by Web on February 12, 2016
Véronique Bélisle gained a new way of looking at the world when she took her first anthropology class at age 18.
“It was a real eye-opener,” recalled Bélisle, assistant professor of anthropology at Millsaps College. “It exposed me to the cultures, beliefs, customs, languages, and origins of different human populations around the world. I learned that putting practices that might seem foreign to us into their cultural context allows us to understand them.
“Archaeology is part of anthropology and is one way of understanding different facets of humanity. Studying our past allows us to understand where we come from and why our society is organized the way it is today. Whether we focus on the past or the present, anthropology is key to developing an informed appreciation and understanding of other cultures.”
Since 1999, Bélisle has conducted research in Peru, joined by students from the U.S.A., Canada, and Peru at her archaeological field school in Cusco.
“One Millsaps sociology and anthropology major joined my project in 2014, and six other students will come to Peru with me this summer,” she said. “We will live in the city of Cusco and excavate the archaeological site of Ak’awillay, a pre-Inka settlement. Apart from learning about the fun world of archaeology, this experience will allow students to immerse themselves in Peruvian culture, meet its friendly people, taste its delicious food, and learn a few phrases in Spanish. Students will also be able to see fabulous Andean landscapes and visit many touristic attractions, including Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, and prehistoric salt pans that are still in use today.”
Bélisle is interested in the impact of states and empires on the daily lives of the members of local communities near Cusco, which was the capital of the Inka empire and is now a key location for understanding the expansion of the earlier Wari state.
“Wari colonists migrated to the area and constructed large settlements during a period spanning from AD 600 to 1000,” she said. “Most research in Cusco has focused on these large Wari installations, leading many scholars to conclude that Wari administrators established direct imperial control over the region. My research takes a complementary ‘bottom-up’ approach and documents how local communities experienced Wari state expansion and how exchange with Wari colonists and others contributed to increasing social inequality in the region.”
Bélisle, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Université de Montréal and a doctorate from the University of Michigan, teaches courses such as Introduction to Archaeology and World Prehistory, The Inkas and Their Ancestors, and Archaeological Method and Theory.
“My method and theory course gives students hands-on experience excavating a local archaeological site or working with artifacts right here at Millsaps,” she said. “My other courses focus on different topics of anthropological significance, including the origins of social inequality, colonialism, death, tourism, and theory.”
Interacting with each and every student is one of the most rewarding experiences of being a professor, Bélisle said.
“The individualized learning experience that Millsaps promotes allows me to teach in the classroom but also across the street and around the globe, and I take every opportunity to include hands-on activities and go on field trips with students,” she said. “We visit archaeological sites around Mississippi, take a tour at a plantation, or participate in an archaeological excavation in Mississippi or in Peru.”