A History of the National Association of Student Anthropologists

By Eric Haanstad, University of Wisconsin-Madison, NASA President 2001-2003; Alex Orona, Cambridge University, NASA President 2014-2015

Last updated 2-February-2018

Establishment of NASA in 1985

The official origins of the first national-level student anthropology organization began when Roland Foulkes (at the time, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley) wrote a “Call for a National Association of Student Anthropologists” in the April 1985 issue of the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) Anthropology Newsletter (AN). Until this time, Foulkes wrote, “if a student is not presenting a paper, participating in a roundtable discussion or hosting a special session, then there is no mechanism through which such student(s) can contribute to the overall structural and functional activities of AAA” (28). Foulkes proposed creating the National Association of Student Anthropologists (NASA) made up of student members of all the subsections of anthropology. Several months later, Foulkes wrote that although Margaret Mead stressed that students should be “solicited, seduced and systematically included” in AAA business, and despite the unprecedented student participation in the 1968 reorganization of the AAA, little had changed since then to insure broader student participation in the association (“An Update on a Proposal” AN. Oct. 1985). Foulkes wrote:

I am convinced that, for the first time in the history of the AAA, there is an opportunity for systematic and genuine graduate and undergraduate student participation in every facet of the Association’s work. This opportunity presents itself through the inauguration and the institutionalization of the proposed NASA as a Unit of the Association. It is through this important new venture that true student representation at every level of the Association can be achieved. After all, we are anthropologists who occupy, currently, the status of student. While such status does not necessitate special privilege, it does, nonetheless, provide for us a unique perspective within the anthropological community and we should want to make this perspective known. This essentially temporary condition of – graduate and undergraduate – student is not necessarily an insuperable barrier to the formation and operation of NASA. Hopefully, a fully functioning NASA could ensure that the imminently professional students are an integral part of the Association, thereby serving to enliven student interest and participation in the AAA and in its regional associations. It is hoped ultimately, that NASA could combine skillfully, as one 1968 delegate suggested (on behalf of a possible future student organization), “a minimum of structure with a maximum of benefit” to all members (24).

Foulkes applied for initial funds for NASA through the Wenner-Gren Foundation and, building from the initial support of graduate and undergraduate students from four universities, formed an interim executive committee. An initial organizational meeting for NASA was part of the December 1985 AAA meetings in Washington D.C. chaired by the first President of NASA, Paul Sledzik (U Connecticut).

Formative Activities 1986-1987

NASA was one of six new units (later called sections) officially recognized by signing “articles of merger” with the AAA at the 85th Annual meeting on Dec. 4, 1986 (AN, Jan. 1987, 1). Christopher Dore (U New Mexico), the first Contributing Editor for NASA further defined NASA’s purpose within AAA in its first AN column in Feb. 1987.

NASA was founded by students in 1985 to serve the interests of graduate and undergraduate anthropology students by providing a communication network through which to exchange information and to sponsor scholarly activities on a national and international level. Since student make up nearly one-third of total AAA membership, an additional goal was to provide students with a formal channel of input into AAA policy. It was for this latter goal that a merger between NASA and AAA was sought (10).

NASA’s structure was augmented by several committees, initially including Nominations, Funding, Journals, and Scientific Program. In addition, a network of members served as NASA University Representatives who were encouraged to use the emerging technology of Bitnet to communicate and collaborate with other members. The main responsibility of the University Representatives was disseminating NASA information locally as well as sending local news back to NASA. The representatives acted as contact people for local student activities, provided their perspectives on their departments, and served as hosts if major meetings were held near them (AN March, 1987, 9). Another ambitious project created in the initial years brought NASA into the global arena. In July of 1988, The 12th International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in Zagreb, Yugoslavia accepted a symposium by NASA, “World Anthropology and the World Community in the 21st Century: Issues for the Next Generation.”

In 1987, the Bulletin of NASA began selling subscriptions to “keep up-to-date on student news, thoughts, activities and future trends in anthropology.” NASA Secretary, Laurie Kunkel (U Connecticut) began compiling a master list of prominent anthropologists available to speak to students to be distributed to members and student groups on request. A membership drive began from May-Nov, 1987 which offered a $200 prize to the student club with the most new members at the end of the six month period. That year, NASA experienced a problem which reoccured many times in its history: lack of outside nominees for officer positions, including a President. Despite these problems, the founding members of NASA continued to build the organization, including important ties with the National Association for Practice of Anthropology (NAPA), which sponsored a student award, and the Society for Medical Anthropology (SMA). SMA solicited student input on the initial discussions of certification of medical anthropologists. NASA also negotiated price discounts for its members with a number of anthropological publication houses including the University of New Mexico Press, Yale University Press and Academic Press. At the 1987 Annual Meeting in Chicago, NASA hosted an invited session, “Strategies for Teaching Holistic Anthropology” with discussant Marvin Harris and offered its first student reception, giving students a chance to socialize after its business meeting.

Expansion and Focus 1988-1992

1988 introduced many important developments in NASA, largely the result of an Executive Committee Workshop held at Hunter College in New York City for two days in January. The workshop allowed NASA Executive Committee members a chance to intensively lay out a future agenda for NASA. This dedicated vision in NASA manifested itself in an expansion of activities and benefits including the inaugural Distinguished Teaching Award and a clarification in the bylaws to include elected Editor and Nominations Committee positions. The 1988 annual meeting in Phoenix marked the first time NASA offered a full program of invited and volunteered sessions, workshops, a student reception and special events. A Finance Committee was formed, chaired by Sec-Treasurer, George Gale (Connecticut), to identify sources of funding for a travel grants program, the first planned national student congress and small grants for anthropology clubs or local chapters of NASA. During these years, as well as during the initial formation of NASA, Prof. A K B Pillai (Ramapo) provided advice and guidance particularly for NASA’s early scientific program. In addition to Pillai, AAA Executive Director, Eugene Sterud, Director of Information Services, David Givens, and Program Editor, Harriet Klein provided critical organizational support. However, NASA President Roland Foulkes encountered resistance from Director Sterud when he raised the issue of student representation on the AAA Board of Directors and Executive Committee in February 1988. Foulkes would continue to press the issue of student representation throughout his tenure as President encouraged by support from AAA President Roy Rapaport. NASA was finally given representation on the Board of Directors in 1990 due to the tireless work of Foulkes, combined with the assistance of other AAA units including the Association of Black Anthropologists.

In October of 1989, Foulkes contributed an interesting article to a special Anthropology Newsletter regarding the future of anthropology, entitled “NASA and NASA: AD 1990-2040.” The article projected the possible future for the student organization as well as the space exploration administration it shares an acronym with. Most interestingly, this column proposed the formation of a “World Association of Student Anthropologists” (14). Foulkes continued to be invested in the future of NASA as difficulties in recruiting nominations within the organization made his continuation as president necessary over the next two years. A second Leadership Training Session was held in AAA headquarters in Washington DC to determine the long range planning of NASA in 1989. This Session was completely financed by the personal expenses of attendees. This leadership orientation was further enhanced by the publication of the Guide to NASA, a 120 page plus document of historical information, bylaws and goals. Also that year, NASA awarded its first Distinguished Teaching Award of $1000 to Lewis Binford (U New Mexico). The first NASA membership survey and feedback profile was published in the Bulletin of NASA (a practice that would continue for two years), a publication which expanded in size and content to include a “Club Corner” which highlighted student-based anthropology clubs. At the 1989 Annual Meeting in Washington DC, NASA sponsored or cosponsored a rich scientific program with 10 sessions and 2 workshops.

In 1990, Prof. Lowell Holmes (Wichita State University) received the second NASA Distinguished Teaching Award. Predicting the importance of the current debates surrounding public engagement within anthropology, Mark Madsen (U Washington-Seattle) and Roger Lohmann (U Wisconsin-Madison) co-wrote, “The Student’s Role in Projecting Anthropology to the Public as a Practical Endeavor” (AN Oct 1991, 15). Following the results of the annual surveys of NASA members, the increasingly expanded Bulletin of NASA offered a reprinted series of “how-to” articles of interest to students such as, “Finding Money for Dissertation Research and Writing” (May 1991, 9), “The Making of a Successful Proposal” (May 1991, 11), “Strategies for Developing your own Internships” (Nov. 1991, 15) and “Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn” (Summer, 1992, 13).

In 1991, the last term of his six year leadership as NASA President, Roland Foulkes awarded four students with the first “NASA President’s Award,” which was planned to be a discretionary award given by the president in subsequent years. Also, during the annual meeting in San Francisco in 1992, NASA awarded a then-biannual Distinguished Teaching Award to E.L. Cerroni-Long (Eastern Michigan U). During this period, an important link was formed with the Association of Senior Anthropologists (ASA). Based on contributions from ASA members, Past-President Foulkes served as a column editor for “Elder Views,” a series of articles which highlighted the work of senior anthropologists. Finally, NASA continued its assistance to student anthropology clubs by publishing a guidebook in 1991, compiled by Terry Alasio (Sec-Treasurer), Renee Beauchmp (Undergraduate at-large) and Steve Sherry (Finance Committee Member), containing ideas for creating and sustaining a local anthropology club. This popular guidebook would generate a fair amount of revenue for NASA in subsequent years.

Continuity and Tragedy 1993-1995

In addition to the continued publication and revision of the NASA Guide to Anthropology Clubs, a 1993 Field School Guide, written by Victoria Maurais (later Victoria Vargas), was published for students. Following Roland Foulkes’ efforts to have student representation on the AAA Board, NASA’s President continued to serve as the Student Seat. President Andrew Merriwether (U Pittsburgh) used this new forum to propose that AAA donate memberships to three students at predominantly minority universities which was accepted by AAA and administered by the Department of Minority Affairs. Merriwether continued voicing student concerns by writing letters urging units of AAA to lower dues for students and include a student representative on their boards (prior to this time, only the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness had a student representative). Merriwether also served on the AAA External Relations Committee.

The Bulletin of NASA flourished during these years. Don Weslowski (Wisconsin-Madison) served as the Bulletin’s editor for six years. In the Autumn Bulletin of 1993, Carrie Hunter-Tate (Ball State U), then a Graduate Member-at-Large wrote about how, several years following her previous discussions with Foulkes’ in 1989 regarding the potential of NASA, she understood the even greater potential of the organization. “Students have a greater influence over their education than they realize. Departments, colleges, and universities will listen to their students. However it is up to the student to discover the means by which she/he can have a voice. NASA can help” (19).

NASA’S fourth Distinguished Teaching Award was presented to Cynthia Cone at the AAA Business Meeting’s Awards Ceremony in Atlanta in 1994. Several student representative positions were created in other sections (AAA restructured “units” to be called “sections” in 1994) including the Society for the Anthropology of Europe (SAE) and the American Ethnological Society (AES). Acknowledging NASA’s role in working for the creation of these positions, AES allowed NASA to choose its liaison for the inaugural year. 1995’s AN column offered an important series of articles on computer use in the field including “The New Technology of Fieldwork,” by past NASA Editor and Vice President Roger Lohman (U Wisconsin-Madison) (May 1995, 24) and “Fieldnotes Using a Personal Computer” by G Peter Witteveen (U Wisconsin-Madison) (Oct. 1995, 15). In a heartfelt column in December 1995, NASA Editor Don Wesolowski wrote after reflecting on the death of his grandmother, a friend of the family and the Graduate Secretary of his anthropology department:

Memories of times gone by. Thoughts on the effects one person can have on another. Recollections of cases of serendipity. Friends of long ago, and friends of today. Watching a plant and the world, change and grow. Family as a line unbroken into the past, and branching out in the present. The heavy sense of loss and lost possibilities. The surge of joy at that which was said and done. Remember, and do not forget. Don’t be weighed down by the past: remember to live in the present. Think with hope of the future. Keep the light shining (24).

These words, written in October of 1995, were tragically prescient and appropriate given the unexpected death of Carrie Hunter-Tate on November 17, 1995 of presumed heart failure. Hunter-Tate, who was elected to become the fifth president of NASA, died before being able to take office.

Regrouping and Change 1996-2001

Operation of the NASA Distinguished Teaching Award transferred to the AAA in 1996. The AAA Executive Board felt the award would confer more prestige to the recipient if it was awarded by the entire association. Although this marked the loss of an important student-generated comment on teachers it values, NASA was able to have one of its members sit on the subsequent AAA award committee. That year, NASA began planning a memorial award in honor of Carrie Hunter-Tate. The award is chosen from among all AAA sections with a student representative to a student exemplifying the enthusiasm for anthropology and dedicated service of Hunter-Tate.

Due to sagging membership, the possible restructuring of NASA within AAA was discussed by President Tad Schurr (Emory) with the new AAA Executive Director, Bill Davis. One proposed idea was the transformation of NASA into the AAA Student Section which would include all students within the AAA (AN, Feb 1997). In 1996, President Victoria Vargas’ (U Oklahoma) proposal to maintain student membership rates in the AAA for two years beyond the PhD level was approved by the AAA Executive Board. Vargas also explored the idea of creating a Student Section Assembly mirroring AAA’s Section Assembly, which would meet at the annual meeting and provide a networking opportunity among student representatives in different AAA sections.

In 1998, it was NASA’s turn to take a rotating position within the AAA Executive Board (the last year this structure would take place). NASA’s sixth President, Alexandra Mack, served on the board, voicing student interests and taking part in the AAA restructuring process in 1998/1999. NASA’s commitment to student issues was reflected at the 1998 Annual Meeting, when it passed a resolution in support of the University of California system’s graduate student employee strikes. NASA dues were lowered in 1999 to $1 for those joining two or more other sections and $10 for those joining only NASA. The year also marked an important change in the NASA budget when the Bulletin of NASA was eliminated due to publication costs (plans at the time were to convert the Bulletin to an online publication). This allowed NASA to offer more student awards including the Carrie Hunter-Tate award which was offered for the first time in 1999 for $250 (awarded to Donald Wood and Mary Ownby) as well as a number of travel awards for students attending the annual meeting. The annual meeting that year in Chicago offered students a unique opportunity to participate in a heavily-attended forum organized by Dr. Robert Borofsky (Hawaii-Pacific) on public anthropology, which used student-initiated questions as a form for discussion. In 2000, NASA’s website was reworked by Desiree Martinez, who created a student listserv and a number of other on-line features. At the annual meeting in San Francisco, the Carrie Hunter Tate award was given to three students, Adam Fish, Melissa Cahnmann and Adrienne Isaac.

Technological and Structural Change: 2001-present

Commencing with the consolidation of the structure of the organization, changes were introduced by Jason Miller, John Trainor, and Marcy O’Neil, all of whom oversaw the creation of new modes of interaction with the AAA and NASA constituencies and the training of new NASA Officers. By 2011, NASA began a serious overhaul effort aimed at addressing the ongoing developments in anthropology, including recent disciplinary and external controversies. The Board agreed in early 2012 to launch a pilot project to develop leadership in the discipline (Emerging Leaders in Anthropology Program, or ELAP) in conjunction with other sections and AAA committees. Simultaneously, Student Anthropologist began a push to improve engagement and expand the journal’s offerings as a forum for student scholarship. NASA as well launched a new website platform in 2013 and has plans to integrate this with the AAA’s forum so students can communicate with each other asynchronously across the globe.

Leave a Reply