Anthropology at Work

Evan Towle '97, Librarian and Seminary Student

Major: Anthropology

Minors: English and Archeological Field School at UMass Amherst

Advanced Degrees: MLIS, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Simmons University; MDIV, Master of Divinity, Meadville Lombard Theological School

Employer: Philadelphia Museum of Art

In the years since I graduated Mount Holyoke I've worked primarily as a librarian and primarily at a large art museum. Not many people know that museums have libraries, but any museum of any size will have one to support research on its own collection.

Anthropology teaches us that no participant in a story can tell what is true, and a librarian will echo this in different terms.

In the case of art, the story is told around a timeless and imaginary table. At the table sits the artist. Along with the artist sits the gallerist and the dealer, the patron and the collector, the art critic and the museum curator, the conservator and the auction house. Together over time, distance, and language, they create and recreate both the history of the work, but also its enduring life and relevance.

I work with hospice patients as I move towards a second career in ministry. When a patient gently approaches the end of life, all his stories can come flooding out. When he can no longer speak, his family keeps telling stories: stories of service in war, stories of women picking fights in bathroom bars, stories of work and service and kindness.

The anthropologist knows that every family will make its own meaning and grieve in its own way; that every life is an infinity of interactions and relationships. To know this is true, and to know how to respect it is a great gift of the cultural training from anthropology.