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Taking GW Hoops to the Next Level | GW Names New VP for Advancement | Testing the College Waters | GW on Television | Commencement Countdown | Toast of the Town | The Changing Face of Campus Cool | Fire Brings Neighbors Together | Pharmacogenomics: Individualizing Drug Therapy | Learning the Ropes | Chalk-In Day | Cherry Blossom Princesses | Faculty Focus: When the Waters Went Down | George Welcomes | The Mexican 'Mother Culture' | At a Glance | GW in History | A Faculty for Writing

Taking GW Hoops to the Next Level

Men Bring Home First-Ever A-10 Title; Women Continue NCAA Tournament Success

Senior T.J. Thompson and junior Pops Mensa-Bonsu take on Saint Joseph’s during the A-10 championship game.

Tim Boone/A-10

The men’s team celebrates with the A-10 championship trophy.

Tim Boone/A-10

Men’s coach Karl Hobbs cuts down the net after the A-10 championship victory.

Tim Boone/A-10

Joe McKeown this year completed his 16th season as the women’s head coach.

Julie Woodford

Senior Anna Montañana was a dominant force on the women’s team this year.

Thomas Kohout

The men’s and women’s basketball teams enjoyed memorable seasons this year, as both teams participated in the NCAA Tournament and posted winning season records.

The 12th-seeded men’s basketball team held its own against 2004 NCAA Tournament finalists Georgia Tech but eventually lost to the fifth-seeded Yellow Jackets 80-68 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Following the game Coach Karl Hobbs turned to the chalkboard to illustrate the team’s accomplishments on the season.

“I wrote on the board A-10 regular season championship, A-10 Tournament championship. I wanted them to know how proud I was of them and that they were champions.” says Hobbs.

GW’s men’s team made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years by achieving a goal the team had never accomplished—winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The Colonials’ 29-year A-10 Tournament drought ended with a 76–67 victory over top-seeded Saint Joseph’s. The win avenged a tough loss at home to the Hawks, which might have nixed GW’s chances of making the tournament had they not earned the conference’s automatic bid, despite the fact that GW was also the regular season A-10 champions.

“I’m still amazed,” says senior T. J. Thompson. “In my first two years here, we were at the bottom of the league, in last place. Last year we took a step forward in the NIT. But nothing compares with the feeling when you win the A-10.”

“We’re going to be more experienced [next season], and we know what it takes to repeat as A-10 regular-season and tournament champs,” says junior Pops Mensah-Bonsu.

The bid marked GW’s eighth appearance in the NCAA Tournament and Hobbs’ first as a head coach. The 2004 District 4 Coach of the Year, Hobbs is no stranger to the competition in the field of 64. He spent eight seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Connecticut, which included its 1998–99 national championship season.

By winning the conference title and advancing to the NCAA Tournament in his fourth season as head coach, Hobbs confirmed the University’s decision to extend his contract through 2011. Over the past two seasons, Hobbs’ teams have posted a 36–18 (.667) record and he has a 60–51 (.541) since replacing Tom Penders in 2001.“

Karl Hobbs has brought respectability and a renewed spirit to the GW men’s basketball program,” says Senior Vice President Robert Chernak.

Women’s Team

The ninth-seeded Colonials women’s team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament to set up a rematch of its 1997 game against the top-seeded University of North Carolina by defeating eighth-seeded University of Mississippi in a thrilling 60–57 come-from-behind victory to start the tournament.

Down by 14 points in the second half, GW charged back into the contest with a 19–2 run, thanks in part to a clutch performance by senior Anna Montañana. Her steal, as well as a pair of free throws with nine seconds remaining, sealed the Lady Rebel’s fate. Montañana finished the game with 13 points to move past Elisa Aguilar into 13th on GW’s career scoring list with 1,328 points.

About the come-from-behind victory, Coach Joe McKeown says, “I expected it to be a good game, but I didn’t expect to be down by 14 points in the second half. We never quit, it has been that way all year.”

In the rematch of the 1997 Sweet 16 game that propelled the Colonials to GW’s highest-ever NCAA Tournament finish, GW faced a much stronger opponent. UNC had notched 14 consecutive wins, and they dominated the contest to win 71–47.

The women closed the season with a 23-9 record. “We had a great year—nobody expected us to,” McKeown said. “We lost four seniors last year. It was one of those years when you look back, you are going to say, ‘that is one of the most fun years I’ve ever had coaching,’ and I just want to thank our seniors for giving me the opportunity to coach them.”

In a fitting capstone to the season, Montañana in April signed a training camp contract with WNBA team the Connecticut Sun. She joins two 2004 GW team members with training camp contract, this coming season: Cathy Joens signed with the Washington Mystics and Ugo Oha signed with the San Antonio Silver Stars.

—Thomas Kohout

GW Names New VP for Advancement

Laurel Price Jones is GW's new Vice President for Advancement.

Thomas Kohout

In January, GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg announced the appointment of Laurel Price Jones as the new vice president for advancement, a role she officially took on in March. She leads GW’s fundraising campaigns and oversees advancement and alumni relations programs. Formerly vice president for development and alumni relations at Rochester Institute of Technology and a fundraising expert for University Hospitals of Cleveland and the Cleveland Clinic, she brings 20 years of experience to the University.

“Laurel has the tenacity and know-how to leverage GW’s reputation, alumni, and academic excellence to enhance our endowment, increase annual giving, and secure more foundation grants,” Trachtenberg says.

Jones says she was attracted to the University for several reasons. “GW is hot; everything your read shows you it’s on the move. The University has a terrific story—increasingly selective in terms of students and faculty, strong and active alumni, good leadership, and a mission. This is what you look for as a fundraiser, and I’m very pleased to be joining the GW team.”

Testing the College Waters

Top high school students can now experience authentic GW college life long before the senior prom. The GW Summer Scholars Program, an intensive, six-week residential program, enables rising high school seniors to take credit-bearing courses at GW and experience first hand what college is all about.

Launched in 2003, the program prepares students for “the realities and rigors of college,” says Georgette Edmondson-Wright, director of the program.

Students in the program take two courses for credit—a required first-year writing class designed to improve critical thinking and analytical writing skills, plus a GW class of their choice from some 25 introductory level courses. Enrichment workshops, faculty talks, site visits, and departmental presentations round out the program. Other highlights include college life seminars focusing on topics like the admissions process and the freshman experience, recreational activities, and field trips exploring educational and cultural sites in Washington.

Participants live on GW’s Mount Vernon Campus on Foxhall Road and take classes in Foggy Bottom. “GW is uniquely positioned to provide students with an exciting academic experience in the heart of the nation’s capital, along with an intimate and nurturing residential experience on the Mount Vernon Campus,” Edmondson-Wright says.

Students come to the program from across the country and around the globe. “The majority of our students come from Florida, California, and New York,” Edmonson-Wright notes. “Last summer, we had participants from Singapore and Japan, both of whom were children of GW alumni.”

For high school students desiring a shorter program, Summer Scholars offers two intensive, residential 10-Day GWorkshops on the Mount Vernon Campus in June that focus on photojournalism and criminal law. Open to ninth through eleventh graders, the noncredit mini-courses include site visits to world-renowned institutions such as the FBI, National Geographic, the Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian.

This expanding slate of offerings reflects national trends, Edmondson-Wright says. “Nationwide, the number of universities offering summer programs for high school students has exploded in recent years, and we’re bound to see continuing growth in these types of programs as students and parents begin to prepare for college earlier.”

While she emphasizes that participating in Summer Scholars has no bearing on applicants’ acceptance to GW, Edmondson-Wright notes that half of the students enrolled in the program’s 2003 inaugural class are now completing their first year at GW. As of press time, more than 80 percent of the 2004 participants had already applied to GW for the coming academic year.

“The program fosters a real community of scholars who keep in touch long after the summer ends,” Edmondson-Wright says. “Students leave with a much stronger sense of what college life and GW are all about. It’s an excellent way to get an insider’s perspective on the college experience and to get ready for the next step.”

—Jamie L. Freedman

GW On Television

Students and alumni got the chance to be in front of the camera during the spring semester as three TV programs visited campus looking for news stories, would-be moguls, and dorm rooms to renovate.

Students Produce WB Now

A crew from Inside Edition made over a residence hall room shared by three students.

Thomas Kohout

Students and alumni hoping to be the next “Apprentice” interviewed in groups with NBC casting producer Scott Salyers in February.

Julie Woodward

GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs students gained practical journalism experience working with WB affiliate WBDC-TV to air the student-produced weekly public affairs program, WB Now, which began in March. The first installment focused on helping students manage the cost of college. Other show topics include dealing with housing costs and other matters relevant to students and recent graduates. Students produce on-air packages, book show guests, report and write scripts, and serve as camera operators. Senior and program reporter Shaina Jones says the show is “a good opportunity for us to learn more about the television industry and about topics that relate to young professionals living in the District.”

The Next ‘Apprentice’

Resumes in hand, more than 130 students and alumni gathered in the Alumni House Feb. 10 for a private casting call for the reality show The Apprentice. They were interviewed in groups by NBC employees, and some traveled from as far away as California and Boston for the opportunity. The network, which held public tryouts in Washington the next day, was looking for contestants for both the original show starring Donald Trump and a spinoff series featuring Martha Stewart. “Donald Trump is big business and real estate, while Martha Stewart is more media savvy. We’re looking for a lot more public relations people for her show. Those kinds of people are now trying out, where they didn’t turn out for the original show,” says Scott Salyers, cast producer. Salyers says the turnout for GW was unexpectedly good; the network anticipated fewer than 50 hopefuls at the campus call. Results of the GW interviews and the public casting are top secret, so viewers will have to tune in this fall to see what happened.

A Dorm Transformed

Five students kicked off the new year with a new look for their residence hall rooms. On Jan. 28, a crew from Inside Edition and interior designers with Bed, Bath & Beyond transformed two spaces in Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis Hall for a “dorm room makeover” segment. Rooms were selected through a lottery. Lucky students Nicole Boye, Katie Dolence, and Sarah Jugo’s triple got the full treatment with a top-to-bottom cleaning and reorganization as well as colorful home accents. Jeremy Hall and Stephen Tychanski’s double was updated with splashes of red and organizing tools for the kitchen and bathroom. The segment aired nationwide Feb. 9.


Commencement Countdown

The commencement of the Class of 2005 will take place May 22 on the Ellipse between the South Lawn of the White House and the Washington Monument. Andy Rooney, longtime 60 Minutes correspondent, will address the students and their guests.

MIT Physicist Mildred S. Dresselhaus, Miami Herald Publisher Alberto Ibarguen, and Noted Researcher Dr. Philip K. Russell also will be honored during the ceremony.


GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg celebrates one of Washington’s biggest nights with students—GW’s Inaugural Ball.

Thomas Kohout

Toast of the Town

Some 4,000 members of the University community danced, dined, and enjoyed the entertainment Jan. 20 at the GW Inaugural Ball at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. While President Bush himself did not attend the festivities, “W” impersonator Brent Mendenhall, live bands, student performers, magicians, and a cowboy-hat-clad President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg kept the black-tie affair swinging. It was GW’s fourth inaugural ball. Trachtenberg said he was pleased the students experienced the “pageantry of this Washington tradition.”


Fire Brings Neighbors Together

Julie Woodford

Several residents of St. Mary’s Court, a subsidized housing unit for older adults located in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, were displaced in February when a fire damaged their homes. They found aid and shelter in the GW community; and though some sustained injuries, none were seriously harmed. About 50 residents regrouped at the Marvin Center during and immediately after the fire, and GW’s City Hall residence hall provided temporary housing and meals for 10 of the neighbors. Students and staff members helped residents move to safety, recorded their contact information, and kept them company.

The incident was not the first time the GW and St. Mary’s Court communities have come together. Students involved in the Office of Community Service, Residence Hall Association, and other groups enjoy spending time with residents through activities such as Bingo nights and Senior Prom—an annual evening out celebrating senior citizens with music, dinner, and dancing.

The Changing Face of Campus Cool

From Greek rush to the posters wallpapering campus during student government elections, popularity has long been part of student culture. Though not every Colonial would admit to harboring hopes of being on the homecoming court, many might agree that it’s hot to be cool. By logging on to, popularity today is not just desirable—it’s quantifiable.

In February of 2004, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg and a few of his friends created thefaceook, a cross between “a universal online database and an interactive social networking interface,” says co-founder Chris Hughes. “The idea was sort of an extension of the traditional college facebooks with terrible ID photos and boring information. After a few weeks of work and many late-night dorm room conversations, thefacebook was released at Harvard.”

Now, 335 universities including GW have thefacebook sites of their own. The overall program boasts nearly 1,600,000 members, about 10,000 of whom are GW students. While most users are students, faculty, staff, and alumni are also able to sign up—Hughes says about 3 to 8 percent of members are alumni, depending on the school. The only requirement is the user must have a University e-mail address.

“Most of my friends are active on thefacebook; I think I have about 275 friends from GW and other universities across the country,” says junior Lauren Adams. She says that the site allows her to keep in touch with the people she knows and the people who wish to know her better. While browsing through member profiles, users can “poke” one another through online notification in order to “confirm” a friendship. “The new connections that I have made are mostly just from realizing that someone is friends with someone else. In that sense, it is a very good networking tool,” Adams says. It doesn’t hurt that confirming new friendships ups the number of friends a user has—a figure prominently displayed near the top of each profile. Gaining friends—even if it’s just the guy you met in line at Wendy’s last week—can become a spectator sport.

Posting photos, listing enrolled courses, an automatic birthday reminder, displaying interests and contact information, and leaving messages on virtual “walls” are a few of the highlights of the site. Whether users are scrolling through photos to see who has cute friends or desperately searching for the phone number of classmates for last week’s English lit notes, the site can be entertaining and informative. Hughes says it is hard to describe an “average” user experience. “You never really know what a user might be doing when she or he has a browser window open on the site. But we do know that 60 percent of our users log on to the site in any given 24-hour period, and 90 percent of our users have logged on within the past month,” he says.

Because users constantly update their profiles and interests, the site changes every day to reflect everything new and fun on campus—what club sport is gaining membership and what color is the new black—a sort of mercurial yearbook.

Users can post and read notices about club meetings, happy hours, and campus events. It becomes a one-stop-shop for checking personal messages and finding out who’s doing what when.

And then, there are the cliques, user “groups” that anyone can create about just about any topic. Naturally for GW there are “Democrat” and “Republican” groups, but for those who want to tailor their political affiliations even further, there are “Republican Princesses” and “Democrats Against Hillary ’08!” There are groups for every region and sub-region of the United States as well as for several other countries. Campus news and current events also have a home on GW’s site…several groups have sprung up over the burning topic of polo shirt collars: should they be worn up—a preppy status symbol—or
down as a protest against conformity and snobbery? Whatever one’s opinion on the matter, there is a group to join: “Collars Up!” or “Anti-Popped Collars” or “I Don’t Care What You Do With Your Collars.”

Keeping track of connections and happenings through thefacebook makes a campus seem simultaneously a small world and an ever-changing social scene. But for many who have experienced student days at GW, hasn’t that always been the case?


Pharmacogenomics: Individualizing Drug Therapy

Anyone who’s ever taken prescription medication knows that one drug does not fit all. Adverse reactions hospitalize millions each year, while so-called “miracle” drugs for some yield no benefit to others. The days of matching patients with the right drugs through trial-and-error will soon be history, thanks to the revolutionary new field of pharmacogenomics—the study of how genetic variations affect the ways in which people respond to drugs. GW is leading the way in the rapidly evolving discipline, teaming up with Winchester, Va.-based Shenandoah University to offer the nation’s first undergraduate program in pharmacogenomics this fall.

Combining the expertise of GW, with its medical school and strength in the basic sciences, and Shenandoah, with its school of pharmacy, the partnership provides an academic solution to an exploding need in the marketplace. “This new program involves the unique contributions of two dynamic educational institutions and is designed to create a solution to an existing and growing challenge of creating highly skilled workers in the emerging field of pharmacogenomics,” says GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.

Falling under the umbrella of personalized medicine, pharmacogenomics is the intersection of pharmacology and genetics. The cornerstones of this fast-growing field are tailoring drug therapies to individual patients based on their genetic makeup and predicting drug responses in patients, including the possibility of life-threatening side effects, via genetic testing. Another feature of pharmacogenomics is the potential to predict and prevent impending diseases before symptoms begin through targeted drug interventions.

“Pharmacogenomics is going to revolutionize the way we practice medicine,” says Allan Goldstein, chair of GW’s department of biochemistry and molecular biology. “In the near future, we’ll all carry around a chip the size of a credit card containing our individual human genome, and when we go to the doctor’s office, they’ll plug it into a computer and then design a treatment that is right for each patient. More than 100,000 Americans die every year due to complications from medications that they take, because their genomes are a little bit different.”

GW is well versed in the pharmacogenomics field, thanks to the success of the University’s McCormick Genomics Center. Established in 2001 with a $7.2 million gift from the estate of Catharine Birch McCormick, MD ’37, the center has quickly made a name for itself. “Pharmacogenomics is a priority focus area for us,” says Tim McCaffrey, the center’s director. “I believe that in the not too distant future, many drugs will be co-prescribed with genetic tests to gauge whether individual patients can take them safely and whether they will be effective. All the technology is there, and we’re eager to start applying it.”

Students enter the GW/Shenendoah program as juniors, after completing at least 60 hours of coursework from a community college or university, and go on to earn a bachelor of science degree in health sciences with a specialization in pharmacogenomics. Based primarily at GW’s Virginia Campus, the program combines a focus on the basic sciences, taught by GW faculty, with pharmaceutical courses taught by Shenandoah faculty. The senior year curriculum doubles as the first year of Shenandoah’s Doctor of Pharmacy program, enabling students interested in completing a doctorate to graduate in seven instead of eight years. Students who choose to stop at the BS level will be well positioned to quickly land positions in the burgeoning biotechnology workforce.

Johnson anticipates an inaugural class of 25 students this fall, quickly doubling to 50 students annually in this emerging field that will soon be a $2 billion industry, she says.


Julie Woodford

Learning the Ropes

GW’s Mount Vernon Campus on Foxhall Road opened SUMMIT, a low-ropes course designed for the GW community, in April. The course gives teams of students, staff members, clubs, and class groups the opportunity to build communication, cooperation, and leadership skills through challenging activities that require teamwork. Staff and faculty members may train to become course facilitators, and students are able to take a three-credit exercise science course to develop facilitation techniques. While the ropes course is designed primarily for the GW community, it is available to outside groups on a limited basis. More information can be found at or by contacting (202) 242-6673 or

Chalk-In Day

Since April 1981 the “Chalk-In Day” at GW has been an annual tradition. For one day every year in the spring, the University closes H Street, in front of the Gelman Library, to traffic to allow students to draw and design using chalk. This design, from a previous year’s Chalk-In, is particularly appropriate this year, as the city welcomes baseball back to Washington. This season, many students can be seen on campus in caps that are missing a “G” and only carrying the script “W” of the Washington Nationals.

Thomas Kohout



Cherry Blossom Princesses

Two GW seniors, Hunter Higgison (left) and Meggie Baker, were selected as 2005 Cherry Blossom Princesses. Baker, a criminal justice major who interns at the D.C. Superior Court and plans to attend law school, represented South Carolina. Higgison, a women’s studies major and communications minor, represented the District of Columbia.

Participants toured D.C. during the National Cherry Blossom Festival, visiting dignitaries such as first lady Laura Bush and members of Congress, and spent time at local schools and national monuments and museums. The National Conference of State Societies has sponsored the competition, which encourages scholarship and civic involvement, since 1948.

When the Waters Went Down

During winter break, Associate Professor of Journalism Janet Steele taught a narrative journalism course in Jakarta while writing a book about Tempo magazine and its relationship to the politics and culture of New Order Indonesia. She arrived hoping to record the influence of the media in the region—she left learning more about the spirit of its people.

On Dec. 26, Steele was reading the newspaper and “with some kind of weird ESP, was also thinking about earthquakes,” she says. No one in Jakarta felt anything that morning; within hours stories poured in about the devastating earthquake and tsunami. “The first reports were from Thailand, where dozens of Western tourists had been killed in Phuket. But there was only an ominous silence from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, about 90 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake,” Steele says. The quake measured above 9.0 on the Richter scale and the resulting tsunami and damage killed more than 120,000 in Indonesia alone.

“I spent the first 24 hours in a kind of paralysis. By Thursday, it was clear that the scale of the disaster was unimaginable. The images on Indonesian television were heartbreaking,” she says. “Between 30 and 50 percent of the victims were children. When Tempo came out the next week, its cover photo showed the corpse of a child in a mud-smeared plastic bin. The headline read ‘S.O.S.’ ”

Steele, who speaks Indonesian and volunteered as a translator, says she was impressed by the work of Indonesian journalists, noting their instinct to serve while many of their colleagues were hurt or dead. “The television was full of prayers and tears. Jakarta’s leading station, Metro TV, has learned how to do the music, the titles, even the ‘news ticker’ from CNN, but there was no denying the appropriateness of their title, ‘Indonesia Menangis’—‘Indonesia Weeps.’ A few days after the quake, one of the on-air reporters broke down in tears.” Steele applauded the efforts of Metro TV’s owner for sending a ship full of 250 volunteers and supplies to aid in the relief efforts.

Translating was one way for Steele to combat the feeling of helplessness that permeated the region. “Several journalism organizations banded together to get stories translated and made available to an international audience. The fact that the stories written by Indonesian journalists were being translated made the Indonesian people feel that the world was noticing their plight.”

A brief cease-fire in the Aceh region of northern Sumatra in the protracted war between the Indonesian military and the Free Aceh Movement was a small source of hope in the region after the disaster. “There was a cease-fire, but it was immediately violated,” Steele says. “The tsunami did open up negotiations, but there have been no significant break-throughs. The Indonesian government’s decision to open up the region to outsiders was significant, and despite the lack of immediate progress, I think there is still a strong sense of possibility.”

At GW, Steele incorporates lessons from Indonesia into her teaching. “I try to include Indonesian perspectives on topics such as U.S. media coverage of the war in Iraq.” Steele also speaks overseas for the State Department, recently spending spring break in India discussing the role of the free press in a free society.

Next year, Steele will return to Indonesia on a second Fulbright grant, most likely teaching journalism at the Dr. Soetomo Press Institute in Jakarta. She says now that she’s finished her book, Wars Within: The Story of an Independent Magazine in Soeharto’s Indonesia (Equinox Publishing, 2005), she’s looking forward to doing more comparative work, examining the role of journalists’ professional associations in developing and sustaining freedom of expression.

She keeps in touch with her colleagues from Tempo—managing editor Karaniya Dharmasaputra is on campus on a Fulbright grant—and says she hopes her next journey to Indonesia will be under better circumstances.

“Jakarta cancelled all its New Year’s celebrations. Despite the official call for prayers and introspection, at midnight there were nevertheless the sounds of fireworks, small local displays that I could see from my balcony,” Steele says. “Maybe the human spirit refuses to give up hope, or maybe kids just like fireworks no matter what. Or perhaps it’s the same thing.”


George Welcomes...Headliners at University Events












Edward M. Liddy, MBA ’72, head of the Allstate Corporation and Allstate Insurance Company, was named CEO of the Year by the GW School of Business Alumni Association. The honor is presented annually. Liddy accepted the award and gave a keynote luncheon address in March. Former secretary of state Colin Powell, MBA ’71, attended the event.

Julie Woodford

Neil Sedaka, the singer and songwriter best known for “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” and “Calendar Girl,” performed in Lisner Auditorium at President’s Night in February. Student Jonathan Kantor, a tenor and alto saxophonist, joined Sedaka’s band for a few numbers.

Julie Woodford


Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and former secretary of state and treasury James Baker were among the witnesses who testified at President Bush’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform held at GW in March. At the event, (left) Greenspan said the U.S. tax code should be simplified in order to boost economic growth.

Ben Solomon

Michael Chertoff, the newly confirmed secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, discussed risk management and its relevance to the future of his department in an address sponsored by GW’s Homeland Security Policy Insitiute on March 16 at GW’s Media and Public Affairs Building.

Julie Woodford


In February at the National Press Club in Washington, Tony Tavares, president of the new Washington Nationals baseball team, was a guest on GW’s “Kalb Report,” a public affairs series hosted by journalist Marvin Kalb. NPR host Scott Simon and Washington Post columnist John Feinstein also joined the discussion, which focused on whether the city can sustain a major league franchise and the potential impact of the steroid scandal that has put the sport in the headlines.

Thomas Kohout

The Mexican ‘Mother Culture’

More than 1,000 pottery and clay samples such as these were elementally analyzed by anthropology professor Jeffrey Blomster and his team during their research on the ancient Olmec. Their findings were significant in explaining the origins of the Olmec and showing that they were the first dominant civilization in Mesoamerica. The research was featured prominently in a recent Science section of The New York Times.

For more than a decade beginning in 1992, assistant professor of anthropology Jeffrey Blomster led a team that examined pottery samples throughout Mexico and Central America. Elemental analysis supported their theory that the ancient Olmec—best known as the creators of colossal stone heads—synthesized Mesoamerica’s first unified iconographic system and disseminated it to other cultures. Blomster and his team believe the Olmec were the region’s first dominant civilization, a “mother culture” with significant influence on neighboring settlements.

Since the 1940s, researchers have debated whether the Olmec were a mother culture in Mesoamerica or rather a “sister culture,” one of several influential peoples that developed simultaneously and contributed equally to one another’s lifestyles and ideology. Blomster and colleagues Hector Neff of California State at Long Beach and Michael D. Glascock of the University of Missouri say their findings support the priority of the Olmec in ideology and published a provocative report in Science magazine in February. While their research supports Olmec priority in synthesizing a distinct ideology, the group emphasizes that the Olmec did not “create” other civilizations in Mesoamerica—they interacted with groups that had already achieved a certain level of complexity.

The team conducted elemental analysis of more than 1,000 pottery and clay samples from San Lorenzo—the hub of early Olmec civilization—and six other sites that were prominent between 1,200 and 900 B.C. during the “late formative” Olmec period of 1,500 B.C. to 900 B.C. It was possible to link 725 archaeological ceramic samples with specific regions from which the clay originated. The ceramic vessels they studied included ornamental “white wares,” pottery and vessels with striking examples of Olmec style iconography. Some of the artifacts incorporated orange coloring exclusively used by Olmec artisans.

The results showed that all seven areas had Olmec-style pottery and figurines—some that were direct imports made in the San Lorenzo region and some that were replicas made from local clays. What most interested Blomster and his colleagues was that San Lorenzo had nothing from the other sites—and that note of the other sites had anything from one another, only from themselves and San Lorenzo.

Blomster says that the reproductions of Olmec pieces made in the other regions may not have had the same prestige or value as the imported pieces from San Lorenzo, a conclusion he formed because the original Olmec pieces were found in the higher status households of local leaders or people of wealth. “Higher-status houses at the other sites had more access to original Olmec pottery. The difference was in having the real thing versus obtaining a ‘knockoff,’” he says.

While Blomster’s article sparked more debate between the mother-culture versus sister-culture theorists, he says he is pleased with the results and finds them to be conclusive evidence of the significant prominence and influence of the Olmec people. He says the presence of the original Olmec artifacts and their replicas in other locations go beyond the practice of exporting material goods, it indicates the exporting of cultural values and beliefs.

“Our findings clearly show that the Olmec in San Lorenzo had something to offer that was of great interest to neighboring peoples and regions,” he says. “They created and synthesized their symbolism through their artifacts and disseminated it to other peoples.”