Sandy Ott: "I admire the Basques for their pride and solid culture"

1999-05-28

VELEZ DE MENDIZABAL AZKARRAGA, Josemari

Elkarrizketa Sandy Ott, anthropologist "I admire the Basques for their pride and solid culture" * English translation Josemari Velez de Mendizabal Sandy Ott was born quite far away from the Basque Country, in the United States, and she first heard of the Basque Country through her former husband. As soon as her interest for the Basques arose in 1976, she decided to go to Iparralde, to Santa Engrazi, to carry out some anthropologic research. She did not only get to know the culture of the land, but she was also able to learn Basque from Soule. She now works in Oxford University, but she still retains her interest for Basque culture and she intends to come to the Basque Country as soon as possible. . When did you start your anthropological researches? I first became interested in the Basque people and culture as I was finishing my B.Litt. at Oxford. I had done fieldwork in Ireland and wished to remain in Europe for my D.Phil. research; but I did not want to go to Italy, Greece or Spain, where so many social anthropologists had already been. I owe a debt of gratitude to my ex husband, Peter Riviere, for having suggested the Basques to me. I admired Bill Douglass's work and contacted him at Reno. I also contacted Professor Julian Pitt Rivers, then head of the anthropology department at the London School of Economics. He had a long standing interest in the Basque Country. Bill suggested I do fieldwork in the Iparralde and I went there in July 1976. At his suggestion I went to see Eugene Goyheneche, who himself recommended Santazi to me as an interesting Basque speaking community. I went there with him to see the Santa Graziko pastoral that summer. Why did you start to study the Basques? I was drawn to study the Basques because of their status as "the mystery people of Europe" who spoke a difficult and unusual language and had interesting customs. How did you arrive to Santa Grazi? In my doctoral thesis and subsequent publications I tried to provide an analysis of a Basquecommunity unlike others that had been published and which sought to identify the primary organising notions and social institutions underpinning Santagrazi society. In 1976 I studied a community that had undergone significant change but which was to change even more in the 1980s. My book captures the society as it was then. When you are with "your Zuberoan family", do you speak Basque to them? My first impressions of Santagrazi were recorded on that hot, July day when Eugene and I drove to see the pastoral, which was set in a green field with the gorge of Ehujarre as its backdrop. A gorgeous setting. Most of the Santaztarrak attended. When I then went with Txomin Peillen to his first neighbour's house in search of a house for me to stay in, I was struck by the warmth of people and their keenness to help me. They knew I wanted to learn Euska plana, as they call their Basque, and were pleased by that interest. I found my household within three days and have been in touch ever since. What does an American scientst like you think about us? When I am in Santazi I always speak Zuberoan Basque. I make lots of mistakes, for my grammar is far from perfect; but I always make myself understood and it is rare that I cannot follow a conversation. I have, however, lost some of my vocabulary; but I am sure that by staying in the community a week or so I could recover what I have lost over the years. What would you highlight about Basque identity? For me, the Basque people are the most generous people I have ever known. I have been in many different parts of the Basque Country, for varying lengths of time; and I have without exception been made to feel welcome. I admire the Basques for their cultural pride and determination, for their industriousness and commitment. At present, what are your plans? At present I have virtually no time in which to carry out any academic work; for my duties as a senior university administrator are full time and demanding. However, Oxford Universityhas permitted me to take six months' unpaid leave from January 2000. During that period of leave I intend to finish a book that I started in the early 1980s, to enjoy the luxuries of reading and writing and participating actively in an international academic community. Will you return to the United States? I plan to be in Oxford for much of my leave but will also spend time in Euskadi and perhaps will be a visiting academic at the University of Nevada's Basque Studies Program. I have no idea what the future will bring; but I hope it will enable me to return to my academic work. How did you become an university administrator in Oxford? I became a university administrator first in Donosti as the first director of what is now USAC. I took up my present post in 1989 as head administrator in Continuing Education at the University of Oxford. Being a Visiting Basque Fellowship at Oxford, what does it mean? Three years ago we revived the Visiting Basque Fellowship at Oxford, with the help of Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. The fellowship is once again based at St Antony's College and offers scholars from the Basque Country an invaluable opportunity to spend an academic session in Oxford, writing and doing research and establishing links with academics here. The fellowship is now well established again; but we rely upon fellows to continue to contribute to the scheme after their stay here by keeping in touch with UK scholars and promoting the exchange of scholarly ideas and information between the Basque Country and Britain. I would like to see more workshops or seminars in the Basque Country organised as follow up activities to events held in Oxford. This would further strengthen ties between us. What can this Fellowship offer to science? There are numerous schemes in the United States that offer similar opportunities for visiting scholars. The success of our visiting fellowship depends upon the fellows themselves, and relies not only upon the quality of their academic work butalso on their fluency in English, their participation in academic life, both in the faculties to which their academic interests correspond and at St Antony's College, and their personal efforts to establish scholarly links between UK and Basque scholars. SANDY OTT (Corry Pennsylvania USA) Studies * BA (hons.) Pomona College, Claremont, California * Diploma in Social Antropology, B. Litt. Social Antropology, D. Phil Social Antropology, Wolfson College, University of Oxford Work Curriculum * 1980 1981: Temporary Lecturer in Ethnology, University of Oxford * 1982 1985: Temporary Lecturer in Social Antropology, Oxford Brookes University * 1983 1986: Director of the University Studies Abroad Consortium (University of Nevada and Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea), Donostia * 1986 1989: Director of the Ithaca College London Centre, UK * 1989 to present: Departmental Administrator, Continuing Education, University of Oxford Publications * 1979: Aristotle Among the Basque: The Cheese Analogy of Conception Man, Vol. 14, 699 711 * 1980: Blessed Bread, First Neighbours and Asymmetric Exchange in the Basque Country. Archives Europeennes de Sociologie, Vol. XXI, 40 58. * 1981: The Circle of Mountains. A Basque Shepherding Community. Oxford: Clarendon Press. * 1989: Mariage et remariage dans une communaute mortagnarde du Pays Basque. In JG Peristiany (de) Le prix de l'alliance en Mediterranee, 249 270 * 1992: Indarra: Some reflextions on a Basque concept. In J Pitt Rivers (de) Honor and Grace in Antropology. Cambrigde: Cambridge University Press, 193 214. * 1993: paperback, revised edition of The Circle of Mountains (Reno, University of Nevada Press) * 1993: French edition * 1994: Basque edition Fotografías: Maria Agirre Copyright © Eusko Ikaskuntza
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