Frederick H. Damon

Unit: College of Arts and Sciences
Department: Department of Anthropology
Office location and address
Brooks Hall, 206
1702 University Ave
Charlottesville, Virginia 22904

This should be a very good year. At long last my book TREES, KNOTS AND OUTRIGGERS will appear. Three articles also arrive. Two are related and derive from dialogues with Louis Dumont’s oeuvre and Anthropology’s century-long discourse about sacrifice. Years of teaching my course on American culture also enters these two as I have sought to use the discipline’s models of sacrifice to understand forms that run through US culture, the rituals of The Second Great Awakening, scapegoating rites (lynchings) from the latter half of the 19th century in both the US South and North and the rise of the US as a major military power which, more or less, begins with naval armaments from the 1880s—what’s destruction got to do with it? The year perhaps ends with a not-quite chance encounter with the UCL archaeologist Julia Shaw (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/people/staff/shaw) in Cambridge in early January, 2016. In a little section on India in my Ecology and Society course I had been using her work on the origins of Buddhism in India. A trip to England suggested we meet. From our conversation she asked me to consider submitting something for an issue of World Archaeology she was editing devoted to Archaeology and Environmental Ethics. The offer came at a perfect time for it allowed me to look up from the details of my immediate ethnographic focus in the Kula Ring to think about the nature of social action across the Indo Pacific. To my delighted surprise several of the readers liked “Deep Historical Ecology: The Kula Ring as a Representative Moral System from the Indo-Pacific,” and following a very pleasant editing experience with Shaw it already appears (World Archaeology 48(4)).

My initial research in the Kula Ring of Papua New Guinea intended to use a structuralist version of exchange theory to describe Muyuw-Woodlark Island-as it existed in its regional setting. Indigenous understandings forced me to consider production, not exchange, as the organizing value among the people with whom I have lived, now four years of my life. Tensions between exchange and production views of society continue to animate my teaching and research. And I maintain an interest in the problem of how to understand and describe the regional systems in which all social life is embedded. If understanding the modern world-system remains one pole of that research and teaching, understanding the regions and regionalism centering on the Asias and Australia—the whole Indo-Pacific—is the other. It has a deeper and perhaps more useful history for projecting possibly viable futures than does the West. For the remainder of my professional life I expect to consider these issues in light of recent concerns with chaos theory. I thus hope to be engaged in dialogues with fractal mathematics, perhaps knot theory and problems of climate and culture.

As intended, eleven returns to PNG between 1991 and 2014 and new teaching interests have generated shifts in my original topical, theoretical and areal stances. Added to the exchange/production orientation are interdisciplinary research and teaching to explore how anthropogenic environments relate to better-known social structural and cosmological transformations in and beyond the Kula Ring. And I now view that area against the backdrop of the whole Indo-Pacific and its natural and human history going back to the mid-Holocene at least. Recent publications reflect the initial stages of this work now, perhaps, finished in TREES, KNOTS AND OUTRIGGERS: Reflections on Environmental Research in the Northeast Kula Ring. IN a sense the new World Archaeology piece, “Deep Historical Ecology” is the first publication that looks up from the details that have animated my last 25 years. 

I was in China during the summer of 2008 to initiate language learning and to explore new research locales proximate to the separation between what became East Asia on the one hand and the Austronesian world on the other. The location is Quanzhou in Fujian Province, southeastern China. It was in this general area that, supposedly, a combination of people, things and ideas crossed the Taiwan Straits to Taiwan some 6000 years ago. And from that began the Austronesian expansion. Quanzhou was also the last city Marco Polo visited when he left China and he proclaimed it the most cosmopolitan city in the world. The region has been and remains a point of entry and exit for people, ideas and things. I returned there for the first half of 2013 to further develop my interests, staying in Quanzhou’s moral center, the Kaiyuan Si, and making many new friends associated with the Quanzhou Maritime Museum. I returned again there in 2014, and 2015 before going to the Malinowski Centennial conference held in Alotau, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. Questions about social organization, including socio-ecological contexts, and collective forms of thinking will animate this research. On the plate at the moment are two interstitial projects: One contrasts Austronesian sailing craft I know from the Kula Ring with those that plied the waters of southeastern China from at least the Tang through the Qing Dynasties. My book shows how the outriggers of the eastern half of the Kula Ring are models for wind and water dynamics and how, as they come out of the ground they are formed by and tied to the stars. Delving deeply into Chinese cosmology, with the aid of my now many Chinese friends and colleagues, has convinced me, along with understanding the region’s historical ecology, that fengshui is no idle ontology. Without the conjoining crossbeam named like Orion’s Belt the Kula Ring’s outrigger canoes are unbalanced beams floating in the streams of wind and water. Chinese sailing craft invert the basic features of most Oceanic craft, but balance, 平衡, they most surely have.  Another inquiry into the use of flora references in Austronesian languages and cultures and in Chinese is underway now by means of a research assistant…

The future is a pleasure with new friends, new students and new ideas to explore.

The summer of 2016 started with a trip to Chengdu in Sichuan Province, PRC, where at West South Minority University (西南民族大学) I gave three lectures at the invitation of friends made through Wang Mingming, his students Tang Yun and Zhang Yuan.  The lectures were designed to reflect across the times, Anthropology’s times (drawing on the Centennial of Malinowski’s appearance in the Trobriand Islands); a particular juncture for the United States, which may be a matter of world culture —i.e. the phenomenon of Trump, which allowed me to revisit a paper I published in Taiwan; and my own primary projected research, whose interests span the Indo-Pacific over the last 6000 years. This was much enhanced by finding David Pankenier’s recent book ASTROLOGY AND COSMOLYG IN EARLY CHINA Conforming Earth to Heaven. It feeds some of the speculations in my book concerning a critical boat part, the crossbeam, the fact that the word for it (with many cognates into Polynesia) is also the word for Orion’s Belt, the name for which in Chinese—参—is also an important concept. So a new page, maybe book, to turn over.

Back at UVa I know I’m in the fall of my years—I started at UVa during the 1976-77 academic year. I have thoroughly enjoyed my teaching and research and value both for personal and professional reasons. Sprinkled among my primary teaching and research obligations I have participated in or organized a series of conferences, the two Kula Conferences (1978 at Cambridge University, 1982 at UVa) and most recently, with Carlos Mondragón from El Colegio de México and Wang Mingming from Beijing University, two workshops called ‘Ecology and Time Systems in Australasia and the Americas: New approaches to value systems and calendrical transformations across the Pacific Rim.’ These were held at UVa (2009) and Beijing University (2011) (See here for Programs).

ANTH 3155: Anthropology of Everyday American Life
Credits: 3
Provides an anthropological perspective of modern American society. Traces the development of individualism through American historical and institutional development, using as primary sources of data religious movements, mythology as conveyed in historical writings, novels, and the cinema, and the creation of modern American urban life. Prerequisite: ANTH 1010 or instructor permission.
ANTH 3255: Anthropology of Time and Space
Credits: 3
All societies position themselves in space and time. This course samples the discussion of the ways social systems have configured spatial/temporal orders. It considers both internalized conceptions of time and space and the ways an analyst might view space and time as external factors orientating a society's existence. And it samples classic discussions of spatial-temporal orientations in small and large, "pre-modern" and "modern" societies.
ANTH 3340: Ecology and Society: An Introduction to the New Ecological Anthropology
Credits: 3
Forges a synthesis between culture theory and historical ecology to provide new insights on how human cultures fashion, and are fashioned by, their environment. Although cultures from all over the world are considered, special attention is given to the region defined by South and East Asia, and Australia. Prerequisite: At least one Anthropology course, and/or relevant exposure to courses in EVSC, BIOL, CHEM, or HIST or instructor permission
GSGS 3559: New Course in Global Studies
Credits: 1–6
This course provides the opportunity to offer new topics in Global Studies.
ANTH 4591: Senior Seminar in Anthropology
Credits: 3
Integrates the major subdivisions of anthropology, emphasizing selected theoretical topics and primary sources. Primarily for majors in their final year.
ANTH 4993: Independent Study in Anthropology
Credits: 1–6
Independent study conducted by the student under the supervision of an instructor of his or her choice.
ANTH 4998: Distinguished Majors Thesis Research
Credits: 3
Independent research, under the supervision of the faculty DMP thesis readers, toward the DMP thesis. Prerequisite: Admission to the Distinguished Majors Program in Anthropology.
ANTH 5210: Reconfiguring Kinship Studies
Credits: 3
Examines the ways in which the forms of kinship have been reconfigured in contemporary societies, and the ways in which traditional kinship studies have been reconfigured by their intersection with culture theory, feminist theory, gender studies, postmodern theory, gay and lesbian studies, and cultural studies of science and medicine. Prerequisite: ANTH 5200 or instructor permission.
ANTH 5220: Economic Anthropology
Credits: 3
Considers Western economic theories and their relevance to non-Western societies. Includes a comparative analysis of different forms of production, consumption, and circulation.
ANTH 8998: Non-Topical Research, Preparation for Research
Credits: 1–12
For master's research, taken before a thesis director has been selected.
ANTH 8999: Non-Topical Research
Credits: 1–12
For master's thesis, taken under the supervision of a thesis director.
ANTH 9010: Directed Readings
Credits: 1–12
Directed Readings
ANTH 9020: Directed Readings
Credits: 1–12
Directed Readings
ANTH 9998: Non-Topical Research, Preparation for Doctoral Research
Credits: 1–12
For doctoral research, taken before a dissertation director has been selected.
ANTH 9999: Non-Topical Research
Credits: 1–12
For doctoral dissertation, taken under the supervision of a dissertation director.