The American Anthropological Association is working in conjunction with Duke University Press to publish Surviving Against the Odds: Village Industry in Indonesia, a revised edition of the doctoral dissertation of S. Ann Dunham, also known as Ann Dunham Soetoro, the mother of President Barack Obama. The book will be published with an initial print run of 10,000 copies in a hardcover edition that will be launched with a press conference, panel discussion and reception to be held in Philadelphia on December 3.

While the story of Barack Obama’s childhood growing up in Indonesia is by now well-known, there is much less known about his mother’s academic work as an economic anthropologist and rural development consultant. Ken Wissoker, editorial director of Duke University Press, said Dunham’s dissertation, completed in the early 1990s, was prescient and anticipated much of the current thinking on economic development in the developing world. The new edition includes rare photographs of Dunham in Indonesia; a foreword by Maya Soetoro-Ng, Dunham’s daughter and the sister of President Obama; as well as an afterword by Rober W. Hefner, president of the Association for Asian Studies, that puts her pioneering work in scholarly context.

Wissoker said that Duke University Press’s anthropology list was focused on books about “how conventional foreign aid has not worked and how it should be rethought,” and Dunham's book is a perfect fit for its program. He hailed the importance of Dunham’s scholarly work in Indonesia—she spent nearly 15 years in the field—and called the book, “a forerunner of much of today’s work on using direct micro-credits and small loans. The book is about what small villagers can do entrepreneurially to help themselves. Her message is very accessible: trust people in small villages to be able to do good things if they have resources.”

Dunham originally planned to revise her dissertation into a book herself but died in 1995 shortly after receiving her doctorate from the University of Hawaii. Her original dissertation—well over a 1,000 pages—was revised and edited for publication by Dunham’s original academic advisor Alice Dewey, now in her 80s and professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Hawaii, and adjunct associate professor Nancy Cooper, a fellow graduate student of Dunham who studied alongside her. The project started long before Obama was elected President, driven by the combined support of Dewey, Cooper, the AAA and Maya Soetoro-Ng.

Wissoker said the initial printing is “large for us” and emphasized that while the book was not written for a general reader, “it’s very well written and its message is very accessible. We think people will be moved by her story and will love to have this book. It will also shed light on part of President Obama’s legacy and why his life brings something different to the presidency.”