Photo of Professor Harry G West

Professor Harry G West

Biography

Born in the United States, I was raised in a small town with a large university in the Appalachian Mountains in central Pennsylvania. Most of the kids at my school were children of either academics or farmers (my father taught engineering at Penn State University, and my mother taught English as a Second Language in our university community); I would eventually become an academic who conducted research with farmers. For my Bachelor’s degree I went to the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, where I studied Political and Social Thought (with a one-year hiatus doing the General Course in International Relations at the London School of Economics). After short stints in New York (working for the monthly magazine, Africa Report) and in Paris (teaching English in the run up to the formation of the European Union), I returned to study at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, where I obtained an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology with a concentration in African Studies. I began fieldwork during the last years of the civil war in Mozambique as a research assistant on a project run by the University of Wisconsin’s Land Tenure Centre, studying what had become of socialist-era state farms during the war and offering recommendations on how to protect the interests of peasant farmers in the post-war, post-socialist era. I continued working in and on Mozambique for 16 years, conducting fieldwork for my doctoral thesis on the relationship between the state and “traditional authorities” in the northern Mozambican Mueda plateau region, and subsequently focusing research on the place of sorcery in conceptions of power in Mueda. During this time, I held research and teaching posts at Sweet Briar College in central Virginia (1997-1998), at the London School of Economics (1998-2000), and at the New School for Social Research in New York (2000-2003). Soon after taking a post at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (which I held from 2003-2016), I began a new research project, focusing on artisan foods and their place within the cultural economy. Between 2005 and 2011, I conducted research with artisan cheese makers and cheese mongers in 13 countries, mostly in Europe, but also in Turkey, Canada and the United States. While at SOAS, I co-founded and directed the SOAS Food Studies Centre, and convened an MA in the Anthropology of Food with colleagues Johan Pottier, Jakob Klein, and Elizabeth Hull. I moved to Devon in 2016, taking up a post in the Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology at the University of Exeter. I continue to work on food and cultural heritage, while also studying food and memory.