Monday, March 2, 2015

Society for Anthropological Research Host GEMS

On February 20th members of Quinnipiac University’s Society for Anthropological Research hosted 25 students from Bethany Community School’s Girls Excelling in Math and Science (GEMS) Club. The GEMs students rotated through three stations equipped with field manuals and skeleton pencils, learning about different aspects of both archeological and biological anthropology. Digging through sand boxes, inspecting bones, and rearranging skulls allowed the young girls to discover a new interest in the anthropological field and be exposed to concepts such as material culture, human evolution, and stratigraphy. The event was a great success as the enrichment teacher, Michelle Schwenger, who advises the GEMS Club remarked how impressed she was with the volunteers ability to keep the students engaged despite it being a Friday and all of the students had already endured a long full day of school. Schwenger also commented in saying that the Quinnipiac students volunteering and running the stations were such "role models" for the students and the "GEMS club members enjoy[ed] being with them", most likely wanted to "strive to be like them." With such a compliment it is clear that the event was quite the success and SAR looks forward to do this type of event with the GEMs in the future. 

Click the link to find out more about the event : QU PR for GEMS Event

MAT Students help facilitate the excavation station, demonstrating the thought process of digging, finding, and categorizing the material culture found in the sandboxes.
The lovely volunteers prepping for the event before the students arrive.

Eboard members of the Society for Anthropological Research help facilitate the evolution station by describing the different features of the various skulls displayed for the students.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Addressing Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment in Anthropology and Beyond

Recently there has been increased attention by the media and the federal government to the high rates of sexual assault and rape on college and university campuses. As a scholar of gender-based violence, I welcome this attention and the increased scrutiny of the ways men and women relate to one another; the institutional procedures in place to prevent violence in the first place; and the question of whether or not universities are equipped to adjudicate cases of sexual violence and rape as outlined by the Department of Education’s Title IX.  These are all important issues to consider as employees and students of institutions of higher education, and what implications our institutional approach to addressing sexual violence will have for the wider culture.

The American Anthropological Association (AAA), under the guidance of Principal Investigator Dr. Jennifer R. Wies of Eastern Kentucky University, has taken the important step of investigating the scope and scale of sexual violence and sexual harassment experienced by its members, whether they are undergraduate students, professors, or practitioners in non-academic settings. With over 12, 000 members, the AAA is the largest professional organization for anthropologists, and it has a long and distinguished history. It also exists in a cultural context where sexual violence and harassment are rife, and many AAA members have reported instances of abuse and violence in their institutional settings, laboratories, and off-campus fieldsites in other studies.

It is a great privilege to be asked by Dr. Wies to participate in the AAA project to study the rates of sexual violence and sexual harassment amongst the membership.  This is an opportunity to investigate the university and college settings where members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) study and work, including Quinnipiac University.  The purpose of the AAA sponsored research is to identify the levels of sexual violence and sexual harassment experienced by members of the AAA in their university settings, classrooms, workplaces, laboratories, and of-campus fieldsites (local and international). Once we obtain baseline data on the rates of violence experienced by our members, we will identify the level of knowledge members have about institutional procedures and policies in place to address sexual violence and harassment.  Are AAA members working and studying in settings where the following questions can be addressed: Is the information about Title IX readily accessible on the university website? Can students and employees access help and resources via the website or some other portal? Are there publicly announced and regularly held trainings and educational seminars on sexual violence and harassment? Does the university provide prolific educational materials in the form of brochures, posters, and social media to make students and employees aware of their rights and responsibilities? Is there a trained victim advocate on campus, and is this advocate’s presence well publicized and highlighted to students and employees? How active is the university in seeking out the expertise of campus scholars who study sexual violence and harassment, and utilizing their expertise as a resource? How active is the upper administration in messaging the importance of preventing rape, sexual assault and harassment on campus?

These are questions that are not only important for AAA members to have the answers to, but any prospective college student and his/her parents.  While the ultimate goal should be to become a society where rape is outright eliminated, in the meantime people have a right to know how their institution is working to prevent violence as well as how the institution support the victims if violence occurs. 

Culture shifts occurs when people are active agents of change: the more we address, name, and identify the problem, the more likely it is that people will work against it.  Colleges and universities have for too long hid the problem of sexual violence and sexual harassment, and that tactic hasn’t been successful in ending the violence. It is time to try something different.

n.b. It is important to acknowledge that rape and harassment are crimes that affect all segments of the population, not just elite college students. While the AAA study specifically identifies experiences of its members, the research team is staffed by scholars whose work focuses on gender-based violence in diverse populations, in the United States and overseas.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Update from the field

Hi everyone! This summer I am participating in my second season as a team member of the Bronze Age Körös Off-Tell Archaeology Project (BAKOTA). This archaeological research team aims to explore social organization, trade, and mobility during the Bronze Age in Eastern Hungary.  The team is led by Paul Duffy (University of Toronto), Györgyi Parditka (National Centre for Cultural Heritage, Hungary), Julia Giblin (Quinnipiac University) and Laci Paja (National Centre for Cultural Heritage), and they have brought together a range of specialists and students from all different places to explore a prehistoric cemetery called Békés 103.  The site is located on farmland in the small town of Békés right in between sunflower and cornfields.  It is split into about 5 zones spread out over what is believed to be a huge Bronze Age cemetery.  It is a veritably surreal experience to be able to touch artifacts that have been in the ground for about 3700 years.

Site map showing potential excavation areas.
We are now 4 weeks into the field season, and starting the process off was shovel tests, which serve as a testing process to see what is below the surface.  We dig a small hole about a spade’s length down to see if there is any cultural material below the surface (like ceramic), and it usually measures to about 10 liters. This was followed by then clearing out trenches to a depth of about 35-45 centimeters, which clears away the plough zone.  The plough zone is the layer of earth that gets mixed up by a plow, so we need to clear that away to get to the next layer.  At the bottom of the plough zone we found urns and clusters of bone, which is undoubtedly exciting.  During this time period and in this region a common burial custom was to cremate the dead and bury them inside large ceramic vessels. The next step to take during this season was to excavate these burials and then bring them to the lab for micrexcavation of the material inside the urns.  As we collect materials and record findings we take a lot of notes because this is where comparisons and identifications arise, so it is important to write down as many details as possible like position, color, quantity, and decorative details on pottery. 

A job that I have been entrusted with is being in charge of organizing and keeping track of all the artifacts that come into the lab at the end of the day, so I get to see everything!  This includes pottery, bone, stone, bronze, and anything else collected.  As material starts pouring in it is very beneficial to be surrounded by all the specialists because everyone brings something new to the table.  Together the pieces of this prehistoric puzzle can become clearer, as the identification and classification of materials are recognized.  For example, we have Dori, an artist and ceramic specialist who draws the maps, reconstructs vessels, and in turn draws them for publications.  She looks at the differences in pottery like the designs or the construction of the vessel, and can compare the results to regions of surrounding areas where it is common to find the same type.  We also have a biological anthropologist, Laci Paja, who can identify all the bone that is found either in an urn or scattered in the field, and trace the age or maybe even the sex of the individual. 

So far in the season we have had a lot of material come into the lab with about 13 burials uncovered.  The ceramic that we have been weighing and counting has had some amazing details still recognizable.  There is a common decoration of two raised edges in circles around the whole urn paired along with spirals, triangular points, and sometimes three little dots.   

Laci teaching students Micro excavation

Urn found at the bottom of the plough zone

So, after entering in all of the different artifacts into the database, which houses all of the field season’s information, next I have been organizing all of the materials.  Ceramic from the same burial will be grouped together along with the bone from that specific burial also with all other materials getting organized by name in general boxes.  There is a lot of organization and labeling that goes into the lab portion of the field season because keeping the record accurate and easily accessible is important. 
Throughout the season I really get to understand the process of excavations, the details noted, and the care taken in dealing with past humans.  I have learned that there is a lot to consider when uncovering past human behaviors and artifacts, and that we can never truly know everything.   Archaeologists try and explain as much as the possible can with accuracy, and I have gained an appreciation for taking the time to do things right, be ethically conscious, and giving 110 percent all the time for the things that you love.  I have been fortunate enough to get to spend six weeks doing what I love with professionals, and learning more and more everyday.

Me spraying down an Urn for documentation

Friday, July 18, 2014

Can Anthropology Make the World Safe for Women?

Greeting Nerds!
The members of the anthropology program are busy this summer conducting various research projects all over the place. Dr. Giblin is currently in Hungary, and Dr. Ullinger will be back shortly from her time working on collections in the Midwest of the USA.  My work this summer has been mostly at home, conducted at my kitchen table in Fairfield, CT.  I took a short break from my table to bring three wonderful students with me to Morocco (see Lauren and Emily's posts for details of the trip), but I've spent most of my time thinking about the way anthropological theory and practice can be used to end human suffering.  My particular focus here is on the suffering women experience at the hands of others—either by loved ones, strangers, or even institutions. Since violence against women is a problem of epidemic proportions, there are numerous projects to work on this summer. One project came from my dear friend Annabel Taylor in Christchurch. We are currently working together as part of a larger team on a project to identify best practices in the field of violence prevention.  Lucy Freeman, one of our AN students, has been helping me dig up the relevant literature so we can provide the best evidence for what works in helping victims move away from violence, and if there is evidence for ending violence full stop.

Another project came about due to evidence collected by a team of biological anthropologists who identified high rates of sexual harassment and sexual assault against women (and some men) in fieldsite settings [you can read the study here: ]  Since the majority of the respondents to the study were anthropologists, the American Anthropological Association decided it was time to find out what was going on amongst the membership, and take stock of the scope and scale of sexual violence and sexual harassment (sv/sh) experienced by AAA members, both in the field, as the aforementioned study identified, and in labs, classrooms, and other settings.  I was lucky enough to be included on the research team for the AAA project.  Our current goal is to determine how extensive the problems of sv/sh are for members, and then, based on the findings, decide what educational module would be most beneficial for the membership.   Both projects are exciting for me because they are explicitly applied, meaning the goal is to use the findings from both studies to make the world safer for women. 

One of the main reasons anthropologists are now being incorporated into projects addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues (violence, economic inequality, environmental sustainability, etc.) is because for too long policy and programmatic responses to an issue assumed that the way “Westerners” did things was the best, yet to ill effect.  After three-quarters of a century of hiccups and outright project failures across the world, major NGOs and development entities are starting to realize what anthropologists have known all along—you have to listen and learn from others, and to discover what local solutions are available to solve local problems.  Sometimes people can be impatient, or arrogant, and don’t want to listen; other times projects are operating on inadequate budgets in order to allow the project team the time they need to learn what the perspectives are in the local context, and what obstacles and opportunities might arise; lastly, and detrimentally, there is often no money available to hire and train local experts themselves, so that local people can address local problems. Thus there are still many barriers in place that make it so projects cannot do the deep learning that leads to thick description of a place and its people, but at the very least project directors and organizational leaders are starting to realize that the anthropological worldview can be a positive way forward.

This is not to claim that anthropologists are going to solve the global problem of violence against women alone. However, bringing our perspectives and our methodological toolkit to bear on the problem, in collaboration with other scholars and activists might present the challenge before us in a new light, and offer new solutions that were hidden from view previously.
This is my daughter Lula, at my kitchen table. I'm trying to make the world safer for her and all girls.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Breaking Ground: The start of the BAKOTA 2014 field season

Hello fellow anthro nerds! 

This is Julia reporting from the BAKOTA 2014 archaeological field season 
in southeastern Hungary. 

Dori, Adam and Justine working on Burial 45.
We have had a great first week…

  • Our international team of researchers and students have been arriving from throughout Hungary, Canada, the US and the Middle East.
  • We have re-established our grid from last season and have started to open up new "blocks" (excavation areas) to continue exploring a Middle Bronze Age cemetery called Bekes 103. 

Here are a few shots of our research team from the field and lab!

Kalyan mastering the Total Station.

Enikő and Anna screening dirt from an EU (excavation unit) - amidst the growing corn field.

Russell, Monique and Enikő excavating in Block 39, where we have identified several burials already! 

Paul giving an introductory lecture about the BAKOTA Project.

Laci and Monique reconstructing a crania.

Justine setting up field notebooks for the documentation of special samples (like soil chemistry) collected while excavating.

Stay tuned for more updates from me and Justine as the season progresses.


Also, check out the TEDx talk produced by the students of Anthro 300 (Ancient Food for Thought) on eating insects! It just went live (hehehe…pun intended).

Link: Don't Bug Out: Challenging Food Taboos

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

An overdue post about the AN300 TEDxQuinnpiacU Event!

Our TEDx talk ("Don't But Out!") was a collaborative project by my Anthropology 300 class (Ancient Food for Thought). We wanted to challenge food taboos on campus and encourage students to think critically about their food practices. We began researching entomophagy, the consumption of insects, and built our TEDx talk around a central question: How does a food trend get started on a college campus? The class divided into teams: the research team, the images team, the speech writers, and, of course, the class chefs! We cooked up some chocolate ‘chirp’ cookies and cricket salsa to see how students would respond to this unusual snack. The results were overwhelmingly positive! Students were incredibly receptive to the idea of occasionally incorporating insects into their diet.

The process of putting together a TEDx talk took an enormous amount of time and hard work, but luckily we had a great team that always kept a positive attitude. The finished product far exceeded my expectations in terms of quality, insight, and humor.

I would like to thank everyone that worked on the project, but in particular Professors Julia Giblin and Jaime Ullinger, our producer Justine Tynan, and of course my amazing speech partner Jirina Fargeorge.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

AN 300 in Morocco

If you ever have the chance to travel, take it.  Let me rephrase that – if you ever have the chance to travel with an anthropology course, take it. It’s one thing to travel and see the world, and don’t get me wrong it is an amazing experience.  But when you go abroad specifically for anthropology your eyes and mind open up a little bit more, at least in my experience. 
            Prior to traveling to Morocco with Professor Haldane and my two other classmates, Lucy and Emily, I traveled to England, Ireland and Bali.  Those trips were amazing in their own way and I will forever be grateful for the memories I have from them. Going to Morocco with anthropology though made me want to understand their culture more and more.  I’ve always been interested in other people’s cultures and other people’s reasons for specific things, but on this trip I found myself engaging more in my curiosity.  I wanted to know why. Why was it that women drew henna on their hands?  Why was it that men were always the ones sitting around the cafés in the middle of the day drinking tea? I started paying more attention to my surroundings, specifically the people.  I mean yeah it’s great to see the town or city you are in but the town or city wouldn’t be anything without the people.  I started noticing how affectionate men were with other men, and it was in a close friendship kind of way.  I noticed women would come out more at night with their children.  And even that girls in some cities would ride bicycles but in other cities girls didn’t ride bicycles. Of course, I questioned that because of my curiosity. 
            I’ve never been very good at “people watching” as people would call it because most of the time I feel like I was impolitely staring.  I was nervous at first for this trip because I felt like I had to pay attention to the people, my surroundings and the behaviors for the sake of the paper I had to write when I returned home.  I quickly let go of that feeling and just ‘was’ throughout the trip; I let the anthropology I learned prior to the trip soak in.  Believe me when I say, I learned a whole lot by just observing and being curious.
            Being on this trip opened my eyes to the other worlds that surround us.  From now on, when I travel outside of the country I will now be able to really experience the culture for what it truly is, just because I stay curious and ask different questions. 
Lauren Uvino '14