Grant to Support Anthropology Work

May 8, 2013

A grant from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC) will allow a Mary Baldwin University professor to continue her work with the Plains Apache community through old photographs taken of the tribe by anthropologist J. Gilbert McAlister.

The Maurice L. Mednick Memorial grant will support Assistant Professor of Anthropology Abby Wightman‘s plans to introduce McAlister’s photographs — taken during the 1930s — to members of the contemporary Plains Apache community. The purpose is to gather their perspectives and determine the fate of the images, which are archived at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum. Possibilities include repatriation to the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma and a digital exhibit with the museum.


According to Wightman’s grant application, the photographs represent an important component of Plains Apache heritage and cultural patrimony, especially because their community tends to define its cultural uniqueness and talk about the past through the lens of kinship. This project will facilitate an increased understanding of Plains Apache kinship patterns and historical memory, in addition to serving a more practical purpose in bringing together anthropologists, museum officials, and community members to help determine the fate of McAllister’s photographs.

“It has been challenging trying to maintain a research relationship with the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma while living and working in Virginia, and this grant provides an opportunity to initiate research in a way that prioritizes community perspectives and interests in the development of the project,” Wightman said.

The Mednick fellowship was created in honor of a young Norfolk industrialist who had a strong interest in higher education. Administration of the Mednick Memorial Fund is vested in the VFIC to encourage the professional development of college teachers and improve their academic competence through fellowships for research and advanced study. Founded in 1952, the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges is a nonprofit fundraising partnership supporting the programs and students of 15 leading independent colleges in the Commonwealth.

Previous recipients of the Mednick award include Associate Professor of Education Tamra Willis, Assistant Professor of Spanish Brenci Patino, Associate Professor of Biology Paul Deeble, Associate Professor of Shakespeare and Performance Paul Menzer, Professor of Art History Sally James ’69, and Associate Professor of Art Marlena Hobson. A list of recipients from the past 30 years is available online.