter what their cultural background, as fellow-citizens of the planet; and that we affirm that facts do matter, and that it is our responsibility to instruct our students, and the general public, in how to recognize these facts and differentiate them from popular falsehoods. If we can accomplish even a little of this at our conference, we will have done a great deal!
Curtiss Hoffman, NEAA President and 2017 Conference Host