spectating participant

December 4, 2005

anthropological highlights

Filed under: school, life — suzanne henderson @ 2:50 pm

I’ve made many comments about my pursuit of a degree in Anthropology while I have almost no interest in the field of anthropology. This tends to get quizzical looks because it doesn’t make sense. Why spend time and money pursuing a degree in a field that I don’t want to be a part of? I then attempt to explain the basic core of anthropology which is research, field work, and experiments and how I plan to make that work to my benefit in the professional world. Of course, it still lingers, that pondering look at my declared distaste in anthropology.

There has been a slight adjustment in this contempt I have. First, I’m taking Introduction to Biological Anthropology, a course I took before when the world was falling apart around me and didn’t score very high. Despite the D I earned last year, it was the most fascinating anthropological information I heard in all my departmental course requirements. Evolution is a fascinating thing, from looking at the biology of living organisms to the cultural behaviors of primates and ancient hominids. I must admit that I still don’t care much for the examination of skulls of various hominids, analyzing their hundreds of thousands years old characteristics for species classification. But I do find the overall science of it all rather exciting. So fascinating that I will be a TA (teacher’s assistant) next semester for this same course, helping a graduate TA teach the lab sections where students get to do the hands learning.

By the end of next semester, I should have a very firm understanding of the overall evolution of hominoids and hominids and be able to explore my interest further if I want. And, perhaps I will engage people in the incredibly fascinating topic (to me at this point) of how and why human evolution followed a specific course. In fact, I’ll be armed with a very well done website, Becoming Human, to send people to for an interactive and visually engaging presentation of evolutionary information in simple terms with deeper, more technical information available with just a mouse click. This website is great for students from elementary school through college. I wish that I had found it at the beginning of this course because it ties all the information we’ve learned together in a interesting package that makes anthropology seem a little less stuffy and dull.

There is another website that I recently came across that also offers a wealth of information: Human Origins project. This project is part of the Smithsonian Institute and is very informative. However, they seem to have continued the dry tradition of anthropology and just poured out endless links of information without trying to make it engaging. For someone who is really into this stuff, this website may be more accessible in terms of research than Becoming Human, however I want to refer people to something that sparks excitement and intrigue, not headaches from never-ending rows of small white type on a dark background.

Now, this increased interest in anthropology got another boost on Friday. At the Smithsonian’ Museum of Natural History, I went to a flint knapping demonstration organized by my professor. The idea of making stone tools does somewhat interest me from the crafting side of my life. I’ve taken a greater interest on manipulating various materials, be it metal, wire, wood, or plant, and felt that making stone tools would be able to keep my interest for the hour long presentation it was touted to be. The demonstration went on for more than an hour and I left around the second hour mark because I needed to get home to alex, however that time flew by in minutes.

The presenters, whose names I need to get from my professor, were fabulous. They did not get in front of us with a dry presentation drawn up, droning on about the historical context of stone tool use or anything like that (as I expected them to do thanks to the dull lip-service given to stone tools by my archaeology professor last year). No, they were excited about their work, eager to answer questions, and made a conversational flow the basis of their presentation. I learned so many things in that short period of time that really excited me and made me see the broader implication of anthropological research and why people spend their lives getting dirty to learn about people who are dead and gone (plus some). I found out thing about tool use that I didn’t imagine I’d ever be interested in and I eagerly asked questions to find out even more. I was amazed by the experimental integrity needed to draw certain conclusions about stone tool construction and the wealth of data such a minor modification to a stone can provide to researchers. Hands on and practical, this information boosted the respect I have for anthropologists and has made me glad that I will have a degree with anthropology written on it.

When I first entered college, I took an anthropology course in my freshman or sophomore year. I remember the excitement I felt after the course, wishing that I could ignore the practicality of needing a degree that would get me a job making money and pursue it academically. It is funny how I switched into anthropology when I transferred to Maryland and then discounted the importance and significance of the field. Perhaps it was just that loss of the spark I first felt when the information brought the subject to life and highlighted the intersection of biology, evolution, history, and culture. And now, as I’m on may way out the campus door in one more semester, it is exciting knowing that I’ll have the skills I need to pursue my professional interests in education and that I could also meddle around in the traditional anthropology field as well.