Part VI of the 2011-12 series on new, tenure-track faculty members.
When Alex Nading walked into his introductory anthropology course at the University of Virginia in 1998, he certainly did not envision himself teaching anthropology one day.
“I have to admit, one reason I took the class was because it was close to my dorm,” Nading said. “I didn’t think it would really grab me. I took it on kind of a flier.”
Fourteen years later, Nading is glad he took the chance. He says the course made him “delightfully confused,” challenging the way he thought about the world and causing him to ask questions with no simple answers. It was the first step in a journey that brought him to Franklin & Marshall College, where he began a position as assistant professor of anthropology at the beginning of this academic year.
Nading, a medical and environmental anthropologist with a regional focus on Latin America, brings to F&M an interest in cultural and ecological approaches to health. He has traveled extensively for his work, from the streets of Managua, Nicaragua, to international health conferences in Cuba. He is particularly interested in dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease in the tropics that causes a sudden high fever and rash, he said.
A native of Alabama, Nading kindled his interest in dengue fever while working toward his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During his dissertation research, he traveled to Nicaragua thinking he would explore social change as a result of pollution in lakes. But after working with the country’s Ministry of Health, he developed a keen interest in the social and political implications of the nation’s response to dengue. He studied a series of house-to-house dengue prevention campaigns in which government experts linked the collection and sale of recyclable waste to the propagation of dengue mosquitoes.
“It’s a good case study of moving policy into action,” Nading said. “To get rid of the disease, you need to get rid of the mosquitoes. But what’s interesting to me is that other public health issues, such as diabetes, are larger problems in Nicaragua. Problems are sometimes defined by what’s politically expedient and technologically possible.”
Nading said he has enjoyed forming professional relationships around the world during his young career as an anthropologist. In 2009, he conducted research at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) branch in Puerto Rico—a hotbed of research on dengue fever. The center brings together epidemiologists, anthropologists, virologists, entomologists and others. The experience sparked Nading’s newest research project, a study of the ethics and economics of dengue vaccine research.
In the classroom at F&M, Nading is teaching “Social Anthropology” and “Introduction to Medical Anthropology.” In the fall, he will lead a course on the anthropology of Central America and the Spanish Caribbean, an area that comprises a wide range of cultural, political and religious traditions.
And maybe sitting in one of Nading’s courses is an unassuming student about to begin a journey toward a career in anthropology—much like the road taken by Nading himself.
“In anthropology, the questions are often too big to have answers,” Nading said. “We’re left wanting to know more. My own professors didn’t close the doors on questions—they opened them.”