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Released October 22, 2004


HATTIESBURG -Dr. Jeffrey Kaufmann, a professor of anthropology at The University of Southern Mississippi, will give a public presentation Oct. 29 on environmental anthropology in Mississippi and Madagascar.

Kaufmann, the winner of the Mississippi Humanities Council's 2004 Humanities Teacher Award, will focus on his work with the residents of the Mobile-Bouie district in Hattiesburg, including a recounting of the great flood of 1974. The presentation, held at 3 p.m. in the Liberal Arts Building's Gonzales Auditorium, will also include his research with the Adroka Vaovao tribe off the coast of Africa.

"For the past 10 years, I have studied how the people of Madagascar have raised cattle in a dry part of the island by feeding them prickly pear cactus, thereby changing an inhospitable environment to a more hospitable one," Kaufmann said.

"The sheer inventiveness of people is illustrated in this case of finding uses for a plant, which the French brought to the island from Mexico, that are not naturally obvious."

Unable to take his students on trips 20,000 miles away to Africa, Kaufmann started a second endeavor closer to home in 2003.

He said he wanted something close at hand, a project that could involve his students and satisfy the needs and interests of a group of people who "might have been too long ignored, forgotten or misunderstood right here in Hattiesburg."

"The Mobile-Bouie neighborhood has an environmental history that is as revealing of the human condition as is faraway Madagascar," Kaufmann said.

Kaufmann will focus on the flood of 1974, which engulfed the Mobile-Bouie neighborhood and submerged residents' homes "up to their rafters."

"Some homeowners stayed and cleaned up; some moved to higher ground," he said. "One man remembered the night he went to bed after cleaning the snakes out of the refrigerator, the dead insects plastered on the walls.

"He could not shake that feeling of his house being invaded by creepy crawlers. I recorded around 20 testimonies of this flood, all of which raise the question whether the neighborhood will survive another 100-year flood."

Dr. James Flanagan, chair of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, said Kaufmann's work with the Mobile-Bouie Street community has impacted both the lives of the community members and the Southern Miss students involved.

"His work has drawn the life of the community and the life of the university into closer contact and has shown us, in the process, the value of community engagement to the university and the positive impact it can have on the local community," Flanagan said.

Flanagan said scholarship in the humanities is at the heart of the university's

mission and at the heart of the mission of the College of Arts and Letters. "Receipt of the award is both a significant honor for the scholar and for the department of which he is a part," he said.

Following the presentation, a reception will be held in the lobby of the Liberal Arts Building. For more information, contact the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at (601) 266-4306.


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November 23, 2004 9:23 AM