Christine Shearer Wilson

Overview


Dr. Christine Shearer Wilson (1919-2005) is considered one of the founders of the field of nutritional anthropology, an area of study that examines issues related to food such as production, acquisition and consumption. Humans must, of course, eat to live—there are biological requirements that must be met in order for us to function. But what humans eat is also highly structured by our physical, social, and cultural environments. Because of this, nutritional anthropology draws from theoretical foundations in cultural anthropology as well as biological anthropology and nutritional sciences to understand what humans eat and what they eat it.

Wilson is among the ranks of pioneers such as Audrey Richards and Margaret Mead, who are also considered important early scholars in the field of nutritional anthropology. One important distinction is that Dr. Wilson was one of the earliest scholars formally trained in both nutritional and social sciences with coursework in biochemistry, nutrition, epidemiology, and anthropology. She has been described as a major force in establishing the interdisciplinary field of nutritional anthropology as an independent science[1] . A prolific scholar, Wilson contributed to the field by forming interest groups, panels and presentations, serving as an editor on a number of journals, widely disseminating information about the methods and uses of nutritional anthropology to a wide variety of other fields, and teaching students for over 25 years.

Research and Work


Influences and Context


Christine Wilson was said to have been influenced by the work of Audrey Richards (an anthropologist) and Elsie Widdowsen (a nutrition scientist) who published research together (Richards and Widdowsen, 1936)[2] . Considering Wilson’s academic multidisciplinarity and role in the emergence of nutritional anthropology, one colleague noted that:

While Audrey Richards is considered by most in our field to be the “founder” of nutritional anthropology, to my knowledge Richards had no formal training in nutrition science. What she learned about nutrition science was through “social/professional osmosis,” and the good counsel and friendship through the years with Elsie Widdowsen.”…While today we accept Audrey Richards as the founder of nutritional anthropology (in a global context), Christine Wilson was also a pioneer, the first “cross-over” with formal academic training in both anthropology and nutrition. Can we not then agree that Christine deserved to be known and recognized as the founder of nutritional anthropology in North America? Many friends and colleagues have laid claim to the title of nutritional anthropologist. The reality is, however, that most of our colleagues are anthropologists with little to no academic training in nutrition, or conversely, nutritionists with little to no academic training in anthropology or another complementary social science[3] .
Another colleague sought to put Wilson’s contributions into context through a brief review of early food-related anthropological fieldwork. Pollack (2007) wrote that early anthropological research that examined food focused on the production of it, or its role as an economic good, almost to the exclusion of consumption. One example is Bronislaw Malinowski’s research with the Trobriand Islanders, where he learned that yams and yam gardens were sources of wealth and respect for men[4] . Another example is the work of Raymond Firth, who studied the intensive horticultural practices of the Maori and Tikopia[5] . However, a shift towards recognition of the importance of consumption emerged with Audrey Richards’ book, Land, Labour, and Diet in Northern Rhodesia: An Economic study of the Bemba tribe (1939) which highlights the everyday meanings of food during seasons of plenty and scarcity[6] . In the introduction to her thesis, Audrey Richards wrote that, “Nutrition as a biological process is more fundamental than sex” (1932: 1); Wilson certainly recognized this but also offered equal emphasis on the sociocultural importance of food.

Early Contributions to the Field


It is widely recognized that the collection of accurate food intake data is a difficult endeavor, even more so when children are involved. Children take meals in the home, but they also travel to and from school and other homes, sometimes snacking or eating meals in these other places. In her dissertation, Wilson developed an innovative method -- child following -- to collect information about the consumption of children[7] [8] . This method, which involves following children during their waking hours recording everything they consume, yielded much more accurate data than standard techniques of asking parents to relate the food intake of children. Using this mode of data collection also contributed to the emerging idea that reported behaviors or consumption can differ widely from actual behaviors[9] .

A student of Wilson’s, Leslie Sue Lieberman, wrote that Wilson published “two highly praised and very useful annotated compilations of the literature”[10] : Food Habits: A Selected Annotated Bibliography (Wilson 1973a) and Food-Custom and Nurture. A Selected Annotated Bibliography on Sociocultural and Biocultural Aspects of Nutrition (Wilson 1979). Messer (2007) notes that Wilson drew from Margaret Mead’s food habits research (1964). Assembled well before the use of online, internet searches, Wilson relied on libraries and colleagues in the San Francisco area to compile research primarily published in English from 1928-1972.

Scholarship and Service

During her long career, Wilson published on a wide array of topics, from food beliefs[11] and taboos[12] , food and health and illness[13] , medicinal uses of food[14] , nutrition and aging[15] [16] , and changing food consumption patterns and body images[17] . Her research was published in a wide array of journals, including the Journal of Nutrition Education (now the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior ), the Journal of Tropical Pediatrics and Environmental Child Health, Ecology of Food and Nutrition , Nutrition Today and the Journal of Ethnobotany among many others. In addition, Dr. Wilson regularly contributed to the discipline of nutritional anthropology through her writings about research methods[18] [19] as well as the contributions nutritional anthropology could make to anthropology and other areas of study. In her later years, she also presented several papers about the history of nutritional anthropology[20] .

Wilson, often called the mother of nutritional anthropology, is recognized for her early work consolidating the field, drawing together scholars and professionals interested in food. She engaged with scholars from many different disciplines, exposing people in other fields to anthropological perspectives[21] . She contributed significantly to the field with annotated bibliographies of research on food and culture and chapters on methods of nutritional anthropology, including the child following method. Though Wilson wrote widely in field and served on numerous committees and editorial boards, she is remembered not so much for any particular act or seminal article, but rather, for her tireless work promoting the integration of behavioral and nutritional sciences to develop the field of nutritional anthropology.

Biography


Christine Wilson (February 1919-May 31, 2005) was born in Orleans, MA[22] . Despite being characterized as a “bright” child, Wilson noted that she (like most girls) was not encouraged to pursue a college education[23] . Instead, she went to secretarial school where she acquired skills such as shorthand; during an archival interview for the Smithsonian Institute, she remarked that this skill was “useful for college work and fields studies”[24] [25] .

After working for a time, Wilson eventually attended Brown University, graduating with a degree in biology. She then worked as a research assistant at the Harvard School of Public Health in the Department of Nutrition (1951-1956), and later became assistant editor of Nutrition Reviews[26] . She left Harvard, and worked as a nutritional analyst for the Department of Agriculture, where she served as publications editor and technical writer with the US Public Health Service (1959-1966)[27] [28] . In a keynote article, Wilson (2002:64) wrote that at the time, she sensed that “something was lacking, so I asked impertinent questions” about the use of information produced in nutrition reports; the response that “that’s not our problem” prompted her to recommend the inclusion of social scientists on future teams[29] . She credited her participation in surveys with multiple countries (though from the US) as impetus for pursing a degree in social sciences[30] .

A fellow editor at Nutrition Reviews encouraged her to apply to the graduate program at University of California Berkeley (UCB); she received a US Public Health fellowship (National Institute of General Medical Sciences Special Research Fellowship) to be trained to “become a bridge between biological and behavioral sciences, specifically nutrition and anthropology” (Wilson 2002:64). Wilson went on to write that she “became one of a group of graduate students pursuing different but equally challenging new roles. This experience changed my life, for I immediately felt at home in anthropology” (Wilson 2002:64), and took coursework with George Foster, Laura Nadar, and Sherwood Washburn. She conducted her dissertation work in Malaysia, through the Department of International Health, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), which had an ongoing program in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, funded by the NIH Institute of Geographic Medicine[31] [32] .

In the 1970s, Wilson joined a group of other scholars as they began to build a synthesis between two dissimilar fields, the science of nutrition and the social science of anthropology[33] . She worked with scholars to develop field methods and techniques for use in comparisons studies in Kenya, Mexico and Egypt[34] . Dr. Wilson also acted as a driving force in formation of WCNA: the West Coast Nutritional Anthropologists (later WCNNA: West Coast Network of Nutritional Anthropologists)[35] . The first meetings of the group took place in Christine Wilson’s home in 1963, where about a dozen people in the San Francisco Bay Area interested in nutritional anthropology met to talk about their common interests, and discussed the creation of an informal newsletter for themselves and other interested nutritionists, anthropologists, and health professionals. This group would serve as the core of a new special interest group of the Society for Medical Anthropology[36] .

During the course of her career, she taught at courses at University of California, San Francisco, the University of Guelph, University of Delaware, San Francisco State University, St. George's University in Grenada, the University of Delaware, and elsewhere for nearly 25 years (1971-1995)[37] [38] . Wilson served as an editor for Nutrition Reviews; she also devoted more than 25 years to service to the journal, Ecology of Food and Nutrition, where she served as editorial board member (1970s-1980s), co-editor (1991-1999) and then editor emerita (2000)[39] [40] .

Christine Shearer Wilson died of a stroke on May 31, 2005 at her brother's home in Annapolis[41] . After her death, colleagues assembled a 2-part tribute issue of the Ecology of Food and Nutrition Journal, (part 1 part 2 ). A collection of her personal papers is housed in the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions[42] . The collection, which is still being cataloged, is said to contain[43] :
  • Notes from her graduate school classes, including those from her Medical Anthropology course taught by George Foster
  • Journals with decades of daily entries, recording personal and professional activities
  • Manuscripts, with marginal notes regarding edits and rewrites
  • Papers, field notes, and thousands of slides and photographs from her work in Malaysia
  • Personal and professional correspondence (she kept copies of every letter she sent and received) including rejection letters from publications submitted for review

Those who wish to examine her papers should request permission from the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions[44] .

Major Publications



Online Resources



Further Reading


  • Wilson, Christine S. (1973a). Food Habits: A Selected Annotated Bibliography. Journal of Nutrition Education 5(1):41-71. [A seminal work in the field of nutritional anthropology] http://www.worldcat.org/title/food-habits-a-selected-annotated-bibliography/oclc/21931216
  • Wilson, Christine and Knox, Sharron. (1973b). Methods and Kinds of Nutrition Education (1961-72): A Selected Annotated Bibliography. Journal of Nutrition Education 5(1) Suppl 2:77-107. [listing of articles in US periodicals in relating to the needs for and scope of nutrition education]
  • Wilson, Christine S. (1976a). Research methods in nutritional anthropology. In T.K. Fitzgerald (Ed.), Nutrition and Anthropology in Action. van Gorcum Pub., Assen, Netherlands, pp. 62-68.
  • Wilson, Christine S. (1976b). Nutrition in two cultures Mexican American and Malay ways with food. In M.L. Arnott (Ed.), Gastronomy: The Anthropology of Food and Food Habits. Mouton, The Hague, section 2, pp. 131-144.
  • Wilson, Christine S. (1978a). Developing methods in nutritional anthropology. In E.E. Bauwens (Ed.), The Anthropology of Health. C.V. Mosby, St. Louis, chapter 15, pp. 141-148.
  • Wilson, Christine S. (1978b). Contributions of nutrition science to anthropological research. Federation Proceedings 37:73-76.
  • Wilson, Christine S. (1979). Food—Custom and Nurture. A selected annotated bibliography on socio-cultural and biocultural aspects of nutrition. J. Nutr. Ed., 11, Suppl. 1.
  • Wilson, Christine S. (1989). Nutrition and anthropology: the development of a research tradition. Proceedings of the 14th International Congress of Nutrition, Volume 1, Seoul, Korea, pp 711-713.
  • Wilson, Christine S. and J.W. Bennett. (1996). Food habits: A productive concept for the 40's and beyond. Presented at the 1996 American Anthropological Association Meeting, San Francisco.

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References



  1. ^ Grivetti, Louis. (2007). Christine Wilson and the West Coast Nutritional Anthropologists, 1978-1989. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 46(3):169-184
  2. ^ Grivetti, Louis. (2007). Christine Wilson and the West Coast Nutritional Anthropologists, 1978-1989. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 46(3):169-184
  3. ^ Grivetti, Louis. (2007). Christine Wilson and the West Coast Nutritional Anthropologists, 1978-1989. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 46(3):169-184
  4. ^ Malinowski, Bronislaw. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, Inc., 1922.
  5. ^ Pollock, Nancy J. (2007). Nutrition and Anthropology: Cooperation and Convergences – Pacific Examples. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 46(3):245-261.
  6. ^ Pollock, Nancy J. (2007). Nutrition and Anthropology: Cooperation and Convergences – Pacific Examples. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 46(3):245-261.
  7. ^ Wilson, Christine S. (1970). Food Beliefs and Practices of Malay Fishermen: An Ethnographic Study of Diet on the East Coast of Malaya. Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of California, Berkeley.
  8. ^ Wilson, Christine S. (1974). Child following: A technique for learning food and nutrition intakes. Journal of Tropical Pediatrics and Environmental Child Health 20:9-14. http://tropej.oxfordjournals.org/content/20/1/9.extract
  9. ^ Lieberman, Leslie S. (2001). Tribute to Christine Shearer Wilson on her assumption of the title editor Emerita of the journal Ecology of Food and Nutrition. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 40(1):1-12.
  10. ^ Lieberman, Leslie S. (2005). Obituary-Christine Shearer Wilson. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 44(4):341-342
  11. ^ Wilson, Christine S. (1971). Food beliefs and nutritional status of Malay fisherfolk. Journal of Nutrition Education 2, 96-98.
  12. ^ Wilson, Christine S. (1973). Food taboos of childbirth: The Malay example. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 2:267-374.
  13. ^ Wilson, Christine S. (1981). Food in a medical system: Prescriptions in health and illness among Malays. In A. Fenton and T.M. Owen (Eds.), Food in Perspective. John Donald, Edinburgh, pp. 391-400.
  14. ^ Wilson, Christine S. (1985). Malay medicinal uses of plants. J. Ethnobotany, 5, 123-133.
  15. ^ Wilson, Christine S. (1987). Nutrition and aging considered crossculturally. In H. Strange and M. Teitelbaum (Eds.), Aging and Cultural Diversity. Bergin and Garvey, South Hadley, MA, chapter 4, pp. 88-97.
  16. ^ Wilson, Christine S. (1992). Dietary patterns of rural elderly females in Malaysia. Ecol. Food Nutrition 27:157.
  17. ^ Wilson, Christine S. (1995). Changing food consumption and body images among Malays. In I. de Garine and NJ. Pollock (Eds.), Social Aspects of Obesity. Gordon and Breach, New York, pp. 213-225.
  18. ^ Wilson, Christine S. (1976). Research methods in nutritional anthropology. In T.K. Fitzgerald (Ed.), Nutrition and Anthropology in Action. van Gorcum Pub., Assen, Netherlands, pp. 62-68.
  19. ^ Wilson, Christine S. (1978). Developing methods in nutritional anthropology. In E.E. Bauwens (Ed.), The Anthropology of Health. C.V. Mosby, St. Louis, chapter 15, pp. 141-148.
  20. ^ Lieberman, Leslie S. (2005). Obituary-Christine Shearer Wilson. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 44(4):341-342.
  21. ^ Lieberman, Leslie S. (2001). Tribute to Christine Shearer Wilson on her assumption of the title editor Emerita of the journal Ecology of Food and Nutrition. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 40(1):1-12.
  22. ^ Lamb, Yvonne S. (2005). Obituary: Dr. Christine Wilson, Scholar in Nutritional Anthropology. Boston Globe, June 14. http://www.boston.com/news/globe/obituaries/articles/2005/06/14/dr_christine_wilson_scholar_in_nutritional_anthropology/
  23. ^ Pollock, Nancy J. (2007). Nutrition and Anthropology: Cooperation and Convergences – Pacific Examples. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 46(3): 245-261.
  24. ^ Lamb, Yvonne S. (2005). Obituary: Dr. Christine Wilson, Scholar in Nutritional Anthropology. Boston Globe, June 14.
  25. ^ Lieberman, Leslie S. (2001). Tribute to Christine Shearer Wilson on her assumption of the title editor Emerita of the journal Ecology of Food and Nutrition. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 40(1):1-12.
  26. ^ Lamb, Yvonne S. (2005). Obituary: Dr. Christine Wilson, Scholar in Nutritional Anthropology. Boston Globe, June 14.
  27. ^ Lamb, Yvonne S. (2005). Obituary: Dr. Christine Wilson, Scholar in Nutritional Anthropology. Boston Globe, June 14.
  28. ^ Lieberman, Leslie S. (2005). Obituary-Christine Shearer Wilson. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 44(4):341-342.
  29. ^ Wilson, Christine S. (2002). Reasons for eating: personal experiences in nutrition and anthropology. Appetite 38(1):63-67.
  30. ^ Wilson, Christine S. (2002). Reasons for eating: personal experiences in nutrition and anthropology. Appetite 38(1):63-67.
  31. ^ Wilson, Christine S. (2002). Reasons for eating: personal experiences in nutrition and anthropology. Appetite 38(1):63-67.
  32. ^ Lieberman, Leslie S. (2005). Obituary-Christine Shearer Wilson. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 44(4):341-342.
  33. ^ Lamb, Yvonne S. (2005). Obituary: Dr. Christine Wilson, Scholar in Nutritional Anthropology. Boston Globe, June 14.
  34. ^ Lieberman, Leslie S. (2005). Obituary-Christine Shearer Wilson. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 44(4):341-342.
  35. ^ Grivetti, Louis. (2007). Christine Wilson and the West Coast Nutritional Anthropologists, 1978-1989. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 46(3):169-184.
  36. ^ Judkins, R., & Lieberman, L. (1974). Biomedicine and Nutrition. Medical Anthropology Newsletter 6(1):14-17.
  37. ^ Lamb, Yvonne S. (2005). Obituary: Dr. Christine Wilson, Scholar in Nutritional Anthropology. Boston Globe, June 14.
  38. ^ Lieberman, Leslie S. (2005). Obituary-Christine Shearer Wilson. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 44(4):341-342.
  39. ^ Lieberman, Leslie S. (2005). Obituary-Christine Shearer Wilson. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 44(4):341-342.
  40. ^ Messer, Ellen. (2007). Cultural Factors in Food Habits: Reflections in Memory of Christine S. Wilson. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 46(3):185-204.
  41. ^ Chaiken, Miriam S., Brenton, Barrett P. and Lieberman, Leslie S. (2007). Introduction. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 46( 5):339-343.
  42. ^ Personal Papers Collections: Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of The John Hopkins Medical Institutions. http://www.medicalarchives.jhmi.edu/papercollections.html
  43. ^ Chaiken, Miriam S., Brenton, Barrett P. and Lieberman, Leslie S. (2007). Introduction. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 46(5):339-343
  44. ^ Personal Papers Collections: Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of The John Hopkins Medical Institutions. http://www.medicalarchives.jhmi.edu/papercollections.html