Welcome… and congratulations, Dr James Flexner!

Dr James Flexner will be joining the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the ANU early in 2013, where he will be a postdoctoral fellow. James recently received a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) from the Australian Research Council (ARC) to fund his research on the archaeology of the first Christian missions to the islands of Erromango, Tanna, and Aniwa in southern Vanuatu. The goal of this project is to use archaeological evidence, local oral histories, and archival records to understand the ways that religion shaped colonial encounters in Island Melanesia, from the perspectives of both local people and foreign missionaries. [See this earlier post to Outrigger on ARC awards for Pacific-related research in 2013.]

James is coming to the ANU from Washington and Lee University in Virginia in the United States, where he was a visiting lecturer for the last three years. Before that, he received a Bachelor’s in Anthropology and Archaeology from the University of Virginia, and a Master’s and PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley.

James got his start in archaeology as an undergraduate student, working periodically for the Department of Archaeology at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia plantation. James first started to learn about and become interested in Oceania during a semester spent at the University of Otago in New Zealand. As an undergraduate, he also worked on an excavation project on Pemba Island, Tanzania, which became the subject of his senior honours thesis.

For postgraduate study, James combined his interests and experiences by developing a project in Polynesian historical archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley. His doctoral research focused on the historical archaeology of Hansen’s disease (also called leprosy) in Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Moloka‘i Island, Hawaii. Documenting the landscape in Kalaupapa, James was able to show the ways that traditional Hawaiian settlement patterns and practices shaped everyday life in Hawaii’s first experiment with institutions of isolation. As a graduate student, James was also lucky enough to join his colleagues on archaeological digs elsewhere in Hawaii, California, and the Central Amazon of Brazil.

Since graduating from Berkeley, James has been teaching full time, and doing summer fieldwork in Vanuatu, laying the groundwork for his current ARC-funded project. This is a collaborative project involving the ANU, the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, and local communities in Vanuatu’s southern province of Tafea. James hopes to continue doing public archaeology while in Australia, since this has always been an important part of the discipline for him, and welcomes questions from students and the general public about his work (you can contact him on jamesflexner@gmail.com). James will work closely with Prof. Matthew Spriggs, among others, while at the ANU.

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