Thursday, November 3, 2011

Changing Our Minds

The Gateway District is where Progressive Field and the Quicken Loans Arena stand today, but until the 1940’s it was a residential and market district. Before the Jacobs brothers built Jacobs Field for the Cleveland Indians (currently Progressive Field), they called in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to do archaeological investigations. The materials that were excised from the lot went back to CMNH and hadn’t really been touched until 2000 when they were donated to Cleveland State University’s library (along with two other collections of historic artifacts). It sat there, dormant, until 2009 when the stewardship was passed on to someone who could put it use: the Department of Anthropology. And unfortunately, the collections came with very little documentation. 

Since 2009, the Archaeological Curation Lab has been in full swing, and it really is elegant and simple. Undergraduates can start working in the lab, no experience required, from day one – that’s exactly what I did. And right off the bat, those undergraduates can put their archaeological experience on their CV. The opportunity to handle, curate, inventory, and conserve archaeological artifacts is not only one of learning, but also fostering a faculty-student mentorship.

We finally finished inventorying the Gateway collection this past spring, and have since started work on the Mall A collection – nearly 100,000 artifacts. The preliminary research on the Gateway collection has been done, and I will be presenting it as a poster in two weeks in Montréal at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Here are some of the more interesting items we’ve uncovered in those dusty, rotting, cardboard boxes:

Porcelain doll fragments. 

Dental plate. 

One of the sexiest artifacst, a leather baseball. I am told it was discovered near where second base stands today.

And even some prehistoric items (including projectile points, not pictured).
As an undergraduate is wont to do, I have changed the focus of my interests to that of a more biological nature: disease, public health, genetics, population biology, and all still within the realm of anthropology. At the least, the lab work has opened doors to research, presentation, and active relationships with the faculty and students; at the most it has influenced my academic network, which is arguably one of the most important assets one can have in this field.

I still hope that one day we can get the public involved in Cleveland’s historic archaeology. The work we do in the lab requires little training and a lot of payoff, not just for the individual, but in this case for the department and for anthropology in general. If we want to change how anthropology is viewed – give the public a reason to appreciate what we do – little projects like this can help. Hopefully someone takes up that role as I move on to something more exciting for myself – my senior “thesis.” It’s not due for two years, but I have great plans in store and an advisor is already on board.

The point is this: Gateway is my baby, but this presentation marks a final shift as I move on to other things. I am both elated for the future and fearful of Gateway’s fate. Then again, my professors tell me that these stark shifts (e.g. historic archaeology to epidemiology) are not uncommon, even among PhD’s. So I’m interested, how many times have you changed your path? Did you go to grad school for something completely different than your B.A.? Are you working on something completely different from your PhD research?

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