Engaged Anthropology Grant: Samantha Blatt

Samantha Blatt is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Boise State University. In 2011 while a doctoral student at The Ohio State University she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant  to aid research on “Assessing Growth and Development of Prehistoric Amerindians from Incremental Microstructures of Dental Enamel,” supervised by Dr. Paul W. Sciulli. In 2013 she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Toward a Collaborative Indigenous Bioarchaeology: Engaging Communities in the Relevance, Shared Knowledge, and Interpretation of Prehistoric North America,” 2014, Ohio & W. VA.

During December of 2014 and January of 2015, I traveled back to Ohio to disseminate the results and methods outlined in my dissertation in order to narrow the gap of relevance and accessibility of anthropology research between academe, the public, and the indigenous population under study. This was a three-part undertaking in which my goal was to present anthropology and the trials of research in as transparent (and of course as fun) a light as possible.

One of the most eye-opening experiences of undertaking this proposal was in providing a forum for indigenous communities to learn more about and discuss the results of the 2011 project. Dialogue about the prehistory of Native Americans is all too often a one-sided affair and bound by misunderstanding, mistrust, or impatience. Furthermore, indigenous communities are not often offered very much information about the final results of the studies they advocate. I undertook approval of the American Indian Advisory Council of Dayton to complete my dissertation research and wanted to extent my interaction with this group and other indigenous councils, not only to present the results of my research, but to allow them an advocate ear from the very same researcher. Topics discussed include archaeological ethics, importance of indigenous knowledge to archaeology, and the challenges of communication between indigenous groups and scientists during different phases of research. The purpose was to begin a local dialogue between anthropologists and Indigenous communities in order that these relationships might be strengthened and to foster future understanding and partnership both in Ohio and in my current location of Idaho. This forum was informally carried over to discussions I then had with Paiute members in Idaho who had similar, but more current concerns. I believe that this dialogue has opened up opportunities for collaboration of bioarchaeology and indigenous epistemology in the future.

During my previous work organizing workshops for archaeology and forensic anthropology with underrepresented low-income children from the Ohio and Idaho region, local educators consistently told me that their female students lose interest in science before high school and were excited to meet a practicing female scientist. I have since kept in touch as a mentor to several of the girls I have met in these outreach programs, one of which will be starting college in the fall; the first in her family. This project allowed me to revisit Ohio middle schools and invite Idaho school children to a general presentation about anthropology as science. In addition to this, I presented my findings to The Ohio State University Undergraduate Anthropology Club, a small group of graduate students, and at an informal and non-technical setting at the local Science Café. The Science Café is a public lecture in a café setting which is open to the general public, giving them a chance to learn about new research and engage with the researcher in a relaxed and fun environment. It was a chance to toss the technical jargon for a cup of joe. That experience has since led me to supervise undergraduates in planning and administering hands-on activities for the public at Boise State University’s STEM day festival.

Thirdly, I was able to provide hands-on training in sample processing and analytical methods for local researchers and graduate and undergraduate students in Idaho. These workshop built skills in the identification of dental remains, methods for collecting non-destructive dental impressions, basic microscopy procedures, and analyzing dental enamel microstructures. The workshop will specifically focused on how these methods are of value to bioarchaeology with examples from my 2011 study. I was able to use the same materials I used for my own research in addition to demonstrating microscopic analysis by using a digital, portable microscope. This workshop was particularly helpful to several graduate students who were in the planning stages of similar projects. This also resulted in the compilation of an instruction manual of sorts for recommended materials and supplies and sample preparation. The manual sits next to the histology equipment at Ohio State to this day and I was very proud to make the initial research stages for graduate students a bit easier than they were when I began my dissertation. I plan on making this manual readily available for free download to all researchers via website.

Overall, I believe that completing this engagement project has allowed me to maintain local contacts and make new ones, as well as bring the importance of making anthropology relevant to the public a more devoted aspect of my career. I hope in the future to be able establish more regular dialogues and interactions with bioarchaeologists, the public, and indigenous groups.

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