5 years ago

American Magazine, Nov. 2013

The flagship publication of American University. This magazine offers a lively look at what AU was and is, and where it's going. It's a forum where alumni and friends can connect and engage with the university.

Andrew Lih Journalism,

Andrew Lih Journalism, SOC For decades there was Britannica—then came Wikipedia. The original social media, the e-encyclopedia written by anonymous volunteers, debuted in 2001. Today, it’s the fifth-most visited website in the world. It gripped new media pioneer Andrew Lih, who became the first professor to use Wikipedia in the classroom a decade ago. He also penned the preeminent history of the site: The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia. But he says the number of contributors has declined since 2007, as the “low-hanging fruit” has been plucked. “Wikipedia is the sum of all human knowledge—there’s a natural cap. There are 4.3 million (English) articles about elephants and Exxon. The next 4 million articles won’t be so easy to write.” One way to ensure Wikipedia doesn’t go the way of MySpace is by encouraging contributors to post video to existing articles. (Currently, only 0.1 percent of entries include video.) With laptop sales dipping and desktop sales plummeting, Lih predicts people will do that on phablets: keyboardless computer-phone hybrids, with six-inch screens perfect for “clicking, browsing, tapping, shooting, and snapping.” Phablets are all the rage in Asia, and Lih says Americans will soon adopt the technology en masse. “In the future, people will own just one device.” Another big opportunity: partnering with GLAM communities (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums)—the focus of Lih’s latest research. “More people learn about items in a museum’s collection from Wikipedia than from the museum itself. The Smithsonian just hired its first Wikipedian in residence.” Chapurukha Kusimba Anthropology, CAS Chapurukha Kusimba made a discovery in his native Kenya this spring that garnered headlines around the globe: a 600-year-old Chinese coin minted during the Ming Dynasty. Unearthed by Kusimba, then curator of African archaeology and ethnology at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, on the island of Manda, the rare coin proves that trade existed between China and eastern Africa before European explorers even set sail. “Trade serves as a way to break down boundaries that separate communities,” says AU’s new anthropology chair. Artifacts like the coin offer insights into everything from migration to the establishment of diaspora communities. As a youngster in Africa—dubbed the cradle of humankind—Kusimba wanted to be an anthropologist. “American kids want to be paleontologists and study dinosaurs,” he says. “African children want to be anthropologists.” A former research scientist at the National Museums of Kenya (where he hopes to establish a field school for AU students), Kusimba investigates ancient trade networks, which frequently takes him to East Africa. During a 2010 trip, he commissioned an artist in Ambositra, Madagascar, to carve him an intricate wood port from a 300-year-old tree, felled by a Canadian mining company to build a road. The beautiful piece holds images that chronicle the island nation’s cultural identity and tells the story of its 18 ethnic groups. “The artist is trying to come to terms with the history of his nation during a time of great turmoil. But despite these differences, he’s saying ‘we are one.’ That’s so inspiring to me.” Lindsay Grace Film and Media Arts, SOC Most six-year-old boys aspire to be firefighters, astronauts, pro baseball players—but Lindsay Grace wasn’t most boys. After using his first computer at school in 1982, he rushed home and excitedly declared: “This is what I want to do.” Soon after, the Massachusetts native began designing and developing games on his Laser 128. At the tender age of 10, he released his first game, Super Mystery House, on a fiveand-a-quarter-inch floppy disc, under the label Mindtoggle. “I graphed each image on graph paper and drew each scene in code,” recalls Grace. The choose-your-own-adventure game “wasn’t very good,” he admits, “but the programmer-artist was still in middle school.” Today, Grace—recruited by AU to shape a new gaming initiative within SOC and CAS— is a renowned gaming guru. He founded the Persuasive Play Lab at Miami University of Ohio, and his game, Wait, was inducted into the Game for Change Hall of Fame this year, as one of the five best games for social impact in the last 10 years. He likens social impact gaming to cherryflavored medicine: entertainment with an informational twist. The goal is “to construct educational experiences that help people see things in a new light. It’s about ‘aha’ moments.” AU’s new social impact gaming graduate program, slated for a fall 2014 launch, will train students to not only produce games but to evaluate them. That, says Grace, is what makes AU’s offering unusual. “It’s a lot of fun to make games, but are they effective? At the moment, no one’s evaluating them. There’s a huge opportunity.” 24 American Magazine NOVEMBER 2013

Jane Palmer Public Administration and Policy, SPA The task: create a family tree, using figurines, toys, and animals to represent each person. The 12-year-old Chicago boy—a survivor of sexual abuse, with whom Jane Palmer worked for nine months—selected for himself a turtle. “He felt he had to have a tough exterior, but he wanted to work on coming out of his shell,” says Palmer, SPA/PhD ’13. It was then that she began to understand the needs of survivors often overlooked by advocates and academics. Palmer researches the ways in which survivors of abuse—who, like that boy, “aren’t normally part of the conversation”— seek help. While working on her doctorate in justice, law and society, Palmer held a National Institute of Justice fellowship, during which she worked on a study of violence against American Indian and native Alaskan women. “The study’s design had to be respectful of cultural norms,” she explains. “In some tribal communities, it’s abusive to cut a woman’s hair, so it was imperativeto include questions about that tactic.” The former social worker and nonprofit director’s dissertation focused on another overlooked population: bystanders. Palmer examined the role of bystanders in situations of sexual assault and dating violence on college campuses. She’s continuing that research today, evaluating bystander programs at three universities. “My research captures new ways of understanding and preventing violence. I have faith that when we see something that’s not right, we want to do something. It’s about a mass of people—it’s bigger than individual offenders and individual victims.” Michael Bader Sociology, CAS Michael Bader recalls driving through D.C. as a child and being struck at the sight of razor wire. Only 20 miles separated his native Derwood, Maryland, and Southeast Washington, but the budding urban sociologist was rattled by what he saw. “Our lives were completely different, and our chances were completely different. That had a big influence [on me],” Bader says. His fascination with the urban environment, including a boyhood obsession with SimCity, led him to Rice University, where he studied architecture. But his interests soon broadened beyond buildings to the ways in which city dwellers navigate the built environment. “I began to wonder how social and racial inequality are perpetuated in cities,” says Bader, a member of AU’s Center on Health, Risk, and Society, an interdisciplinary community of scholars that looks beyond biomedical technology to examine the social dimensions of health. Bader, who coauthored a study this summer on retail investment as a barometer for teenage obesity, has two projects in the works: an examination of the ethnic and racial turnover of neighborhoods in New York City, Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles from 1970 to 2010, funded by the National Science Foundation; and the Google Street View Project, which assesses neighborhood walkability and disorder. The latter is funded by a $250,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health. Though he’s come a long way from SimCity, Bader says one of the lessons learned from the computer game still applies to his work today: “space matters.” Garrett Graddy Global Environmental Politics, SIS The granddaughter of a Kentucky grower, Garrett Graddy grew up on the family farm but never had much interest in the family business. “Then I started traveling and discovered that the plight of the small-scale farmer was both personally and intellectually intriguing.” High in the Andes—3,000 miles from home— “I discovered my research question.” A cultural geographer and political ecologist, Graddy researches agricultural biodiversity conservation across the Americas. This year, she published a pair of journal articles about her work with six indigenous Peruvian potato farming communities, who have repatriated 1,000 native varieties of their crop in hopes of adapting to—and surviving— climate change. Graddy’s research on the seed banking system helping farmers in Parque de la Papa (Potato Park) diversify their crops figures prominently in the book she’s penning on the politics of agricultural biodiversity conservation. It highlights the genetic erosion of crops around the globe, the history of conservation measures, and the seedsaving movement, which is taking root in the United States. To cultivate a crop base that’s adaptive and diverse, the seed-saving movement encourages farmers to use open-pollinated, heirloom seeds—passed down from generations—rather than seeds from a store. “A grower with a beloved seed variety will trade it with her neighbor,” says Graddy. “On the ground, agricultural biodiversity looks like heirloom seeds. They’re beautiful and packed with cultural memory and indigenous identity.” Let’s talk #americanmag 25