Snapshot: Rick Feinberg (Czech Republic, 2018/19)

Apr 07, 2020
Rick Feinberg with student assistant Ester Topolářová overlooking Brno
. Rick Feinberg with student assistant Ester Topolářová overlooking Brno, the Czech Republic’s second largest city. (Photo by Rick’s wife, Nancy Grim.)

Thanks to my Fulbright award, I learned about a part of the world that I had not known well, gained insight into Czech higher education, developed an ongoing relationship with new colleagues and students, and helped my grandson celebrate his eighth birthday


My involvement with the Czech Republic’s Fulbright Program was a consequence of serendipity and multiple complex connections. For close to a decade, my son and his wife have lived in Prague. Through them, I came to know a Czech anthropologist who, like me, conducts research in the southwestern Pacific. One thing led to another, and I applied for a Fulbright award to spend spring semester of last year at Palacký University Olomouc. Thanks to that award, I learned about a part of the world that I had not known well, gained insight into Czech higher education, developed an ongoing relationship with new colleagues and students, and helped my grandson celebrate his eighth birthday.

Luckily for me, my Palacký colleagues assigned Ester Topolářová to be my student assistant. Ester had studied at Colby College in the US for four years and spent another year working for the American trade union, UNITE HERE! Thus, she understood where I was coming from, literally as well as figuratively. In addition, she proved one of the most thoughtful, socially conscious, hard-working, and well organized people I have known. She helped settled me in Olomouc, solved myriad logistical problems, and even arranged trips for my family and me to Ostrava, Brno, and the scenic caves of Moravský kras.

Rick’s grandson, Konrad, shaking hands with friends at the celebration of his eighth birthday
Rick’s grandson, Konrad, shaking hands with friends at the celebration of his eighth birthday. The local custom is for the birthday boy’s friends, when distributing presents, to line up and, one by one, shake hands to wish him a rewarding year. (Photo by Rick Feinberg.)

Other key figures included Pavlína Flajšarová, Vice-Dean for International Relations, who welcomed me to Palacký university; my landlord and friend Vladimír Polách; and my departmental colleague, Jakub Havlíček, who unraveled countless administrative and technological quandaries. I remain in contact with Palacký’s anthropology program and hope to return for future teaching engagements. Vice-dean Flajšarová also introduced me to US expatriate David Livingstone, who was teaching a course on American folk music, an area of special interest to me, and he invited me to help lead several classes. Martin Soukup connected me to the EU-funded Sinofon Borderlands Project, involving scholars studying Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region, and I remain an active participant in that project.

Among the most rewarding outcomes of my time at Palacký has been a lasting connection to several graduate students. Besides Ester, one who particularly stands out is Lucie Sehnálková. Lucie is studying reflexive anthropology and the work of Raymond Firth, the anthropologist who, in the early 1970s, introduced me to Anuta Island, my most enduring research site.

Thanks largely to my son, Joe Grim Feinberg, I got to know key people in the Czech Academy of Sciences’ Ethnology Institute, and I now have an article under review for the Institute’s flagship journal, Český lid. Joe also connected me to the Slovak Academy of Sciences, leading to participation in a conference and a paper currently under review by an American journal.

Other Fulbright scholars also helped make my stay in the ČR memorable. Angela Falter Thomas and her husband, Shayne, befriended me in Olomouc and joined me in exploring the area by bike. Legal scholar Michael Schlesinger and his wife, Rhoda, became my good friends, as did Lee Bidgood, a leading authority on Czech bluegrass music. In addition, Members of Prague’s Fulbright Commission stand out for their organizational skills and ceaseless efforts to make my experience smooth and enjoyable. I am especially indebted to Program Officer Kateřina Kloubová and Executive Director Hana Ripková.

Anthropology developed as an academic discipline primarily in the United States and England. Consequently, British and American scholars typically studied “The Other.” By the late Twentieth Century, critics drew increasing attention to that discrepancy, and among the discipline’s contemporary challenges is to forge a genuinely global collaboration. My involvement with Palacký anthropology is one step toward such collaboration. 


Richard (Rick) Feinberg is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Kent State University. He grew up in Queens, NY, studied at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Chicago, and joined the Kent State Faculty in 1974. He has conducted research with Native Americans and with Polynesians in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. He has chaired Kent’s Faculty Senate as well as the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania (ASAO), and served as president of the Central States Anthropological Society. From 2016-19, he was Section Assembly Convener and Executive Board member of the American Anthropological Association. Feinberg has published over a dozen books and special issues of journals and approximately 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. In 2016, he was elected ASAO “Honorary Fellow” and, in 2019, was Fulbright Distinguished Chair of Anthropology at Palacký University Olomouc in the Czech Republic.


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