Amy Michael: It's a wrap!
Aug. 10, 2016
Amy Michael earned her Ph.D. in anthropology from MSU in May. Her dissertation focused on the dental health of the prehispanic Maya of Central Belize. While a student, she was part of the Campus Archeology Program and was a contributor to the program blog. Here, she recaps her time at MSU as a student.
In May, I graduated from MSU and was let loose into the world as a real, live anthropologist. I have been very fortunate to be employed as a graduate researcher with CAP since 2010. As a physical anthropologist, I entered graduate school thinking I’d just study old bones but I have found a real love for historic archaeology. I credit CAP and Dr. Lynne Goldstein with fostering this interest in me. Each year with CAP has taught me something new, so MSUToday editor Lisa Mulcrone suggested that I re-CAP (ha!) my time in my final blog post. In no particular order:
1) Gender on the historic campus – This project has consumed my CAP research for the past two years. This project taught me so much about the early female experience at MSU. It was incredible fun to dig through the University Archives, looking through scrapbooks and photos, trying to piece together the trials and lifeways of female students. Women were far from docile beings content with a sliver of the education their male peers were receiving! There were quite a few muckrakers and rabble rousers in the early female student crowd and it has been inspiring to read about their lives. The articulation of material culture excavated by CAP and the archival documents has been a welcome challenge, pulling me into a direction I never thought I’d go before my CAP involvement.
2) Privy research – Though I was not part of the initial excavation, I was tasked with doing background research on historic privies as part of the More Than Just Nightsoil poster presented at the MAC last year. I never knew privies were so interesting! I really enjoyed reading through published works on privies, as well as finding out about the laypersons who dig old outhouses. Something I previously may have dismissed as trivial or uninteresting (or, let’s face it, kind of gross) became something I still Google. Plus, I got to take photomicrographs of seeds recovered from the nightsoil! Any excuse to put something under a microscope gets me excited.
3) Excavation in the historic greenhouse – I’ve had the opportunity to excavate a lot of cool places on campus thanks to CAP, but the historic greenhouse (now demolished) was certainly the coolest. The CAP crew walked around inside, taking measurements and checking out the overgrown plants and ruins. To be inside this abandoned place on an otherwise thriving campus was definitely surreal.
4) Public Outreach – Over the years, I’ve done a lot of public outreach activities with CAP where we speak to schools or community groups. I think the best part of these events is that we continually learn how to present archaeology to the public in a way that is accessible yet also underscores the importance of the field. It’s easy for uninformed people to dismiss archaeological materials as “just” old stuff, but public outreach allows us to articulate why and how these items are linked to the past (and, critically, why people should care). Seeing the public, especially children, start to think about the past as it relates to the present is so satisfying. Human curiosity and critical thought is definitely stoked when holding an artifact.
5) Working with Dr. Goldstein and the CAP fellows – Okay, I promise I didn’t put this on the list to be a brown noser. I have met and worked with people through CAP that I probably wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise – we were in different cohorts, never took classes together, had wildly different research foci, etc. But, CAP brought me and some of my best graduate school friends together. Dr. Goldstein has always fostered an inclusive and fun environment in CAP meetings and she made me feel like I was part of a research team. I’ll remember CAP meetings as full of laughs, good-natured ribbing, and lots of game planning. I really appreciate Dr. Goldstein treating us like we all had something valuable to contribute, as well as letting us in on the inner workings of a university (e.g. telling us about meetings she had with campus operations folks, guiding us through setting up and advertising public outreach events, helping us find funding and more).
6) Collaboration with University Archives – I think that going to the Archives was one of my favorite parts of CAP. Sometimes it was frustrating and sometimes I would spend a couple hours there and come away with no valuable information, but the feeling of flipping through old photos and scrapbooks will always stay with me. As a lover of all things old, I enjoyed putting on the little white gloves and diving into the stacks to see what I could find. Going to the Archives, especially in the winter, was kind of like a non-field archaeology in a way. I still got to dig around in other peoples’ lives!
7) Hanging out in the lab – The CAP lab is bursting with artifacts. Seriously, go check it out sometime when Lisa is down there. Bags and bags of artifacts sit on the benches waiting for cataloging and analysis. I did a very speedy analysis of artifacts from the Gunson assemblage for my gender project and it was so fun to just sit in the lab and see what came out of the bags. I’ve now blogged about Listerine bottles, nail polish toppers, and old doll heads – all things I never knew a single fact about before CAP! Any lab rat can tell you that there is a great satisfaction in identifying, labelling, documenting, and researching – the breadth and quantity of the materials excavated by CAP ensures that the lab rats will be happy for years to come. As someone who generally only handles artifacts from places far removed in time and space from my own experience, it was so cool to identify and research artifacts used by students who graduated from my same university.
Well, I could go on but I’ll leave the list at lucky number seven. It has been a fantastic and fulfilling experience to work as a CAP researcher for the past five years and I hope that I can continue to be associated with the program in some form in the future. I encourage all MSU anthropology students to consider working with CAP at some point during your college careers. I’ve learned so much more than just the historical archaeology of our campus. Thank you to Dr. Goldstein, my CAP cohorts and the University Archives for a collegial academic experience.