We were graduate students at Stanford from fall 1967 until the spring of 1972, a time of considerable social and cultural ferment. My first two years were in a program in International Development Education (SIDEC), which seemed a natural step after two Peace Corps years and in a context where I thought I wanted something "applied" instead of what I took to be the "academic" world of anthropology. My interests at the time were much more in the arena of Development than Education, and my primary focus was in the effects upon people of infrastructure --roads, dams, schools, etc.-- imposed by government agencies. I thought that I really wanted to return to Southeast Asia for dissertation research, but it took almost two years (and the first steps of an offer from the Ford Foundation) for me to figure out that the SIDEC path would lead to a berth as a foundation functionary, an Advisor/Consultant to a government department, a life far from what I thought I wanted or was temperamentally suited to. I decided to switch to Anthropology instead, still with the idea of returning to Southeast Asia.
In about 1969 (in the middle of my graduate school years at Stanford) I was galvanized by General Systems Theory, thanks to books by Walter Buckley, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Kenneth Boulding and W. Ross Ashby... and probably also thanks to the The Whole Earth Catalog, and certainly to the many late-night conversations with several similarly-inclined friends. I think we were in search of grand and dynamic frameworks as antidotes to the static and mechanistic 'structuralist' models of Talcott Parsons et al., and were surely influenced by ideas leaked from cybernetics, but this was long before 'cybernetics' was common coin. I think my hold on the details of General Systems Theory was rather tenuous, but a lot of what I was reading SOUNDED right, or at any rate righter than a lot of other ideas that were in circulation at the time, and I appropriated what I could. As I now reconstruct my subsequent enthusiasms, I tumbled first into ecology and then into geography as I sought for frameworks to develop my dissertation research upon.
I've been reassembling the library that provoked me in those graduate school years, and filling in some of the missing pieces (materials I should have read or could have read more intelligently, commentaries on the time and its assorted intellectual fashions) and now and again discovering that others have labored in similar groves (e.g., Alan Scrivener, who has been vastly more consistent than I --see also his magnificent Cybernetics in the Third Millennium). I can't really explain WHY I'm retracing the steps, except to say that it's diverting to look at what and how I thought at various points along the path to the present. Occasionally I've been pleased with what I've found in notes and journals and books --thinking that I was onto something, or recognizing a particular turn I made thanks to a reading or a conversation. The reconstructions are imperfect, but I fancy there's a discernable coherence and a direction that connects to what I tried to do in 18 years at Acadia, and what I then escaped into in 13 years at Washington & Lee. I don't see any grand lessons for anybody else, and indeed I'm finding that what I thought and read and did was very much a product of the times in which I was thinking, reading and doing. Many of my enthusiasms are decidedly vieux jeu in the light of turns taken by the several disciplines I pillaged 40 years ago, but in general I'm glad I didn't try to hang on through their evolutions.
My Special Examination Bibliographies (October 1971) turned up as I rifled through the archives, and I've found it interesting to meet an earlier version of myself in its pages. At the time it was a novel (even audacious) presentation, consisting of an introductory essay, 6 pages of tables allocating books and articles to topical subdivisions, and 10 pages of topical bibliography (Regional Systems) and 8 pages of area bibliography (North America). Composed on a manual typewriter (awash in strikeovers) and pasted together, it's certainly inelegant as such things would now be judged, but there's an unmistakeable elan that is pretty recognizable (I mean... who starts a North America bibliography with Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and means it?). I doubt that any of my Committee members ever savored it as I did, but reading through it today I confess myself pleased with the enterprise it laid out.
Introduction Tables Topic bibliography Area bibliography
My research proposal (April 1972) was another brave leap into territories unfamiliar to the Anthropology of the time, and was probably more Geographical in its aims than most anthropologists would have found congenial. I had the great advantage of a Committee Chair (G. William Skinner) who overawed everybody, and he was entirely supportive of my plans. The proposal sailed through the approval process, and I was soon afterward off to Nova Scotia to try to carry out its grand ambitions.
Introduction Regional Systems Farming Systems Area Research Task Methodological Appendix BibliographyIt took another 4 years to finish the dissertation (including typing it myself, on a rented Selectric), but finished and accepted it eventually was, again largely thanks to Bill Skinner's support. He declared that it was the ONLY dissertation in his long experience that was ever delivered on time. I've always felt that it was a means to an end (completing responsibilities; hoisting the Ph.D. flag; ensuring job security; escaping the subject), and I've never been pleased with the document or the aftertaste of the process. I certainly learned how little I really understood about the subject matter, and I was never tempted to try to turn it into a book, or to wring scholarly articles from its dessicated body.
Because I started teaching (in 1973) after one year of fieldwork, and because I returned to Stanford (in 1975) only to defend the dissertation, my day-to-day energies went mostly into contriving and teaching courses, and agricultural transformation was only a minor component of my attention. I was hired as the only anthropologist in a sociology department, and was very fortunate to have carte blanche to define what anthropology would be at Acadia. In my second year of teaching I contrived a course called 'Human Geography' and considered it to be at the core of what I was doing. The basic idea was to introduce my students (most of whom were Maritimers, with little experience of travel) to the wider world, and I accordingly read very widely, following my nose as I filled in my own ignorances of global and regional issues. I had a substantial grounding in Southeast Asia, a lot of interest in Chinese civilization, considerable curiosity about Africa and the Middle East... and I was able to use the Acadia library to acquire books about whatever I turned my mind to.