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North American Ethnology Research


Exemplary lineal equations in Crow-Omaha kin terminologies

Building a new analytical database from existing ethnographic data sources this project is designed to rigorously compare global instances of Crow-Omaha type kinship systems, and their related variants. A collaboration with Dr. Ward C. Wheeler of the AMNH Invertebrate Zoology Division, the project uses phylogenetic modeling to develop hypotheses about the emergence and evolution of kinship systems globally. As equational structures of linguistic terms denoting reciprocal statuses and interaction rules, kinship systems are rigorously specifiable as formal types, governing marriage rules, and thus social and biological reproduction. Kinship systems may thus provide a key into the understanding of human social evolution. Crow-Omaha systems, which "skew" relatives across generations (so that the same term may be used, for example, to denote an "aunt," a "grandmother," and a "cross-cousin") have proven particularly problematic for analytical explanation. As the type-case of "semi-complex" alliance structures, in Lévi-Strauss’s terms, Crow-Omaha are postulated as interstitial between "elementary" and "complex" systems, offering an important window upon larger patterns of social-system transformation. Our aim is to explain the origin and evolution of these pivotal systems.

This research is supported by the National Science Foundation Anthropology Program (Explaining Crow-Omaha Kinship Structures with Anthro-informatics-PI: Peter M. Whiteley-BCS-0925978; co-PI:W.C. Wheeler). An international group of scholars was convened for an Advanced Seminar, "Transformative Kinship: Engaging the Crow-Omaha Transition," supported by the National Science Foundation (Workshop on Transitions in Human Social Organization-PI: Peter M. Whiteley-BCS-0938505) and The Amerind Foundation. Seminar proceedings have been edited and are in press (Crow-Omaha: New Light on a Classic Problem of Kinship Analysis, Thomas R. Trautmann and Peter M. Whiteley, eds., University of Arizona Press).


Dr. Peter Whiteley with Bernadette Hill, Heron Clan Mother

The Cayuga Diaspora

Based on fieldwork and archival research, this project examines Cayuga participation in the Revolutionary War and its late 18th and 19th century aftermath for Cayuga society and human geography. The Cayuga split into factions under extreme political and social pressure in the 1780's and 1790's. This research is designed to disclose as much as possible about the social and historical processes at work, and their effects on persistent but changing Cayuga identities.



Hopi Social Structure

A "Crow" system, Hopi social structure has informed numerous comparative studies in anthropology, and provides a window onto Ancestral Pueblo archaeology of pre-Columbian times. Current research analyzes transforming social groups and relations through time, based on an extensive analysis of demography and social characteristics over more than century, the basis for which is published in The Orayvi Split: a Hopi Transformation (Anthropological papers of the American Museum of Natural History, no. 87).

Hopi Ethnogeography

"Recording Toponyms to Document the Endangered Hopi Language" is a collaborative project with AMNH Research Associate, Dr. T.J. Ferguson (University of Arizona), and the Hopi Tribe's Office of Cultural Preservation. We are examining Hopi concepts of place and traditional cultural practices in relation to the landscape. Based on interviews with Hopi elders, we are producing a database for use by the scholarly community and by the Hopi Tribe, with the goal to develop new understandings of Native American conceptions of the environment. The project is supported by the National Science Foundation's Documenting Endangered Languages program (BCS-0966588-PI: Peter M. Whiteley; BCS-0965949-PI: T.J. Ferguson).