November 5, 2001
By Eric Rangus email@example.com
Mark Auslander speaks softly. On occasion, when discussing his work and
background, he almost slips into a whisper. But listeners do not mind
leaning forward to catch every word since each syllable carries with it
a great deal of fascination.
But listeners do not mind leaning forward to catch every word since each
syllable carries with it a great deal of fascination.
Ive always been intrigued by Africa, said Auslander,
assistant professor of anthropology at Oxford College. I think its
very natural for an anthropologist to turn to Africa since so much of
our understanding of what it means to human come out of that continent.
Much of Auslanders early research was conducted in southern Africa.
One of his projects, in South Africa, dealt with death and memorialization
and their roles in peoples understandings of the themselves and
Local communities struggle over how to imagine a new future,
Auslander said. To do that they need to create a useable past.
Thats done, in part, through the construction of gravesites, mortuaries
and crypts to honor and remember those who have passed on.
It was that research that helped guide Auslander to study African American
cemeteriesnot the most common subject for a white professor. But
one that doesnt adversely affect his research.
You can study your own culture, but even then you are necessarily
an outsider, said Auslander, who now focuses a great deal of his
research on a variety of African American issues. Any good social
scientist should be suspended between objective and subjective positions.
Another factor that his influenced Auslanders recent efforts has
been his work with The Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life
(the MARIAL Center), of which he is a core faculty member.
MARIAL has allowed me to do what I most love, which is to combine
undergraduate teaching with research, and to have my students, from their
first day on campus, involved in a regional research project, Auslander
The first of those projects, in 2000, involved the Oxford City Cemetery.
The whites who are buried there were some of the townsand
Oxford Collegesleading citizens. A great many of whom were
slaveholders. For many years, city funds were used to maintain the cemetery,
and the portions where these people were buried were more professionally
But the official tours always neglected half the cemetery,
Auslander said. That half was where African Americans, including
those who had been held in slavery by the founding fathers of the college,
were buried. [It was] where their children and grandchildren and other
descendents were buried.
First, Auslanders sociology students became involved. Then his anthropology students joined them.
On weekends, they helped the community plant flowers and repair erosion
damage. The students then began documenting the lives of the people who
were buried there. They spoke with members of several African American
congregations around town and gathered information and family histories.
Coming out of this effort was an exhibit, Tragic Beauty: Exploring
the Oxford African-American Cemetery, andperhaps most importantlya
financial solution to keep the African American portion of the cemetery
clean for current and future generations.
We are committed at Oxford to getting our students to engage critically
and originally with classic texts, Auslander said. We feel
that happens best when students are outside the classroom and trying out
what theyve learned inside the classroom in the hurly burly
of everyday life. From the moment I got here at Oxford, that seemed possible.
Auslanders students also were instrumental in the creation of A
Dream Deferred: African American at Emory and Oxford Colleges, 18361968
which was on display at Oxford last January as part of the Year of Reconciliation
and will be exhibited in Special Collections beginning in January 2002.
Students from Auslanders Cultures of the African Diaspora class
collected information and memorabilia from both white and black families
to tell the story of African Americans experience at the University.
As the oldest part of the Emory system, Oxford is perhaps a little
more conscious of its identity as a Southern institution, Auslander
said. We are surrounded by the presence of the past here, and that
creates the greatest opportunities in teaching.
This semester, Auslander is team-teaching a class on the American South
with Susan Ashmore, assistant professor of history. While the class covers
the period of 18401940, the focus is on the first half of that time
period and how Americans from other regions of the country may view Southerners
Auslander has team taught before, but this is his first time doing it
Its been a sheer delight, he said. Every day
Susan and I find ourselves learning new things about one another, about
methods of interpretation as well as bodies of knowledge. Its wonderful
having a well-trained Americanist to work with.
Most recently, Auslander was co-coordinator for a three-day workshop,
Oct. 2628, on racial violence and reconciliation titled Lifting
the Veil of Silence. It featured a mix of academics, historians
and activists who discussed lynchings and racial violence in their communities.
As an anthropologist who studies narrative and storytelling, the subject
matter, while quite difficult, immediately drew his interest. How
do you tell this story? he said. Are these stories that can
only be captured through positive narrative history? Are these stories
that can only be captured through art and poetry?
These are the sort of issues I have been very interested in.