My Rich Dissertation

I found out on Friday that my proposal to do additional chemical testing on bones and teeth was funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. They've awarded me a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to run strontium analysis on upwards of 100 samples from my Roman skeletons. (You know, all those bits of bone I sawed through last summer and smuggled back - well, legally brought back - to the U.S.) I'm super excited about this for two reasons. First, of course, now that my dissertation project is well-funded through a variety of granting agencies, I will be doing the largest strontium study from ancient world remains. Strontium analysis will tell me where my Romans originated, which will in turn help me talk about the nature of migration in the Roman Empire, a topic that surprisingly hasn't really been covered apart from slavery/forced migration. We have no idea where people moved to Rome from, whether they lived with other people from their homelands or blended together, what kinds of jobs they had, and whether they were healthy or not. The second reason I'm excited is that it's surprisingly hard for archaeologists to get Wenner-Gren funding, as they tend to fund the more culturally-focused projects and because the archaeology projects have to be far-reaching and engage contemporary theory. I think that only one other archaeology student in my department in the last 8 years has gotten funded by Wenner-Gren, so I feel like I've just gotten a ginormous gold star on my dissertation. (Not to mention, my advisor and department will be pretty happy about this too.)

Because I'm still in I'm-completely-magnum mode, I will share with you some of my favorite lines from the reviews of my proposal. Don't worry, the president of the foundation ended on a line that put me in my place.
  • "A very strong proposal that struggles to cross the not insignificant disciplinary terrain between anthropology and classics. Such pioneering work should be steadfastly encouraged rather than beaten back by entrenched disciplinary interests."
  • "I like this application very much. It is a timely and topical proposal, the applicant has the right background (classics and bioarchaeology), and knows the relevant literature (and is aware of significant projects in Europe that address similar questions elsewhere, for example in Britain)."
  • "I like the proposal, it seems well thought out, the question is of interest, using isotope analyses to identify individual immigrants is obviously a strong approach, and given the importance of migration in human societies today, understanding the role of migration in ancient societies is not only of interest in an anthropological context, but could have more far-reaching implications."
  • President's Response: "Congratulations on being among the top 2% of the applications submitted for the Dissertation Fieldwork Grant this season. This is quite an achievement and particularly so considering that it is your fourth submission to the Foundation. Well done."

In spite of my bravado, I'm still quite surprised that this proposal got funded. As the president alluded to, it was my fourth application, and I was completely frustrated with the Foundation. Each time you re-apply, you have to include a page explaining how you changed your project since the last time. For this project, I explained that I was only asking for a portion of the project to be funded and better contextualized my research question in light of anthropological theory. But I was also tired of reviewers slamming me for being a classicist or the discipline of classics for being resistant to change, so I ended my proposal with this paragraph:

"Finally, an issue that several reviewers have had with this project in general deserves comment. Having studied in both classics and anthropology departments for over a decade, I am well aware of the disconnect and animosity that often exists between researchers in the two fields. Some classical archaeologists are guilty of perpetuating a text-based, ideologically-driven approach to the past, and some anthropological archaeologists do not allow for the possibility that classical archaeology is evolving and can contribute new information and new theories to anthropology. A previous reviewer noted that, “The urban processes the proposal seeks to elucidate are not spelled out in an anthropological fashion, although I would expect that they meet the standards of classical archaeology.” Another took issue with my claim that this project could contribute new information to the study of urban development in the past and said that a “major accomplishment” in anthropological archaeology has been to “take on and answer questions beyond that of the typical role of classical archaeology of corroborating or contradicting the received wisdom of written sources.” The historical record of Imperial Rome cannot be ignored and is a useful place to start in posing questions, but my project goes beyond confirming or denying history. Another reviewer expressed the concern that I made “naΓ―ve statements and expectations in terms of bringing together two areas that have developed in opposition over the course of the development of the university system in the US.” Without ambitious and multidisciplinary projects, however, we stand to miss out on the contributions in method and theory that classics and anthropology can make to one another. In this proposal, I address the historical record as well as current theory in both classical archaeology and anthropology in regard to migration, I present preliminary findings of my fieldwork, and I discuss how an in-depth stable isotope analysis will provide information not only about Roman life but also about ancient migration in general."

I wasn't exactly magnanimous in this statement, but after 3 rejections I felt the need to defend myself and to call out reviewers who clearly held a grudge against classics. So, yeah, still very surprised that this proposal was funded. But I was heartened that there are anthropologists out there who aren't writing me off as "just a classicist" and who recognize that ancient Rome can yet yield new information. I can't wait to get started on analyzing these bones - I plan to spend basically all summer in the isotope labs at UNC and Duke. Fun!


SS said…
Congratulations! You really seem to be excelling. I feel like a slacker.
Whenever i see the post like your's i feel that there are still helpful people who share information for the help of others, it must be helpful for other's. thanx and good job.

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