George Gmelch

George Gmelch

George Gmelch (B.A., Stanford and Ph.D., University of California at Santa Barbara) is a cultural anthropologist. He did his early research in Ireland among a nomadic group known as Tinkers or Travellers. Since then he has done research on migration in Ireland, Newfoundland and Barbados, studied the ecology of salmon fisherman in Alaska, Gypsies in England, professional baseball players in the United States, and tourism workers in Barbados and the Napa Valley. He is the author and editor of ten books and seventy articles dealing with these subjects. <!–more–>

He has also written for a general audience for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Natural HistoryPsychology TodaySociety, Stanford Magazine, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Tasting the Good Life: Wine Tourism in the Napa Valley

by George and Sharon Gmelch

George and Sharon Gmelch’s new book Tasting the Good Life: Wine Tourism in the Napa Valley will be published by Indiana University Press in June. In this book they look at wine tourism as a particular type of tourism, the working lives of people in tourism, and the social and environmental impacts of tourism in the Napa Valley.

Baseball without Borders – The International Pastime

Edited by George Gmelch, Univ. of Nebraska Press

A televised baseball game from Puerto Rico, Japan, or even Cuba might look a lot like the North American game. Beneath the outward similarities, however, there is usually a very different history and culture influencing the nuances of the sport. These differences are what interest the authors of Baseball without Borders. The contributors, leading authorities on baseball in the fourteen nations under consideration, look at how the game was imported—how it took hold and developed, how it is organized, played, and followed—and what these local and regional trends and features say about the sport’s place in particular cultures.

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Behind the Smile: The Working Lives of Caribbean Tourism

by George Gmelch, Indiana University Press, 2003.

Behind the Smile is an inside look at the world of Caribbean tourism as seen through the working lives of 21 men and women who work in the tourist industry in Barbados. The workers come from every level of tourism, from maid to hotel manager, beach gigolo to taxi driver, red cap to diving instructor. Moving through the various sites in which “hosts” and “guests” meet—airport, hotel, beach, and tourist attractions—these highly personal accounts offer insight into complex questions surrounding tourism. The narratives touch on issues such as how race shapes interactions between tourists and workers, how tourists may become agents of cultural change, the meaning of sexual encounters between locals and tourists, and the real economic and ecological costs of development through tourism. George Gmelch offers an engaging introduction to the history of tourism in the Caribbean and recent research on tourism, development, and cross-cultural communication. This lively book will intrigue students, scholars, and all readers interested in the social and cultural aspects of travel.

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Inside Pitch: Life in Professional Baseball

by George Gmelch, Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001.

“Twenty-four years after his own final road trip with the Detroit Tigers’ organization, George Gmelch went on the road again with a busload of players, this time with a pen and pad to record the details of life lived around the diamond. Drawing on over one hundred interviews with major and minor league players, coaches, and managers, he explores players’ experiences throughout their careers: being scouted, becoming a rookie, moving through or staying in the minors, preparing mentally and physically to play day after day, coping with slumps and successes, facing retirement. He examines the ballplayers’ routines and rituals, describes their joys and frustrations, and investigates the roles of wives, fans, and groupies in their lives. Based on his own experience as a player in the 1960s, Gmelch charts the life cycle of the modern professional ballplayer and makes perceptive comparisons to a previous generation of players.

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In the Ballpark: The Working Lives of Baseball People

by George Gmelch and J. J. Weiner, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998.

This collection of interviews looks at the lives of 21 people who work in all parts of major and minor league baseball: usher and broadcaster, beer vendor and sports writer, clubhouse attendant and field manager, ticket seller and owner, scout and general manager, ,ascot and player. Organized by work setting–the stands, the field, the press box, and the front office–the accounts describe little-known aspects of the game: how broadcasters prepare, how clubs strategize to attract fans, and even why groundskeepers now infield and outfield grass differently. It is based on participant observation research and interviewing conducted by both authors between 1993 and 1996; it also draws on George Gmelch’s past experience as a professional player and J. J. Weiner’s (a former Union anthropology major) experience working in the front office of the Birmingham Barons.

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The Parish Behind God’s Back: The Changing Culture of Rural Barbados

by George Gmelch and Sharon Bohn Gmelch, University of Michigan Press, 1997; Waveland, 2004.

In the eastern Caribbean the expression “behind God’s back” refers to a place that is remote or far away. This book examines the social fabric of Barbados’ most rural parish and the enormous influence of global factors such as television, tourism, and migration. Written with students in mind, The Parish Behind God’s Back draws on the authors’ field research and 15-year experience running an anthropological field school for Union College students in rural Barbados. According to one reviewer, “Besides being lively and well-rounded, The Parish makes strategic use of comparisons to US culture so that students are also learning about themselves…It presents an excellent frame of reference for considering the costs as well as the benefits of modernization, US style.” According to another, “Beautifully written, this book deals with all the big issues of our time — slavery, colonialism, migration, tourism, and globalization.”

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Double Passage: The Lives of Caribbean Migrants Abroad and Back Home

by George Gmelch, University of Michigan Press, 1992.

Double Passage is about the lives and experiences of migrants from the island of Barbados — their emigration to North America and Britain and their eventual return home. It tells, largely through oral histories, of what is like to be black and immigrant in the predominantly white societies the migrants settle in and of their struggle to find good-paying jobs and decent housing, to develop new relationships, and to save enough money to be able to return home and attain the lifestyle expected of returnees. Two concluding chapters assess the impact of the return migrants as a cultural brokers, bringing home new skills, attitudes, ideas, and their life savings. The book says much about life and culture in this small island, Caribbean society.

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The Irish Tinkers: The Urbanization of an Itinerant People

by George Gmelch, Waveland Press, 1985.

This book is concerned with Irish Travellers, a once itinerant people similar to European Gypsies. For centuries Travellers travelled the Irish countryside, performing services for farmers in exchange for food and sometimes cash. They were an integral part of rural Ireland. Beginning in the 1950s, however, rural modernization eroded their traditional economy and forced them into towns and cities in search of a new livelihood. The focus of this study is on the urbanization of Irish Travellers, and their economic and social adaptations to the city, and to settled life.

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Urban Life, 4th Edition: Readings in the Anthropology of the City

by George Gmelch and Walter Zenner, Waveland Press Inc., 2001.

This collection’s primary concerns are the unique demands posed by urban social environments and the ways in which human cultures have dealt with them. The essays are integrated b several underlying themes, chief among them being adaptation – the strategies people, both as individuals and as members of groups, use to cope with the demands of life in the city. Urban Life is comparative, drawing on research completed in all parts of the world.

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Playing with Tigers: A Minor-League Chronicle of the Sixties

In 1965 George Gmelch signed a contract to play professional baseball with the Detroit Tigers organization. Growing up sheltered in an all-white, affluent San Francisco suburb, he knew little of the world outside. Over the next four seasons, he came of age in baseball’s Minor Leagues through experiences ranging from learning the craft of the professional game to becoming conscious of race and class for the first time.

Gmelch recounts a baseball education unlike any other as he got to know small-town life across the United States against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, civil rights protests, and the emergence of the counterculture. The social and political turmoil of the times spilled into baseball, and Gmelch experienced the consequences firsthand as he played out his career in the Jim Crow South. Playing with Tigers captures the gritty, insular, and humorous life and culture of Minor League baseball during a period when both the author and the country were undergoing profound changes.

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Baseball beyond Our Borders: An International Pastime  (with Dan Nathan)

This collection of essays tells the story of America’s national pastime as it has spread across the world and undergone instructive, entertaining, and sometimes quirky changes in the process. Covering nineteen countries and a U.S. territory, the contributors show how each country imported baseball, how baseball took hold and developed, how it is organized, played, and followed, and what local and regional traits tell us about the sport’s place in each culture.

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Selected Articles

Return Migration. Annual Review of Anthropology (9):135-159. 1980.

Magic and Uncertainty in Modern Life. (with R. Felson). Current Anthropology 20(3):587-589. 1980.

Gender and Migration: The Readjustment of Women Migrants in Barbados, Ireland, and Newfoundland. Human Organization 1995.

Learning Culture: The Education of American Students in Caribbean Villages. Human Organization 51(3):245-252. 1992.

Work, Innovation, and Investment: The Impact Return Migration in Barbados. Human Organization 46(20): 131-141. 1987.

Who Returns and Why: Return Migration Behavior in Two Atlantic Societies. Human Organization 42(1): 46-54. 1983.

Groupies and American Baseball. Journal of Sport and Social Issues 22(1): 32-45. 1998.

Crossing Cultures: Student Travel and Personal Development. The International Journal of Intercultural Relations 21(4): 475-489. 1997.

Rules and Respect: The Culture of Professional Baseball. Anthropology of Work Review XX(2):25-34.2000

Ethnographic Field Schools: What Students Do and Learn. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 30(2):220-227. 1999.

Economic Strategies and Migrant Adaptation. Ethnos 12:22-37. 1977.

The Emergence of an Ethnic Group: The Irish Tinkers. (with S. Gmelch). Anthropological Quarterly 49(4):225-238. 1976.

Human Biology of the Irish Tinkers: Demography, Ethnohistory and Genetics. (with M. Crawford) Social Biology 21:321-331. 1974.

Baseball Wives: Work and Gender in Professional Baseball. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 30(3):335-356. 2001.

Selected Popular Articles

In Thrall of the Culture of Baseball. The Chronicle for Higher Education August 10, 2001, pp. B12-13.

Taking a Longer View of Living in the Minors. New York Times, August 19, 2001.

Pickup Basketball Meets Janken. Japan Quarterly 26(2):24-29. 1999.

Barbados’s Amerindian Past. Anthropology Today. vol. 12(1):11-15. 1996.

Caught in the Middle. Natural History 99 (9):32-37. 1990.

Newfoundland Gets Her Own Back. The Geographical 60:27-34. 1988.

Two Rivers, Two Cultures: Native Tlingit and Non-Indians Compete for Alaskan Salmon. Natural History 97(5):52-62. 1988.

Nomads in Cities. (with S. Gmelch) Natural History 97(2):50-61. 1988.

Barbados Odyssey: Some Migrants Fulfill Their Dreams by Returning Home. Natural History 94(10):34-38. 1985.

Ireland’s Bountiful Bogs. (with S. Gmelch). Natural History 89(11):48-59. 1980.

Can a Lucky Charm Get You Through Organic Chemistry. Psychology Today. December 1980.

Irish Tinkers: When Wanderers Settle Down. (with S. Gmelch). Human Nature 1(3):66-75. 1978.

Baseball Magic. Human Nature 1(8):32-40. 1978.

Baseball Magic. Transaction 8(8):39-43.1971

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