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PROFILE: A Mexican Accent Shapes Work Of New Anthropology Leader

Extensive work in Mexico and on behalf of Latino people has marked the academic experiences of Martha Woodson Rees, the new head of UC's anthropology department.

Date: 12/6/2004 8:00:00 AM
By: Billie Dziech
Phone: (513) 556-1707
Photos By: Dottie Stover
UC ingot If you see someone wandering around campus scribbling in a notebook, she might be the new head of the anthropology department, Martha Woodson Rees.

More than likely sheíll be doing what she calls "the hard work -- ethnography. Iíve been mapping, learning names, making up kinship charts (intellectual and real), and learning acronyms and vocabulary -- Buckeyes, Cincy etc. Every week I try out a new park or event."

Martha Woodson Rees in her office
Mexican artistry surrounds Martha Woodson Rees in her new office at UC.

Rees says that her first instinct on arriving at any new place is to do the "quick and dirty windshield survey." This time it meant renting a car and visiting Findlay Market, Hyde Park, and Arnoldís and finally discovering a home in Over-the-Rhine. Coming to a new place isnít easy, but Rees notes, "Like a good little anthropologist, I have my field diary in hand and write everything down. Iím getting settled."

It isnít as if this is her first move, from Washington DC, where she was born, Pakistan where she lived for four years as a child, or the University of Colorado, where she earned three degrees in anthropology. Rees spent 15 years living and working in Mexico at several institutes and universities. Mexico is, she feels, "one of the main things that shapes who I am. Teaching, working, and living there probably taught me more than my entire formal education. But my formal education put me in a place where I could do that."

Her recent research interest focuses on women in rural communities in the central valley of Oaxaca, their households, including migrants. This work, including a survey of the valley, plus ethnographic interviews, ties to work with migrants in the U.S. today, providing a picture of those who stay home.

The fascination with Mexico continued during her 12 years at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga. While there she not only served eventually as head of the political science, sociology, and anthropology department but also became deeply involved with Atlantaís Latino community. She organized events, conducted surveys and translated. The result was that she qualifies as an expert witness in matters relating to the Latino community. She plans to continue her advocacy work in Cincinnati.

Rees has published widely, held two Fulbright lectureships and a Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship, and has received two research grants from NSF. But the other "shaping" experience she cites is her years at Agnes Scott, where there was "intense contact with students in a collaborative learning relationship with professors and one another. Daily intellectual contact with colleagues from other disciplines made me appreciate and live the liberal arts life."

Living the liberal arts life is what she plans to do at UC where sheís committed to "doing the very best" for her department and its students. "I think that a little anthropology goes a long way and that an educated person with a bit of anthropology in his or her back pocket better understands difference, history, and humanity."

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