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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Goodenough's Canoe


With deep regret but much admiration for a life well lived, I'm noting the passing on June 9 of Ward H. Goodenough, Professor Emeritus in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania -- a distinguished cultural anthropologist and linguist, one of the founders of an explicitly applied anthropology, a not-inconsiderable poet, and an all-around good person.  I'm grateful to Dr. Mac Marshall for passing along the sad news. 

My wife, Pat Parker, was privileged to have Ward as her dissertation advisor, PhD committee chair, colleague, and friend. When it became apparent that a stumblebum archaeologist from California kind of came along as part of the package, Ward welcomed me to his world, and when I followed Pat to work in Chuuk -- one of Ward's ethnographic stomping grounds -- we had some very fruitful (to me) correspondence about Chuukese traditional history and the teachings of itang. I've also often reflected on his service to the U.S. government during World War II, preparing the ethnographic information that enabled naval officers like my father to avoid (sometimes) acting like complete idiots in administering the Micronesian islands wrested from the Japanese. When the profession has stood rigidly against participating in military and intelligence operations, however tempted I've been to join its ranks, I've always remembered Ward and his colleagues, and the contributions they made to ameliorating the effects of war on the people of Micronesia. Ward's relationships with the government have reminded me that these things are seldom if ever black and white.

Ward lived to age 94; for the last few years we've heard from him only around the holidays, and have always been grateful to learn that he was alive. Now he isn't. Or maybe, as they say in Kiribati when a light shower goes over as someone passes, he's caught his canoe.  I hope so.

1 comment:

David Rotenstein said...

Sad news indeed. I didn't take any of his classes at Penn but as I write this note, I'm looking across my desk and up a couple of shelves at my well-worn copy of his "Description and Comparison in Cultural Anthropology."