Michael Brown, Professor of Anthropology

Michael Brown, Lambert Professor of Anthropology and Latin American Studies, specializes in ritual and religion, medical anthropology, and the native peoples of North and South Americas. In 2012-2013, Brown will teach an introductory Anthropology class, as well as a seminar on the indigenous peoples of Latin America and a tutorial on cultural evolution.


What, specifically, is your field of study? And how does it relate to international issues?

I’m a cultural anthropologist with particular interest in the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.  I worked in Peru for many years and have traveled widely in Latin America.  My recent research has focused on the ethics and pragmatics of heritage protection.  So far, this project has taken me on research or lecture trips to Australia, Peru, Finland, France, and Austria.

What is one of the best things about teaching at Williams?

For me, the best thing about Williams is that it doesn’t pigeon-hole its faculty or push us toward narrow specialization, which is the case at most research universities.  Williams values breadth, which is consistent with my own temperament and restless curiosity.

 Despite being in western Massachusetts, is Williams a place that encourages dialogue about international issues? Or could Williams be more supportive in this regard?

The growing cosmopolitanism of the College has been a wonderful development.  I believe, nonetheless, that there is still too much navel-gazing at Williams, too great a focus on campus life and its teapot tempests.  There is a big world beyond the Purple Valley, and it merits our attention.

If you could travel to one place, right now, where would you go and why?

I’d be fly-fishing in Patagonia–probably a bad idea because I’m writing this in the month of August, when it’s still Patagonian winter.  I’d risk serious hypothermia.

 What is your favorite food?

Among my favorites: Texas barbecue, Peruvian ceviche, and anything cooked with Hatch chilis from New Mexico.

What were your first impressions of Williams when you arrived? Have they changed?

Although much of my family has now migrated to the Sun Belt, my parents descend from generations of New Englanders.  Moving to Williamstown felt like coming home.

What are you reading at the moment?

Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, which comes at the heels of  Ursula Le Guin’s classic The Left Hand of Darkness.  Having time to read fiction is the best thing about a professor’s summer.

Do you speak more than one language?

I speak Spanish and once had a decent working knowledge of Awajún, a native language of western Amazonia that is spoken by about 45,000 people.  I’m currently trying to overcome my French phobia by working with a DVD-based self-study program.  Il est très provocant.