sitemap A JMC Instructor's Reminiscence: Pam Holcomb Oestreicher

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Group Memory


A JMC Instructor's Reminiscence

Pam Holcomb Oestreicher


I was an instructor in anthropology specializing in Native Americans, 1975-77 (or was it 76-78?) I think the latter.

Attended MSU as an undergraduate from 1965 to '69; graduate student from '69 to '81, with various sojourns. I was fired from my TA-ship in history for assisting in the Kent State strike (by the prof., not by the department - was paid all semester and never had to complete my incompletes.) Thus, I am of the same generation as the first classes at JMC and witnessed/participated in most of the same events.


I came to JMC from the anthro department, having just passed my comps and struggling to find a "doable" dissertation topic on Native American ethnohistory. Thus, I was young (28 or so), naive, and idealistic. I had no idea that JMC was in trouble when I took the job, but the problems quickly became apparent. Nevertheless, the teaching I did there really set the pattern for everything I did in any later courses I managed to produce. Where else could I have team-taught a course with drama instructor Sears Eldridge on ritual drama viewed cross-culturally? We even produced a North West Coast Potlatch, complete with competitive gift giving and insults (an unfortunate aspect of potlatch which was seized on by some students with painful results, especially for Sears. I don't think he ever forgave me).

I taught a course in which students explored culture through re-creating artifacts using "original" methods; they had to choose a tribe, research its culture and life prior to or at the time of white contact, and then make something to represent that culture using techniques and materials as close to "period" as reasonably possible. I still have beadwork, a carved beaver bowl, and a wood-cut print made by some of the students. I taught a course on native american biography and autobiography, exploring themes of culture change which later formed the core of my own dissertation. Only there could I be freed of surveys, standard intro to anthro courses, and permitted to invent creative ways to involve students in the important themes of culture and history.

During the two years I was there, the atmosphere was dispirited, as it was clear that the college's days were numbered. I was by no means the only one let go in that period - there was a revolving door of temporary adjunct faculty as the administration had long since stopped permitting hiring full-time, tenurable core faculty. (a sign of the times, which has continued in academia at large for 30 years; at many universities, most teaching is done by teaching assistants, part-time adjuncts and/or by untenurable full-time lecturers. Tenure is reserved for the relatively few high status research positions, most of whom teach far less than their junior colleagues.) By the time I left, there was only one year left. We were all caught up in the emotional, fraught atmosphere and while I don't remember much about details anymore, I do remember the pain.

Even then, though, the (few) students were great: open to weirdness, eager to try anything, intellectually engaged. What a great group to learn teaching from!

Pam Holcomb Oestreicher
Pittsburgh PA
April 2002