November 18, 2009

Reviews Are In

Both reviewers liked my contribution to a forthcoming JRA volume on diaspora in the Roman world, which is good and should mean I'll have a peer-reviewed publication based on my dissertation data within the year. One had only minor comments (e.g., "I tried but could not find anything wrong with the bibiography" - apparently Roman archaeologists haven't yet heard of BibTeX) and the other had some helpful suggestions in regard to strontium, most of which I've already figured out in the time since I wrote the paper a year and a half ago.

What surprised me, though, was that they were both more interested in the few sentences I included about the health of the people at Casal Bertone and Castellaccio than they were about the mobility of the populations. Granted, a study on mobility has already been published at Portus Romae, but I'm using Sr isotopes and skeletons from Rome itself. I figured that since I am incredibly interested in mobility and in identifying and understanding phenomena like transnationalism and polyethnicity that we only get hints of in the historical record and since I convinced anthropological granting agencies to fund my research, everyone would be interested in mobility and migration. But no, the fact that the skeletons from Casal Bertone were so much healthier than the comparative populations I've read about is, in the words of one reviewer, a "potentially VERY important finding."

I suppose this means adding a dissertation chapter on palaeopathology. I had planned to smush together the C/N and dental pathology for diet and more or less gloss over the skeletal pathology section because I want to go into depth in the future with a study of disease ecology (and because I don't really buy the arguments that Rome was a cesspool and life in the city was nasty, brutish, and short). But I can't explain at this point why the people from Casal Bertone were so much healthier than other published populations, except by noting that the cemetery was in proximity to a nymphaeum and fullery/tannery that would have meant copious amounts of clean water. They didn't eat a very different diet than Castellaccio, they weren't of a higher class or demographically different - they just lived in a different place, one close to or even perhaps within the city walls.

After driving myself crazy trying to understand the complex geology of Lazio and the Italian peninsula, it's becoming clear that Italy has lots of different landscapes that often range over very small areas. Besides that, Rome has aqueducts - lots and lots of places where the average person could get clean water to drink, bathe in, and cook with. I'm not a landscape archaeologist, I am not a scholar of Roman water infrastructure, and I'm not even really a disease ecologist, but I'm interested to know what's going on: something allowed my skeletons at Casal Bertone to be healthier than others. Or maybe it's just interobserver error, and my report of palaeopathology at these two sites is skewed because I use different methods or have a different agenda than the Italian bioarchaeologists who published the comparative sites.

As always, though, I'm just pushing to write this dissertation. I collected a lot of data and was choosing not to deal with disease in the diss because it didn't directly relate to the argument I'm making about mobility in the Empire. But if palaeopathology is what my colleagues want, I suppose I should give it to them as soon as possible, right?

November 8, 2009

My Tweet Dissertation

Considering the length a dissertation has to be, you'd expect it would contain a ton of information. But most of the text deals with constructing an argument to convince others that you're right. If you remove all that and take the essential conclusions at face value, each chapter is really rather short. For instance, I can take the first chapter I finished (on archaeological background) and, in 140 characters or fewer, highlight the relevant parts, thus shrinking a 33-page chapter with 13 figures and 7 tables to a tweet. Ahem.

2 sites (CE and CB), 2 contexts (urban/suburban), 209 skellies. Urban peeps shorter but longer-lived than suburban ones. More men in city, women in suburbs.

And there you go. Chapter 4 of my dissertation in 131 characters. Stay tuned for the tweet of the next chapter, the results from my Sr/O isotope analysis of immigrants to Rome!

November 4, 2009

Donating Anthropology

Most of my freelance editing income goes into a PayPal account. When I discovered, I spent the majority of that extra income on the site, buying cute things for Chickpea and awesome bone-related stuff for myself. But then I found out that I could donate my PayPal balance at It's a cool site: teachers from all over the country post their needs (for specific projects, for equipment, for field trips), and people donate a little bit or a lot. Some of the projects have matching funds from local and national organizations. Thinking I could do some good rather than blowing my money on more stuff, I scanned the site for things related to anthropology and archaeology. A search for archaeology brings up 5 projects, and a search for anthropology brings up 4, two of which are for an LCD projector. That's an amazingly small number of projects considering how many have been posted (and fulfilled) on the site.

This experience makes me wonder if there is any kind of outreach going on to the K-12 set. My department does an annual Archaeology Day, and I think there's also an Anthropology Day. We often do mini-lectures and workshops through the planetarium on campus, which hosts weekend and summer programs for middle schoolers. I guess I just assumed that, since I was interested in anthropology as a middle schooler and since my department does a bit of outreach, that would filter down into the grade schools. I wonder if there are any sample curricula for grade school teachers, so they can impart an anthropological perspective in social studies, or do a miniature archaeological excavation project in science class, or study human or animal bones in biology. It would be really awesome to see anthropology brought to kids below the university level, to introduce the next generation to anthropology before they go off to college intent on being doctors/laywers/businesspeople and thinking that social sciences are useless. But it might also open up employment opportunities for anthropologists. If you think about it, academics with post-graduate degrees in other subjects can be licensed to teach the K-12 set: foreign languages, English, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, history, computer science, even psychology in some high schools. The fact that anthropology is never taught in the grade schools has always been surprising to me.

So I would encourage all the K-12 teachers out there to think about projects involving anthropology, and to reach out to their local anthropologist and/or to DonorsChoose. You don't really need a DNA sequencer or an LCD projector or an archaeology-in-a-box kit to teach kids anthropological methods. A few books and tools will go a long way, and I would love to donate them to you.

(For what it's worth, I ended up donating money to a classroom in NC that needs copies of the Iliad and the Odyssey. My other loves are, of course, books and classical culture, and too many schools have crappy books with only selections of ancient works rather than complete texts. Even if the kids are reading texts in translation, that's still cool with me.)

November 3, 2009

Work/Life Balance

Yesterday, I attended a talk sponsored by our Women in Archaeology colloquium series. Since I'm dissertating and only have 20 hours of work-week nanny time, I haven't gone to many on-campus functions this semester. I had high hopes that this talk would be about ways to balance a career in academia and a personal life. What I took away from the talk, though, was that: 1) I need to do more fieldwork to advance my career; and 2) I should do less committee and advising work (if I ever get a job, that is). The speaker's rationale was that tenure committees don't really care about the service side of anthropology and that, interestingly, it is the female professors who tend to take up the mantle of advising and outreach, which she implied is because of our nurture nature.

I actually like advising undergraduates and early graduate students. It's gratifying - and, I have to admit, flattering - when a student takes multiple classes with you and wants to model her future on what you've done. Since I had spectacularly bad advisors in college (one of whom told me I would never get into grad school in classics without an 800 verbal GRE score), I feel like advising is a sacred duty. I also like teaching. Sure, I'm a horrible public speaker and I'm always nervous the first week of classes, but once I get into a groove in the courses I love, like Osteo, Bioarch, and Forensics, I think I'm pretty good at teaching. I'm most effective on paper, which is how I've managed to get granting agencies to give me money, and that's a rewarding part of the job. But writing articles is definitely the hardest part, and is even harder now that I can't spend 12 hours a day for a week banging out a paper.

So I had hoped that the talk yesterday would give me some direction as a hyphenate: ABD-on-the-job-market-anthropologist-with-an-infant. Not to disparage the speaker, but her talk, on why she was 60 and still an associate professor, only vaguely touched on gender and didn't talk about a family balance, as she never married and had no kids. On the contrary, her advice to do more fieldwork is hard to follow with a young family. As departments like mine take graduate students who usually have an MA or life experience, and the average time to PhD is an additional 10 years, the majority of us are going to gain partners and families in grad school. Which means we (well, possibly more women than men, as we have more pressing issues of biology to deal with) have families when we start the tenure clock... if we can even find a job in this economy. It's not an asset for a woman to have a husband and kids when she's looking for an academic job, and if I get interviews, I won't mention the fact that I have both. (Of course, it's not hard to find out these facts, as I also don't feel that I should specifically hide who I am.)

My ideal job would be one in which I could ease into an academic role that so far I've only really taken on part-time (one class taught a semester, one research project focused on, small grants applied for, a student or two to advise). And, of course, I'd like a job where I won't miss out entirely on my daughter's formative years, because part of being an anthropologist is being interested in humans and their development. Academia needs to be more family-friendly, for both women and men, but the only way it's going to change is from within. Which means I need to find a job at a department that recognizes that all the experiences in my life make me a well-rounded anthropologist rather than worrying that they will lead to the demise of my career.

My mother-in-law asked me, perhaps facetiously, whether my being an anthropologist was nature or nurture. Probably a little bit of both, as a kernel of interest in dinosaurs and ancient Greeks grew into full-blown anthropology geekery with encouragement from my never-staid, boundaries-pushing parents. A large part of my work involves nurturing an anthropological perspective in the next generation... not only in undergraduates, but also in my daughter. That, to me, is a good work/life balance.

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