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Mary Steedly

- Professor
- Social Anthropology Program
(617) 495-3730
Tozzer Anthropology Building 212

Curriculum Vitae [pdf]

M.A. Folklore, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
1979, Ph.D. Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1989

Narrative and history, culture theory, the politics of religion, comparative colonial studies, Christian missions, citizenship and subjectivity, nationalism, gender studies, violence, military culture, Indonesia, southern U.S.

Mary Margaret Steedly, Professor has focused on the Karo Bataks, a kinship-based society of the North Sumatran uplands deeply implicated in colonial and postcolonial projects of modernity, development and nation-building. Her first book, Hanging without a Rope: Narrative Experience in Colonial and Postcolonial Karoland (Princeton University Press, 1993) received the Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing in 1994. Based on three years' ethnographic research with Karo spirit mediums and extensive study of colonial sources, this work approaches Karo historical experience through stories of encounters with spirits.

She is now completing a second book, Rifle Reports: Gender, Nationalism and Peasant Resistance in the Karo Area, 1945-1950, which explores the Indonesian war of independence of Karo participants. Like her earlier work, this book is concerned with the mutually constituting relations of narrative and experience, but it moves beyond the personal realm of belief to consider questions of subjectivity and state formation in the political domain of agency, citizenship and social violence. Supported by a grant from the John C. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation Program on Security and Sustainability, her next project will turn to contemporary American culture, and to the paradoxical centrality of undemocratic institutions in a democratic society. During the calendar year 2000 she will be conducting ethnographic fieldwork at The Citadel Military College of South Carolina, focusing on the construction and inculcation of a particular "military culture" of soldier-citizens.

  Anthropology 92zr
Research Methods in Museum Collections

Special (individual) study of Peabody Museum collections directly supervised by a faculty member and a member of the curatorial staff. Requires a project involving a Harvard Museum collection, developed in consultation with the supervisors.
  Anthropology 1870
Island Southeast Asia: Circulating Cultures

An introduction to island Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei) emphasizing circulations of people, goods, ideas, beliefs, wealth, power, and images. Island Southeast Asia has a long history of involvement in global networks of economic distribution, exchange and appropriation. We will focus on cultural dimensions of such circulations, with topics to include urban gridlock, gay slang, terrorism, theme parks, female labor, political crisis, new media, democratization, and the lifestyles of the rich and famous.


Explores the relations among technologies of image production and circulation, the nature and intensity of the circulating image, and the generation of publics and counter-publics. Questions of scale, mediation, publicity, and mobilization will be considered.

  Anthropology 2980

"Culture" is one of anthropology's key concepts, but there has never been agreement as to the term's meaning. We tour the work of culture's key theorists. Is culture still a useful concept in anthropological analysis?
  Visual and Environmental Studies 158r
Living Documentary: Studio Course

Students produce a substantial work of ethnographically informed nonfiction using video. Principal recording should take place prior to enrolling in the course.

Selected Publications
  "The state of culture theory in the anthropology of Southeast Asia," Annual Review of Anthropology (2000)
  "Surrogates, slips and incidental encounters: The tale of Raja Bakaléwat," Anthropology and Humanism (2000)

"What is culture: Does it matter?" in M. Garber, P. Franklin and R. Walkowitz (eds.), Field Work: Sites in Literary and Cultural Studies (Routledge, 1996)

  "The importance of proper names: Language and 'national' identity in colonial East Sumatra," American Ethnologist (1996)
  "Hanging without a Rope"
Princeton University Press (1993)

Summerall Guards Drill Team performs at the Citadel commencement parade, May 2001.

Karo spirit medium performs the dance of the "magic staff".


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