Love, Marriage, and Anthropology

Retiring professor Robert Moore dishes on dating trends, dynamic relationships, and Far East diplomacy.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

When Robert Moore retires this spring after 31 years as an anthropology professor at Rollins College, one of the courses he’ll miss most is his signature Love and Marriage class.

Asked if teaching the subject helped make him the ideal husband to wife Darla—archival specialist at Olin Library—Moore offers a mix of humility and humor.

“I understand a few things a little better,” he quips, “but it hasn’t changed my behavior much. I’m still ornery.”

For Moore, who grew up in Lakeland and got married at Bok Tower Gardens, teaching so close to home just seemed natural. After leaving the University of Southern Colorado to work in sales for his father’s industrial supply business, Moore realized his heart was still in academia. In 1985, he became an adjunct at Rollins. Three years later, he joined the faculty for good.

Along the way, Moore has launched Rollins’ Asian Studies Program with political science professor Tom Lairson, led students on several trips to the Far East, taught at China’s Qingdao University, served as director of international affairs at the Hamilton Holt School, and watched his daughter, Grace Moore ’10, earn a diploma in English. (Following in her mother’s footsteps, Grace now works at the Winter Park Library.)

The idea of retirement hasn’t sunk in yet for Moore, who plans to keep writing on a wide range of anthropological topics. In the meantime, as one of his final acts on campus, Moore recently took a few moments to reflect on his more than three decades at Rollins.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

The changing ways we pursue love

“I’ve watched dating and courtship patterns change a lot at Rollins. One thing I’ve noticed is that dating kind of evaporated. When I was in college, the pattern was to arrange a date, call up somebody, and say, ‘Hey, do you want to go to a movie or football game Friday night?’ But now it’s more like, ‘Hey, let’s hang out at a bar or place where we’re likely to run into each other and things will progress from there.’ There’s also a subtype on campus that’s more likely to hang out in the dorms playing ‘The Settlers of Catan.’ And that’s OK, because there’s something fundamentally healthy about that type of ‘nerdy’ environment that may be missing from the bar scene. Both of those paths can evolve into relationships.”

New ideas, new cultures

“I really enjoyed being in the classroom, putting information or perspectives out there on the table, and seeing students go to town with it. A great pleasure of being a professor is interacting with the students. On four or five occasions, I had the opportunity to take students to China, where we did research and even published co-authored articles. On one of these trips in 2009, I went with three students and Professor Li Wei to the mountains of western China near Tibet. There’s a group of people there known as the Mosuo. What’s interesting about these people is they do not marry—it’s the only society in the world where marriage is not the norm. That experience proved very useful in my love and marriage class. I’m always trying to get students to see the humanity of people in countries we clash with politically. I want to help people see the world in the most enlightened possible way.”

On students, colleagues, and Elvis

“In addition to undergrad courses, I’ve taught in the Holt School ever since I came here. I very much enjoy the Holt students—they have the advantage of life experience, and they can bring a lot into the classroom. In the anthropology department, I’ve had the most collegial, pleasant, supportive colleagues anyone could ask for. We had fun too. There was one time when our administrative assistant hired an Elvis impersonator, and I was teaching a class in linguistics, and all of a sudden Elvis comes into my class and says, ‘Professor, why don’t you sing us a song?’ So I broke into an Elvis song, and he said, ‘Keep your day job, professor.’”

Why Asian studies?

“I was actually in the Navy reserves during the Vietnam War. When I talked to the Marines who had fought in Vietnam, they gave me a picture of that war I’d never seen before. So I began to study Vietnam and China and so forth, and it turned me into an anti-war activist. I was studying and learning as much as I could about that part of the world, and it was the beginning of my Asian studies, really. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is, don’t go messing around in countries when you don’t know what’s going on there.”

Life in China

“Living in the People’s Republic of China (from 1993-94) gave me such a deep understanding of the way things worked and the way people responded to their environment. One thing I discovered is that most Chinese are not happy with the United States. Before I went over, I imagined our government was the champion of human rights. But most Chinese looked at the U.S. as a troublemaker that was using human rights to push its own agenda. I think China has gradually grown more open and liberal over the past 25 years, but there’s a leader in place now who is reversing that trend—perhaps because he’s seeing rumblings of change and democratic impulses in his own society.”

Parting shot from a colleague

“If cultural anthropology is defined as a field that requires vast energy, endless curiosity, and tremendous respect for the culture being studied, then Bob epitomizes such a discipline. He has a keen sense of language, and he is especially interested in vernacular idioms. Over the years of study and fieldwork, he has accumulated quite a lot of language knowledge in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Spanish. This led to a serious study of slang in cross-cultural context. His publications on slang are important contributions in the field of sociolinguistics.” — Li Wei, Lecturer in Chinese

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)