LAFF Society


The President’s Message, Fall 2016


I am in the midst of sorting through boxes of papers that accompanied me when we moved from New York to our home in the Massachusetts hill towns. The papers consist of field notes, questionnaires and interviews, draft articles, maps, drawings, tape recordings and photographs from my ethnographic research in Northeast Brazil and Timor-Leste (East Timor). Over the next several weeks, these will be dispatched, with some ambivalence, to the Anthropology Archives at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, where they will be made available to other researchers, who hopefully will find them of interest. 
The research in Brazil was done exactly 50 years ago, in Timor-Leste in 1973-74. I have held on to them all these years in the vain belief that I would go back to them as the basis for further research and writing, but my career took other turns. While I managed to write two books and multiple articles on Brazil and a half-dozen or so articles on Timor-Leste, the activist side of me kicked in, largely around issues of human rights (my research in Brazil coincided with the start of a 24-year military dictatorship and my research in Timor-Leste concluded with the Indonesian invasion and 27-year occupation), and I accepted Bill Carmichael’s invitation to join the Foundation with a strong belief that I could be more effective there than in academia.
Which brings me to the point of today’s message. When I left the Foundation in 1996, after 18 years, I did the inevitable office sorting. My office files went to the archives; books and memorabilia (e.g., the honorary doctor of law drawn up by Lynn Walker Huntley and Amy Vance; the cherished thank you drawing from the National Community Aids Partnership that I suspect Michael Seltzer organized) went to my new office at New York University, and personal papers found their way to my Upper West Side apartment, along with two unmarked boxes that went unopened for the last 20 years. 
I opened them a couple weeks ago and found scattered office notes, years of annual appointment calendars, field diaries from every overseas visit and thematic meeting I attended, some photos, and all of the heartwarming messages my colleagues wrote at the time of my departure. These are going to the Rockefeller Archives, where Pat Rosenfield, Rachel Wimpee and Lee Hiltzik assure me they will become a treasured part of the Ford collection. 
Looking back on these nearly 70 years of professional papers, I reflect on my good fortune and the satisfaction my diverse careers have provided throughout my adult life. I now understand the full meaning of the Spanish and Russian words for retirement: jubilation. I like to tell people I’m not really retired, I’m just off payroll. However, that is not quite true. The richness of all those years, boxed until now, are largely memories for me to celebrate, and celebrate them I do. And by making them available to the respective archives, I celebrate the possibility that they will be useful complements to the anthropological record in the first case and to the official Ford record in the latter. 
I had a call today from John Seaman, who is assisting in the preparation of a five-year comprehensive institutional history, sanctioned by the Foundation, beginning with its founding and going through Susan Berresford’s presidency. He called at the urging of our Rockefeller Archives colleagues to establish contact with LAFF in the hope that we could, as time and their archival research dictate, help them identify former staff who carry with them their personal complements to the official archives. 
It reminded me first and foremost of the 15 colleagues we lost in the course of this last year. I hope their papers find their way to Sleepy Hollow, if they have not already done so in either written or oral history form. 
Then, I began to think about how little I know of the work and thinking of so many of our colleagues who worked with me at the Foundation in the earlier “stove piped” years. Our LAFF members’ directory tells us little about each other beyond our contact information, something I have now reached out to Nellie Toma and John LaHoud to help think how we can make the directory current and interactive.
More important, I urge each of our colleagues to think about those boxes that move with us and how we can open them to others to jubilate with us, in celebration of our years at the Foundation and the opportunities provided us to have such satisfying careers.
Shep Forman



Members log in to comment