May 19, 2010

That's Odd

I was talking to the isotope geochemist on my committee after we hashed out how to fix the strontium equation in my diss. He said, "I liked reading your dissertation. It's different than what we see in the hard sciences. But I get the feeling that it's odd." Odd? "Yeah, from the two committee members on the phone [Nic and Carole], it seemed like what you did was odd." Again, what was odd? That I wrote and defended a dissertation while also a new mother to an infant? That I finished my degree in 7 years, well under the standard for anthropology? "No, it's like it was odd that you did isotope analysis. Or that you studied skeletons. Or something. I was confused because it seems to me that archaeologists around the world are doing isotope analysis - we get dozens of requests a month."

Ah. The light went off. I explained that the combination of factors in my dissertation - the difficulty getting access to Roman skeletons, the need to be trained in both classics and anthropology, having to get by as best I could in my broken Italian, having to write and rewrite grant proposals for tens of thousands of dollars in grant money, and learning a crapload about archaeochemistry in a very short time - is what is odd. This approach, specifically chemical analysis of human skeletal remains from Rome itself, is new and different. It remains to be seen how my work will be received by the classics community, who are generally a bit suspicious about scientific approaches to the ancient world (and even more so if historical, cultural, and/or epigraphical data are not also engaged).

For better or for worse, though, I've taken on the incredibly broad topic of movement to Rome (voluntary and compulsory) and am trying to say something about the lives of those immigrants. I come down strongly on the side of "osteology can tell us more about a person than a tombstone can," but many, many classicists are not on the same side. So I'm trying my best to get this dissertation out before the end of the month, because I'm curious to see what life my ideas will have outside of my brain and my dissertation.

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