Anthropology professors bring stories of fieldwork to campus

CECILIE THORGERSEN ; Staff Writer; thogerch@plu.edu

Students and professors don’t always get the chance to talk and network outside the classroom. The Anthropology Club at Pacific Lutheran University wanted to provide them with the opportunity to do so when it held its annual Faculty Panel. On Feb. 23., in celebration of Anthropology Day, six professors from the anthropology department spoke of their experiences doing fieldwork in various parts of the world.

Among the speakers were professor Jennifer Spence who did fieldwork in a small town in Brazil where she studied how nutrition affects the dental development of infants. As each of the professors were asked to bring an artifact that symbolized their fieldwork, professor Spence had brought the board she used to measure the length of the infants she studied. This allowed the audience to see how professor Spence had worked as she and Amanda Taylor’s three year old son demonstrated its usage. The board also served to illustrate how doing fieldwork in less developed environments can mean having to work with simpler tools than usual.

Learning to adjust to different environments and the challenges that come with it was a common theme among the experiences the professors shared with the attending students and alumni. However, the ability to be flexible when doing fieldwork doesn’t just include working conditions, but can also involve the area of study itself. Professor Laura Klein, who did fieldwork in the 1970s among the Tlingits, a native Alaskan tribe,  told the assemblage that she initially wanted to study Tlingit women and economics. After she started doing her research, she learned that she had to shift focus to politics instead of economics, as this subject was of more importance to the Tlingit women.

One of the students who participated in the event were first-year anthropology student Cessna Westra. She enjoyed listening to the professors speak of their experiences in another setting than usual. It was a really great, sort of laid back storytime about research,” Westra explained. “They couldn’t really talk about their fieldwork without getting excited and losing some of that more structured lecture quality they usually have.”

One of the accounts that made the biggest impact on Westra came from professor Amanda Taylor, who spoke of balancing her personal life with her professional career. Professor Taylor had brought her young son to the event, and sometimes she brings him when she does fieldwork as well. “She was able to pursue both her dreams of raising a family and being an archaeologist which is exactly what I want to do,” said Westra.

Being able to hear about how it’s like working as archaeologist was of great value to Westra. “To hear that people actually survived grad-school and all the experiences they had there, whether they were good or bad, means maybe I can do it, too,” said Westra. “It was very inspiring.”

The next Faculty Panel will be held in 2018, but in the meantime the Anthro Club will be hosting other events. In April, the club has worked with the Classics department to bring singer Joe Goodkin to perform Homer’s The Odyssey at PLU. This event will be open for all students.

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