Few academics, let alone anthropologists, are as well-known today as Jane Goodall.
Perhaps only Margaret Mead surpasses her in the public conceptions of what anthropologists do. Introduced to America via National Geographic and Time Magazine, Goodall’s pioneering research turned long-standing assumptions about chimpanzees on their heads and propelled her onto the world stage.
Goodall spoke at Barnhill Arena Friday night (Oct. 5) as part of the 10th anniversary of the University of Arkansas’ Honors College. She joins a wide range of diverse speakers in the Distinguished Lecture Series including the Dalai Lama and former President George W. Bush.
She began her talk with a “distant call” that chimpanzees use to maintain social relations. Goodall seems to have an approach in all things of meeting people, or chimpanzees for that matter, where they are. She proceeded to visit intimately with the large crowd for 75 minutes without notes and without missing a beat, pulling the audience into her life story and mission.
While Goodall has lived her life’s dream, she conceded it was not as linear as it looks in retrospect. A key feature throughout was the nurturance she received from her family, especially her mother. Her propensity toward working with animals emerged at a young age; she took earth worms to bed with her at 18 months, lay in wait to watch hens lay eggs at 4, and read Dr. Doolittle for the first time at eight which set her to thinking about going to Africa. Then she read Tarzan of the Apes and fell in love.
“And what did Tarzan do? He married the wrong Jane,” she quipped.
Goodall’s career path was rather unconventional. She traveled to the field with no degree, saw things that others said did not exist, and earned a doctorate from Cambridge only after doing what Ph.D.’s do already. Her advice for young college age students today includes pursuing some course work and taking some time off, a “gap year,” to get some distance and not “get tied into a specific future until your heart gets involved.”
Repeatedly Goodall hit on striking a balance between the head and heart. When asked about involving the emotions while working with animals, she quickly responded: “It is a fallacy to think one can be coldly objective. It is dangerous to divorce the head from the heart.”
Goodall modeled this balance of head and heart in her direct confrontation of the current state of affairs. Despite all the ills in the world- deforestation, climate change, unclean water, unsustainable lifestyles, etc., she remains hopeful for four reasons: the hope of the next generation, the human ability to think our way out of problems, the resiliency of nature to recover from abuse, and the indomitable human spirit.
Early in her career, which began more than 50 years ago, she documented and surprised the world with news that just like humans, chimpanzees made tools and ate meat. The former revelation shattered previous human-centric assumptions that we alone held the capacity for such abstract thought and manipulation of the material world. These revelations by Goodall not only brought anthropology to the fore of popular discourse but also humbled humanity with her observations that chimpanzees are not so radically different from us.
In addition to being an accomplished researcher and author, Goodall has worked to take her message to the world. In 1977 she founded the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, which works to educate the public and preserve the habitat of chimpanzees.
In 1991 she was involved in the establishment of Roots and Shoots in Hong Kong. Kofi Annan named Goodall a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2002, and in 2003 Prince Charles christened her a Dame of the British Empire.
Goodall has also been awarded numerous honorary doctorates. These are but a few of the superlative accolades that Jane Goodall has received in recognition of her humanitarian efforts.