Exploring the Shelves

22 Feb 2017

Clare Morgan
DTMH January 2017 

My friend Fran has a game ‘library scavenger hunt’. The challenge each month is to find and read a library book that corresponds to a pre-determined characteristic – has an owl on the cover, involves a cat in the title etc. The aim of the game is to break up fixed reading habits and open people up to new stories and knowledge.

Given how much I have appreciated the school’s library as a source of the varied knowledge that so far the diploma has shown me are needed to become an effective tropical doctor I thought I would set myself a slightly modified version of Fran’s challenge, still with the same aims:  To find 5 books in the library that did NOT have the words medicine, health or any sub-specialties or scientific disciplines in the title.

 So far I am 2 books into my challenge:

1) Like People You See in a Dream: First Contact in Six Papuan Societies Edited by Edward L Schieffelin and Robert Crittenden

This book was tucked up on one of the higher shelvess towards the back of the library and I am really glad it caught my eye during my hunt. It records the passage of the Strickland-Purari Patrol which in 1935 set out to explore the then uncharted regions of central Papua New Guinea (or Papua as it was then known). It sets the expedition within the colonial context (both social and political) of the period. It was written and edited in the 1980s by ethnographers who had worked with different tribal groups in Papua New Guinea and the main part of the book is a narrative account of the expedition’s progress through the different areas and the events of the expedition. The text is complimented with pictures of the tribes encountered and maps of the route the expedition took.

However, as well as using the traditional sources such as explorers logs and diaries, the authors sought out the other view point, that of the then uncontacted tribes. Thus you get a fascinating double narrative were the perspective of the explorer and explored are given together. For example whilst the expedition studied footprints to work out whether the locals were nearby, the locals were studying the tracks of the expedition trying to work out what the foot prints with no toes and strange indent marks were – was it a creature with skeletal feet?

This local perspective on the expedition is what I especially liked about the book. I have often wondered how previously uncontacted peoples exposed to colonial expeditions thought and felt about these encounters.  Unlike those of the 18th and 19th century, were the voices of these people have largely, if not totally, been lost or not even recorded, the writers of this book gained eye witness testimonies from local people alive at the time of the expedition. The book was so much richer for this and  I felt it went some way to redressing the problem of tribal encounters being documented from an entirely one sided viewpoint, with all the risks of making false assumptions and projecting certain simplistic ideas that this can entail.

The book also makes efforts to chart contemporaneous events in the history of the local tribes and also the ripple effects of the expedition – such as the identification by the community and subsequent killing of a witch who was thought to have caused the correct conditions for the death of a local man killed at the hands of the expedition.  It also explores the possible reasons that the expedition unfolded the way it did and considers its impact on the subsequent history of the area.

This book was a total surprise and a very exciting one. I had my own exploration into a subject I had little prior knowledge of and what I have gained other than a new found appreciation for the diversity of Papua New Guinea culture is that when it comes to cross cultural interactions it pays not to make assumptions. Read the book!

2)     Getting to Yes: negotiating an agreement without giving in by Roger Fisher and William Ury

I found the second of my books on the furthest library shelf below eye line. In total contrast to the first book it is a practical manual that seeks to improve negotiation skills. The book takes the form of setting out an alternative to what it calls position based negotiation i.e. arguing based on saying “I want to have this wall come down and I want it now”.  Instead it advocates creating a discussion in which focuses on what the interests of the parties are and finding a solution that suits both. It starts by stating why this needs to happen then explains how to do it and finishes with some potential challenges to the method in the form of questions and responses.

The book appealed to me as I already have a few books on negotiation (though mainly on hostage negotiation) and it seems on reading that it summarised their recommended method fairly succinctly with clear signposted information. I was familiar already with the concept of the need to focus attention on the problem as a mutual one to be fixed together rather than a win lose game. I appreciated gaining a clearer understanding from the book of the concept of ‘best alternative to a negotiated agreement’ (BATNA). I had met this concept elsewhere but the book, in my view, explained it and its significance more clearly than other books I have read.

One of the fun new concepts I came across in the book was ‘negotiation jujitsu’. This is the art of taking an unpalatable or belligerent offers and using it as a chance to understand the other side’s position further before subtly enabling the other party to see for themselves the problems with their position. I am looking forward to trying out this ‘jujitsu’ knowledge in future to smooth my own negotiations. There are several copies of the book in the library if you, like me, decide you are interested in picking up some negotiation basics.

I am now on to the next of the 5: The Spirit Level: Why Equality is better for Everyone by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, and have also snaffled International Relations: A Very Short Introduction by Paul Wilkinson and  Critical Thinking Skills by Stella Cottrell as the last 2 books of the 5.

The scavenger hunt has also been an excuse to go and look at the library’s historical collection and hunt for stories about women involved in tropical medicine but that is a blog for another day.