Each year Millsaps students who meet certain academic criteria have the opportunity to pursue independent research as participants in the College's honors program. Honors students in our department typically base their honors theses around original field research. This fall, four seniors - Erin Jordan, Ben McNair, Evan Parker, and Maria Underwood - are nearing completion of four exciting honors projects in the department.
Erin Jordan's project, fabulous title in the works, focuses mainly on support systems surrounding grief in Peramiho, Tanzania. She examines mourning rituals, family structures, and community involvement to see how each affects individuals throughout the grieving process.
A large part of her project also deals with the craft of ethnography: writing about anthropology in ways that make it meaningful and accessible to those outside the discipline.
"I chose the topic because I really loved Tanzania when I went there two summers ago (and I kind of just wanted a reason to go back), and also because I'm interested in how people deal with difficult issues like death and where they look to heal or to receive help," she said when asked about why she chose her topic. Erin is also a Ford Fellow with Dr. Julian Murchison as her mentor.
Evan Parker's project, "Descending the Stairway to Heaven: The Rapid Abandonment of a Terminal Classic Puuc Hilltop Site" is an archaeological analysis of artifact assemblages from the small site of Escalera al Cielo (EAC) in the Yucatán Peninsula. He is analyzing the artifact assemblages of five different structures on EAC.
"My goal is to determine the rate of abandonment for the site, as well as discuss the broader nature of site abandonment. To do this, I have reconstructed smashed whole pots that were left on the floors of the structures. These broken pots, called de facto refuse, indicate that EAC was abandoned fairly rapidly during the Terminal Classic period."
Evan has worked on the Bolonchen Regional Archaeological Project under Dr. George Bey before and said, "I was already familiar with the site, and Dr. Bey recommended that I investigate the period of abandonment. In other words, this project basically fell into my lap!" He will be presenting the results of my research with Dr. Bey and another graduate student in the form of a paper at the next Society for American Archaeology meeting.
Ben McNair, whose project has yet to be titled, is studying the relationship between multimedia news sources and politics in Argentina. While studying in Buenos Aires in the Spring of 2010, he became enthralled with an intriguing conflict between one of the largest multimedia news outlets in the world, Grupo Clarín, and the nation's current President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
In addition to synthesizing a chronology of the conflict, which heated up in 2008, he is studying styles of communication and interaction, cultural narratives, and the role of the free press in democracy.
Maria Underwood is a Religious Studies major and Anthropology minor. Her project is titled "Buying Jesus: A Contemporary Study of Sacred Consumerism" and examines the religious marketplace in our culture and why that leads to a rise in sacred space. "Basically I am testing the theory that many sacred spaces have developed gift shops, paraphernalia, admission prices, etc. as a way to keep up with the capitalist American economy," Maria explains.
Traditionally anthropologists have argued that an object can never be both sacred and profane, but must be one or the other. Maria argues that the traditional classification of the sacred and the profane must be revisited and redefined, because many sacred spaces function with a foot in each of these worlds. Her field research was conducted at the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, AL.
"I first became interested in this project when I visited the Middle East last year, because I noticed all of the religious items being sold on the streets like fake handbags in Chinatown. I began to wonder if putting a price on an item took away its sanctity and made it a commodity, or whether this transaction gave the object some sacred power.