Roundtable - Late-Breaking
Reviewed by: AAA Late-Breaking Review Committee
Of interest to: Students
Primary Theme: Cultural heritage protection
Secondary Theme: Transnational solidarity among anthropologists
The fire that destroyed the Museu Nacional and its irreplaceable collections on the night of September 2, 2018, also destroyed one of the world’s premier anthropology departments, Latin America’s best anthropology library, and the entire infrastructure of archives, laboratories, and research equipment. In the aftermath of the disaster, the worldwide outpouring of dismay and desires to help rebuild the program invite reflection on professional relations across national boundaries and what forms of international contributions and solidarity are needed to strengthen anthropology programs and support colleagues in places where government funding and infrastructure are inadequate and precarious.
In this conversation, anthropologists from the Museum and from organizations involved in coordinating assistance and donations will be joined, by Skype video, by Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte, former director of the Museum, Bruna Franchetto, head of the program for indigenous language documentation, and possibly other Museum faculty or students. This is an opportunity to hear directly from Brazilian colleagues about how the fire has affected graduate students, faculty, and researchers in the social, linguistic, biological, and archaeological wings of the program; how the Museu’s future is being reimagined; where things stand and where they are headed in the daunting processes of planning and rebuilding; and the logistics of coordinating donations and shipments of books, journals, and other materials from North America and Europe.
Beyond the practical and professional exigencies, and the personal lesson (“back up your research materials!”) that every scholar who heard about the fire undoubtedly took to heart, this case opens into questions about anthropology as a transnational discipline and professional network. Postcolonial theory has foregrounded the importance of moving thought and practice beyond anthropology’s original bases in Europe and North America, to expand the horizons of ethnographic methodologies and perspectives and the locations and constituencies from which knowledge and critique develop. In the fifty years since its founding, the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro emerged as a vibrant center for and testimony to the value of anthropological thought generated from more diverse places and intellectual milieus. The overnight destruction of its physical infrastructure encapsulates the kinds of problems and vulnerabilities that confront academics around the world who work in circumstances where research and educational institutions depend on support from governments that are neglectful, poor, or politically hostile. In reflecting on the tragedy in Brazil and paths for moving forward, what insights and ideas can we identify to strengthen the effectiveness and resilience of our discipline’s global solidarities?