Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Erve Chambers, August 1, 2017

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Anthropology in the late 1970s--Evolution and resistance

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Partial Transcript: I think it's now recording. Um, and uh, it's--this is John van Willigen interviewing Erve Chambers. Um, it's the--it's March 30th, I think.

Segment Synopsis: In response to Van Willigen's question about the conditions of the discipline when Chambers was first starting out in anthropology, Chambers explains that there was a panicked feeling in the discipline at the time because there weren't enough jobs in academia for all of the anthropologists. There was an ignorance of what you could do outside of academia with anthropology and there were not many recognized anthropologists outside of academia other than a few working for the government, but that wasn't recognized as a significant career track. Chambers explains that he felt that many within the discipline were going to be pushed outside of recognition, with the inability to gain an academic position. He then discusses how he brought a resolution to the AAA that sought support for anthropologists outside academia and, even though the resolution faced a lot of resistance, it passed, marking one of the first moves by the AAA to support applied anthropologists. Chambers and Van Willigen briefly discuss Abt Associates, particularly their colleague Trend and his project.

Keywords: Abt Associates; Academia; Academic anthropology; American Anthropological Association (AAA); Applied anthropology; Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA); Triple A

Subjects: Abt Associates; American Anthropological Association; Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Society for Applied Anthropology

00:10:09 - Becoming editor of the Practicing Anthropology journal

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Partial Transcript: And then in the, um, interview with Judith--

Segment Synopsis: Van Willigen inquires how Chambers began his position as editor for the "Practicing Anthropology" journal. Chambers explains that he agreed to take on the role of editor after being hired at South Florida University since the, at the time, current editor was leaving. He describes how the journal wasn't officially owned by the SfAA but he titled it as one of their publications so that they started to think that it was theirs, thinking the journal would stick around if it was considered an SfAA publication. Van Willigen asks Chambers if there was resistance to the journal on the part of the SfAA or Human Organization. Chambers replies that there wasn't resistance against the journal particularly, but there was against his decision to include archaeology in the journal. Van Willigen asks Chambers if there was any competition for resources with the journal Human Organization, but Chambers replies that there wasn't and that he was good friends with the editor of that journal. Chambers discusses how the journal was originally sent out to alumni to many different universities to try and attract practicing anthropologists to the journal. He further elaborates that he supported it becoming a benefit of being a member of SfAA to receive the journal.

Keywords: Archaeology; Editors; Human Organization (Journal); Human Organization journal; Practicing Anthropology (Journal); Practicing Anthropology journal; Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA)

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Archaeology; Society for Applied Anthropology

00:20:57 - Editorial plan for the Practicing Anthropology journal

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Partial Transcript: Um, and then, um, going to the editorial plan, there is a essay in the first issue called "Hauling in the Future."

Segment Synopsis: Chambers discusses the response to his editorial plans outlined in the essay "Hauling in the Future." Chambers explains that he received mostly positive reviews, but states that people who don't like your work tend not to tell you, but someone else. Van Willigen then asks Chambers if others influenced his thinking in his editorial plan. Chambers replies that this was definitely the case, as he would hear good ideas while discussing the plan at SfAA and AAA meetings. After Van Willigen presses Chambers on particular people who influenced him, Chambers states that Bob Wulff, Shirley Fiske, and Richard Lerner all significantly influenced him. Van Willigen then asks Chambers if he considered models to base his editorial plan on. Chambers responds that none in particular did, but he had the idea that the publication should be more in the form of a newsletter, something you'd see in a newspaper than a collection of articles. He elaborates that the format of the journal as newsprint was suitable to its nature as containing immediate information that wouldn't be useful to keep far in the future.

Keywords: Formatting; Influence; Inspiration; Journals; Models; Newsprint; Practicing Anthropology (Journal); Practicing Anthropology journal

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Society for Applied Anthropology

00:28:39 - Early articles in the Practicing Anthropology journal

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Partial Transcript: Yes. Okay. Um, and then, um, early articles. Um, the, um, y--you just described what your intent was. Um, one of the mysteries, uh, or questions I had was how did you recruit manuscripts?

Segment Synopsis: In response to Van Willigen's question about how he was able to obtain certain articles, Chambers explains that some of them, like the Schensul article Van Willigen is interested in, were left in his hands by Bob Wulff when he left as editor of the journal. Van Willigen then asks about the article by Al Wolfe and the community college article by Clapham and Furlow in which Chambers explains that he thinks that he asked Wolfe if he'd like to write something and assumes he probably also asked Furlow to write something. The following two articles by Bainton and Seaton that Van Willigen inquires about, Chambers has no recollection of how those articles came into his hands. Van Willigen asks Chambers if he had favorite articles from his editorship and about people who helped him recruit articles. In response, Chambers states that he'll think on the question about favorite articles for a bit since it's a hard question. He says that members he has previously mentioned in the interview and people on the Editorial Board helped him recruit articles. However, Chambers explains that it was a difficult process to recruit articles and that the biggest problem facing the Practicing Anthropology journal was trying to get practitioners to write. He further describes how most articles ended up being written by academics rather than practitioners, but this was okay since the main point of the journal wasn't articles. Van Willigen then asks Chambers what sort of techniques he utilized to overcome the difficulties of getting articles on time. Chambers explains that he mostly relied upon personal network relationships to make this happen. He brings up how there was a shift in the journal over time from primarily news to articles because news was a lot harder to secure and it quickly became irrelevant if not secured in a timely fashion. Chambers further describes how he would sometimes create a question or dilemma that he would send out to about 20 anthropologists and ask them for a comment on the issue. Chambers states that some of his favorite pieces were born from this practice because it created conversation between academia and applied anthropology about what practice means and if ethics are encountered differently between the two. Van Willigen then inquires about the quality of writing that Chambers received, to which Chambers explains that he essentially rewrote every article to his standards but there were some that required very little editing. Chambers then discusses how he received criticism from some authors for altering the work they gave him but that he was essentially editing the journal as if it was a newspaper.

Keywords: Articles; Editing; Formatting; Networking; Practicing Anthropology (Journal); Practitioners; Publication; Publications; Recruiting articles; Writing quality

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Society for Applied Anthropology

00:41:26 - Guest editors for the Practicing Anthropology journal

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Partial Transcript: Um. Guest editors. I would imagine that some guest editors, uh, where there was a reliance from the very beginning on guest editors, I see that as another strategy for dealing with this network.

Segment Synopsis: Van Willigen brings up the topic of guest editors. Chambers discusses how guest editors helped out in gathering new material to put out in the journal's four annual issues. Van Willigen asks if this worked well, to which Chambers replied that it did, it just moved the journal towards being less newsy than he'd like but it assured that there was always new content and a backlog of content at that. Van Willigen readdresses the criticism Chambers received over his inclusion of archaeology in the journal. Chambers explains that he never received much biological anthropological work that he could use and he had a fondness for archaeology. Archaeology, like other forms of anthropology he explains, has practical forms such as public archaeology. Van Willigen and Chambers briefly talk about Sol Tax's role on the Editorial Board as an advisor/editor and his thoughts towards the journal. Van Willigen asks Chambers if he was concerned about the journal transitioning from a newsletter to a mini-journal, to which he responds that he thought it was a terrible innovation and that the journal sort of lost its original intended purpose. Chambers concludes the interview with his thought that the journal served an important purpose in defining what working outside of academia as an anthropologist entailed and led to more acceptance of applied anthropology in American academia, there not being as much of a distinction in other countries between applied and academic anthropology.

Keywords: Archaeology; Editors; Guest editors; Mini-journals; Newsletters; Practicing Anthropology (Journal); Public archaeology; Sol Tax

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Archaeology; Society for Applied Anthropology