Bookshelves Spring 2024



An Anthropologist Looks Back at an Unorthodox Life

In a new book, alumnus Edward C. Green chronicles his more-than-a half-century quest to improve public health across the globe.

In 1971, Edward C. Green, B.A. ’67, was living among the descendants of a runaway slave society in the Amazon. 
Tempted by a travel poster, Green had traveled to Suriname for the first time the year before. He was then a graduate student in anthropology and quickly became fascinated with the then Dutch colony.

The two years he spent studying and being “adopted” by the Matawai tribe—a group of about 2,000 descended from slaves in the interior of what’s now an independent country—served as a foundation for his pioneering career in medical anthropology.

Green’s journey from rebellious prep school student to Vietnam War conscientious objector to renowned anthropologist is charted in his new memoir, “On the Fringe: Confessions of a Maverick Anthropologist” (Black Rose Writing, 2023).

“GW Magazine” talked to Green, a GW research professor, about his storied career, how he found his calling for anthropology and why it was important to write with candor about his lifelong feelings of self-doubt.

On the Fringe book cover
On the Fringe: Confessions of a Maverick Anthropologist (Black Rose Writing, 2023) by Edward C. Green

Q: What drew you to the field of anthropology, and why did you choose the career path of applied anthropology? 

A: GW was the place that gave me direction in life. There, I discovered anthropology, a whole profession populated by nonconformists. GW professors, like Patrick Gallagher, treated us as peers and taught us to question conventions. 

After graduate school, I taught at several universities, but in 1977 I had the opportunity to visit African countries to help evaluate family planning programs. The more I talked to people on the ground, the more I believed anthropology was a missing element in international development and NGOs’ efforts to change behaviors. If you don’t understand the underlying cultural elements, how can you change people’s actions? I realized anthropology had the power to alleviate suffering and save lives. 
In Ghana, I met Mike Warren, a professor who had already run successful programs partnering with Indigenous healers to improve health outcomes. I thought that’s what I want to do!

Q: You worked as a consultant for NGOs and other entities across the world. What were some of those experiences?

A: In the 1980s, I spent four years in Swaziland developing health education strategies to prevent diseases with the input of local health workers, traditional healers and their patients. 

I spent time on the ground in Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and South Africa—all in programs aimed at incorporating traditional healers and Indigenous health practitioners in public health and education. 

As AIDS exploded in Africa, I became involved in large-scale prevention programs. I grew increasingly skeptical of the overreliance on condoms to prevent HIV in Africa, especially as Uganda, where condoms were not widely used, emerged as a success story. I wrote a critique in my book, “Rethinking AIDS Prevention,” which was widely read and controversial. In it, I advocated for low-cost behavioral solutions, namely, not having multiple concurrent sexual partners and delaying the age of first sexual activity.

Q: You’re open about your feelings of self-doubt and imposter syndrome throughout your life. Why was that important to include? 

A: I was a bit of a rebel when I was young and was kicked out of Groton prep school, where my father and brother had both excelled. Afterward, my mother told me, “You’re a failure, and you’ll always be a failure.” Those words stayed with me. I internalized them and often thought that I was a fraud and one day I would be found out by my peers and students. 

I hope it’s useful for young people entering the fields of public health, anthropology and international development to know about my struggles and not feel alone if they have experienced feelings of self-doubt or inadequacy.

Q: You write about the importance of people who are “on the fringe,” their ability to see things that others can’t or don’t. 

A: A speech by Walter Goldschmidt, head of the American Anthropological Association in the ’70s, resonated with me. He essentially said anthropologists are outsiders, people on the fringe who distrust authority. History shows that people on the fringe challenge conventional paradigms and usher in new ways of thinking. Their view from the margins provides revolutionary new perspectives. I am not sure what I would have done had I not found refuge in anthropology—a whole field of nonconformists like myself.

– Rachel Muir



Dixon, Descending (Dutton, 2024)

By Karen Outen, senior marketing specialist, GW Law

Outen tells the story of Dixon Bryant who embarks on a quest alongside his brother to become the first Black American men to summit Mount Everest. Until persuaded by his brother to make the attempt, Dixon, once an Olympic-level runner, had long given up pursuing seemingly impossible dreams. He puts his life on hold as a school psychologist, leaving behind, among others, a vulnerable student he’s bonded with. Alternating chapters reveal the before, during and after of the expedition, capturing the terror and strange freedom on the mountain. “Black men on Everest, which was to say freed men,” writes Outen. “Because their burdens here were of their own making.” Words that become prophetic when tragedy strikes and Dixon is left scarred, struggling to return to his life, and grappling with what it means to survive and the responsibilities we have to one another.

Book cover of Dixon, Descending (Dutton, 2024)



Mungo Park’s Ghost: The Haunted Hubris of British Explorers in Nineteenth-Century Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2024)

By Dane Kennedy, professor emeritus of history

Kennedy examines two ambitious 1816 British expeditions in Africa centered on the Niger and Congo rivers. Their aim was to finish the mission of the dashing and celebrated Mungo Park, who disappeared a decade earlier exploring the same rivers. Both 1816 expeditions failed and were largely forgotten. Through an in-depth examination of them in the greater context of Britain in the early 19th century, Kennedy makes the case that they provide insight into British ambitions in Africa and the sense of hubris that pervaded and often condemned them. “Most of the British explorers who ventured into Africa were propelled by the same unwarranted confidence and overweening ambition that drove Park to his destruction,” writes Kennedy. “Most failed to complete their missions, and many lost their lives in the process.”

Book cover of Mungo Park’s Ghost (Cambridge University Press, 2024)



Season to Taste: Rewriting Kitchen Space in Contemporary Women’s Food Memoirs (University Press of Mississippi, 2023)

By Caroline J. Smith, associate professor of writing

Smith takes readers on a tour of the ever shifting kitchen space. Examining food writing through memoirs, recipes and even “Better Homes and Gardens” articles, she traces the evolution of kitchens since the 1960s—not just from linoleum floors to stainless steel countertops but from feminist movements to contemporary writers. Along the way, she documents how the kitchen has been reframed from a gender prison to a stage for self-discovery. “In the ’60s, the kitchen was seen as a place for women to escape from,” says Smith, whose previous work has dissected pop culture staples including “chick lit” and the TV series “Mad Men.” “I was asking how in the 21st century women redefined their relationship with this space.”

Book cover of Season to Taste: Rewriting Kitchen Space in Contemporary Women’s Food Memoirs (University Press of Mississippi, 2023)



U.S. Museum Histories and the Politics of Interpretation (Routledge, 2024)

By Laura Schiavo, associate professor of museum studies and deputy director of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design

Schiavo’s book, a collection drawing on the scholarship of historians, art historians and anthropologists from across the country who study museums, traces U.S. museums’ past to inform their future. From the nation-building narratives of the early 19th century to modern representations of inclusion and pressing issues like climate change, Schiavo writes, U.S. museums are both influenced by and help inform the events swirling around them. At times, she argues, they have either reinforced popular notions of race, gender and progress—or challenged them. “These are institutions of power that tell stories about identity,” she writes. “Which objects [museums] choose to exhibit—and how they put these exhibits together—usually comes out of an ideology.”

Book cover of U.S. Museum Histories and the Politics of Interpretation (Routledge, 2024)



Rebecca, Not Becky (HarperCollins, 2023)

By GW student Catherine Wigginton Greene and Christine Platt

The novel—by Greene, a doctoral student in GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, and co-author Platt—tells the story of two upper-class stay-at-home mothers in an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C. The narrative alternates between the two women, Rebecca, who is white and a self-proclaimed progressive, and De’Andrea, who is Black and newly arrived from Atlanta, a move she reluctantly agreed to in order to be closer to her ailing mother-in-law. The pair’s young daughters become fast friends, while a tentative friendship between the two women is put to the test when racial issues divide the community.  

Book cover of Rebecca, Not Becky (HarperCollins, 2023)