News Archive 2009-2018

Profile: Clementine Fujimura ’87 (Bowdoin Magazine) Archives


Hometown: New York City

Title: Professor, Languages and Cultures Department, United States Naval Academy

Bowdoin Major: (Self-designed) Russian

Favorite Bowdoin memory: I would have to say (should I be embarrassed?) dancing at Delta Sigma. And an almost ill-fated canoe trip with the outdoor club. I had never canoed before.

Next vacation: In reality or dream? I am off to Germany this summer to visit family. My dream would be to go on a horseback riding tour with my husband and boys, however, I doubt they would go for that.

Text messages you sent today: I am proud to say zero! I don’t text!

Favorite authors: I really love some of the heavyweights like Fyodor Dostoevsky, Mikhail Bulgakov, Mikhail Zoshchenko, Franz Kafka”¦and the lighter ones: Barbara Kingsolver. Academics: I love Bourdieu, Geertz, and Ortner.

On my nightstand: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Peacekeaping Under Fire by Robert Rubinstein.

Gadget: My iPhone-even though I don’t text, I am addicted to e-mail.

Russia: I actually lived in an orphanage for a summer and spent a year working with a shelter for street children in Moscow. I was interested in the stories both adults and children had to tell of their relationships with each other, different perspectives on the children and the taboos that go along with working with the children. This research led me to my most recent interest in adoptive families and changing views in the United States on the “American Family.” (I welcome any narratives from readers, by the way!)

My first trip to Russia (Leningrad, or now known as St. Petersburg) was for summer study in 1989. I went back many times over the years, one summer living in an orphanage in Moscow and finally lived there again from 1999 to 2001.

My time in Russia taught me that we really don’t know anything about a society until we have lived in it. No matter how hard you study, how much you think you know, it is not until you interact with people on a daily basis for some time that you come to truly understand them on a deeper level.

The military historically been criticized for acting out in foreign countries. This is to a large extent due to a flawed military education, one that raises our country above others in the minds of our soldiers, so that when abroad, they are blind to the validity and beauty of other world views. That is what I love about cultural anthropology: it forces you to out of your comfort zone with amazing results. I guess my time in Russia than has made me push the study of anthropology for future military officers as one of the best fields of study to prepare them for their work abroad.

Anthropology is always relevant.

Generally, what motivated you to pursue a career in academia?
I have always been intrigued by foreign societies, having spent my childhood in various countries in Europe and the United States. However, experience was not enough. I wanted to learn more and to teach about culture, both the theory of culture and the people with whom I worked. I feel that now, as a teacher, I am constantly learning from my students and interactions with peers. Academia is the most satisfying area for me to be.

How can our society better take advantage of anthropology’s lessons, especially during difficult times?
One of the greatest lessons of anthropology is never to assume you know enough about other people and never for one minute doubt the complexities and integrity of all cultures. We need to continuously work on questioning the stereotypes and we hold and avoid marginalizing others. My work with Russian orphans has made this a goal in my work

Anthropology is always relevant. Warfare is changing as we deal with counter insurgencies, terrorism and less traditional forms of warfare, not to mention warfare’s future in cyberspace. Knowledge of human behavior, cultural development, intercultural communication, and cultural competence are increasingly important in these theatres. However, anthropology is equally important in peacetime: to preserve peace would, after all, be the best result.

At Bowdoin, Clementine Fujimura ’87 designed her own major (Russian). Now, as a professor at the United States Naval Academy, she’s helped shape her own academic department. Fujimura teaches in the Academy’s Department of Languages and Cultures, in which she has gradually promoted the role of cultural anthropology in the Academy’s curriculum.

An interest in culture studies developed following 9/11, and Clementine was tasked with making the subject matter “sound practical” for future military officers. (She first taught an anthropology course in 1994, “but had to hide that that was what it was, as the military was not predisposed to anthropology at the time. Psychology was more acceptable.”) Today, though, the lessons of her field are more applicable than ever before to the world her students enter after graduation; consequently, students have met the new anthropology offerings “with open arms.” What began as an experimental course offering (“Introduction to Cultural Anthropology for Military Application”) is now an official course in the Academy’s curriculum, and Clementine has succeeded at changing the department’s name; what had been the Language Studies Department is now the Department of Languages and Cultures. “The name change was extremely important to me,” she says. “We do not simply teach the technical aspects, but we teach about the people who use the language, their world views and their traditions and so much more.”

After living in Russia for three years, Clementine gained insight into the value of immersing oneself in a society in order to truly understand its culture, a value she aims to instill in her students. “My time in Russia has made me push the study of anthropology for future military officers as one of the best fields of study to prepare them for their work abroad,” Clementine says. While in Russia, Clementine studied the struggles of Russian orphans and the cultural factors that lead to marginalization of certain children. This work culminated in her second book, Russia’s Abandoned Children: An Intimate Understanding. “No matter how hard you study, how much you think you know, it is not until you interact with people on a daily basis for some time that you come to truly understand them.”

Clementine is focusing her current research on the engagement by anthropologists in the military and how best to teach languages and cultures in a military classroom. She is wrapping up work on a new publication and thanks her experiences at Bowdoin for her academic thirst. “Bowdoin gave me an incredible foundation and left me craving more,” she says. “I felt the sky was the limit.”