Maria D. Vesperi, professor of anthropology at New College of Florida, received the American Anthropological Association’s 2017 Anthropology in Media Award.
Association President Alisse Waterston presented Vesperi with the award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., in December.
“This award honors ‘those who have raised public awareness of anthropology and have had a broad and sustained public impact at the local, national and international levels,’” Waterston said. “Maria has gone above and beyond in accomplishing exactly that across her long career in anthropology and journalism.”
She concluded: “I know firsthand that Maria is a rare talent and gem of a human being—a generous colleague, an amazing editor, a charismatic teacher, and a great communicator.”
The award citation praised Vesperi’s service to the Association and her skills as both a teacher and a communicator: “Vesperi has demonstrated courageous leadership, engaged ethnography and rare editorial talent. She has the sensibility and passion of a first-rate journalist combined with the insight and charisma of a superb teacher.”
Vesperi has been at New College since 1993, following a dozen years at the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). As a staff writer and a member of the paper’s editorial board, she brought anthropology to the general public.
Her series for the Times, “Growing Old in a New Downtown,” was published in book form as City of Green Benches by Cornell University Press in 1985 and updated with a new afterword in 1998. Her investigative series “Welfare: Does It Help or Harm the Poor?” was nominated by the Times in 1986 for a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. Vesperi was a member of the board of trustees of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies for 20 years.
From 2013 through 2016, she served as general editor of Anthropology Now, raising public awareness of anthropology at the national and international level. She current serves as Executive Coordinating Editor of Anthropology Now Projects, including the print magazine, which is published by Taylor & Francis, and anthronow.com, an independent media platform.
Vesperi also has been active in academic research. She is the author, co-author or editor of three books and more than 30 articles. She has organized and presented at dozens of academic paper sessions, conferences, special events and workshops.
With AAA President Alisse Waterston, Vesperi co-organized a series of high-profile “Anthropology off the Shelf” panels for the AAA meetings. These sessions resulted in the co-edited anthology Anthropology off the Shelf: Anthropologists on Writing, published in 2009 by Wiley.
Before her journalism career, Vesperi taught anthropology at University of South Florida, and while working in the Times newsrooms in St. Petersburg and Washington, DC, she taught part-time at USF-St. Petersburg, New College and University of Maryland-Baltimore County. She received her bachelor’s degree from University of Massachusetts at Amherst, graduating summa cum laude, and received her master’s and doctoral degrees from Princeton University.
At New College, Vesperi’s research interests include urban issues, anthropology and journalism, social welfare policy, cultural constructions of aging and race, representations through visual media and performance and early industrial history.
She also established and continues to teach a journalism sequence that includes production of the weekly student newspaper, The Catalyst.
She was also the 2009 recipient of the American Anthropological Association/Oxford University Press Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching of Anthropology.