James L. Watson, 65BA, who grew up in the tiny southwestern Iowa town of New Market, credits opportunities afforded him at the University of Iowa for launching a career that has gained him international recognition as one of the most distinguished and important anthropologists of China.
One of the first graduates of Iowas Chinese Studies program, Watson went on to graduate studies in anthropology at the University of California-Berkeley. After holding faculty positions at the University of Hawaii, the University of London (where he also served as director of Londons Contemporary China Center), and the University of Pittsburgh, he has taught since 1989 at Harvard.
He holds a well-deserved reputation for in-depth and influential studies in a number of aspects of Chinese culture, including the changing face of village life, family and kinship, popular religion and ritual, and migration and globalization. He is particularly known for challenging long-held beliefs that have traditionally separated the work of anthropologists and historians and for bringing the two disciplines closer together.
Watson has published a great deal on a range of topics and is known for writing about his areas of expertise in a way that makes his knowledge broadly accessible. He has written or edited eight books, most recently the widely reviewed Golden Arches East: McDonalds in East Asia. In addition, he has scores of articles to his credit, some of which, such as Standardizing the Gods: The Promotion of Tien Hou (Empress of Heaven) Along the South China Coast, 960-1960, have been extremely influential and are regularly cited by experts in the field. His writings on the Chinese kinship system are fascinating, showing how powerful land-owning lineages, or clans, operate in many ways like corporations.
Watson has a reputation as an extraordinary mentor to students and younger scholars, having produced a host of Ph.D.s who have become productive scholars in their own rights. He is also well-respected among his colleagues, and was elected to the presidency of the Association of Asian Studies (AAS), the single highest honor for someone in his field.
A life member of the University of Iowa Alumni Association, Watson remains a proud Iowan and retains strong ties to Iowa and the University of Iowa, returning often with his wife, Rubie, also a well-known anthropologist and a native Midwesterner. Despite a hectic professional calendar, he has accepted invitations to visit the UI campus to speak with classes and to share his expertise.
Watsons tremendous achievements in his academic career certainly distinguish him as one of the UIs most accomplished alumni, and his commitment to enhancing understanding across cultures—particularly at a time when such communication is greatly needed in the world—is precisely in keeping with the universitys values. Finally, his eminence as a scholar, writer, teacher, and educational administrator are matched by his generous disposition.
For all of these excellent qualities and their positive reflection on the University of Iowa, Woody Watson is greatly deserving of this University of Iowa Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.