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Humans celebrate many things—from rites of passage to religious events to groundhogs. One of the most intriguing, anthropologically speaking, is Halloween. Unlike other celebrations, this one features hordes of kids (and sometimes adults) dressed in costumes that some will find offensive. These include Native American princesses, hula dancers, and sheiks—some inspired by Disney movies targeted at children. Annually it prompts debate and anger from those who hate to see their culture turned into a stereotype.

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At some point during the last quarter century I wandered away from doing ethnographic fieldwork and pursued archival and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) anthropological research. There were no clear reasons for the shift. I suppose that in hindsight this change of focus appears linked with being a new professor, with then young children who could not easily return to Middle East field research, while stumbling upon a broad research project I could undertake largely by mail. With time, I came to see FOIA as an intellectual movable feast, slowly bringing fragments of a rich secret archive to my home via the US postal service. I was already working on projects linked to the history of anthropology so this was an easy and natural shift or expansion of my work.

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What makes the human foot unique?

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