By Bryan Tilt
Graduate Program Coordinator
Anthropology, Oregon State University
I’m pleased have the opportunity to describe some of the programs and activities taking place in the Anthropology Department at Oregon State University, which has a strong tradition of combining scholarship with community engagement. It’s a difficult task to do justice to the wide variety of things we do, but here goes. First, a little bit of historical context. Despite its relatively small size (currently 11 full-time faculty), the Anthropology Department at Oregon State University offers four-field graduate training in Anthropology. Our M.A. degree was established as one of the first programs in applied anthropology in the early 1990s, and our Ph.D. degree became fully operational in 2006. Both programs are geared toward filling an important and growing niche: the need for anthropologists with advanced training in applied research. We currently have about 35 M.A. students and 10 Ph.D. students in the program. Our graduates go on to careers in academia or employment in a huge variety of other areas, including government agencies (recent examples include the Bureau of Land Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration); the non-profit sector (examples include global organizations such as Oxfam, and regional organizations such as the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission); tribal groups around the country, and the private sector.
AREAS OF EXCELLENCE
The Department has 11 faculty with wide-ranging areas of expertise from the archaeology of prehistoric and historic northwest coast populations to Latino migrants and youth culture. Given our emphasis on applied research projects and community engagement, I would like to highlight a few recent areas of excellence and describe how these areas are integrated into our curriculum and graduate training programs. Each area touches on key lines of inquiry in contemporary anthropology with both theoretical and applied significance.
Historic and Prehistoric Archaeology
The archaeologists at OSU conduct fieldwork and run archaeological field schools in a variety of locations. One example is Loren Davis’ excavations on the Lower Salmon River Canyon in Western Idaho, a site occupied by hunter-gatherer groups between 13,000 and 8,000 years before present. This project is supported by a cooperative agreement between OSU’s Department of Anthropology and the Bureau of Land Management. Davis also has ongoing projects in Baja, Mexico with the goal of understanding the migration route of the earliest North Americans some 13,000 years ago. Meanwhile, historic archaeologist Dave Brauner has led effort to design the 130-acre Fort Hoskins Historic Park, which features interpretive signage about historical events and artifacts amidst an ecological tapestry of Oregon oak savannah. This work combines archival and archaeological research to answer some fundamental questions about early Euro-American settlers in the Pacific Northwest. Leah Minc focuses her research on Meso-American archaeology. Her work builds bridges between the Anthropology Department and the neutron activation analysis program in the Radiation Center at OSU, where she uses cutting-edge technology to examine the clay composition of pottery. One of the goals of this body of research is to understand the chronology of the rise of complex state societies in Meso-America.
Food and Culture
Another signature area of excellence in our department is the interdisciplinary study of food and food systems. Cultural anthropologists Joan Gross and Nancy Rosenberger, among others, are studying the strengths and challenges of local food systems and exploring ideas for innovation and improvement. OSU’s location in the Willamette Valley, a rich and fertile area with a legacy of both small-scale, community-centered agriculture and farming operations with increasingly global ties, makes this a great place to do such research. One applied outcome of this research is the Emergency Food Pantry, which was established in 2009 at OSU by anthropology faculty and graduate students, with the goal of improving food security among university students during these economically challenging times. The project is a collaboration between the Linn Benton Food Share (a multi-county organization), the Ten Rivers Food Web (a non-profit organization), and Oregon State University. The result is a vibrant hub of activity where, according to one graduate student researcher, people can “share in food, fellowship, and advocacy.”
Environmental and medical anthropology
Several department faculty members have expertise and on-going research projects in environmental and medical anthropology. Melissa Cheyney, a medical anthropologist and certified home-birth midwife, has several research projects that examine the disparate outcomes between home births and hospital births, with the goal of improving health outcomes and fostering communication between different types of maternal care providers. Sunil Khanna explores the politics of gender preference in India and its intersection with state policies and new medical technologies such as prenatal ultrasound. He also leads research efforts here in Oregon to improve cultural competency among health care providers. Deanna Kingston leads an interdisciplinary team in the study of the culture and ecology of the Alaskan Arctic and other circum-polar regions. These efforts have far-reaching implications for understanding indigenous knowledge and predicting how cultural groups will be affected by new challenges such as global climate change. Bryan Tilt, an environmental anthropologist, focuses his research on human-environment interactions in contemporary China, with a focus on sustainable development.
Globalization and Localization
Many of our faculty members have research interests that focus on the increasingly global flows of people, capital and ideas. David McMurray, for example, studies the impacts of increased mobility of people, cultural practices and capital due to globalization. This work has implications for understanding popular culture, music and ethnic identity in the U.S., Europe and North Africa. Joan Gross also examines such global flows, with a particular focus on language and cultural identity. Fina Carpena-Mendez is researching Mexico-U.S. migration and its effects on families—particularly children—on both sides of the border. This work has implications for understanding how people cope with dramatic economic and cultural shifts due to globalization. The applied outcomes of this body of research include raising awareness of the important role that language plays in cultural identity formation, and promoting multilingualism as a means of fostering cross-cultural understanding.
WHAT CAN POTENTIAL STUDENTS EXPECT?
Given all of this, what can potential graduate students expect from their anthropological training at Oregon State University? First, they can expect to get involved in a variety of research projects. Many of these projects are funded by entities such as the National Science Foundation, Fulbright, Oregon State Parks, the Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Sea Grant, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and many other organizations. Graduate students can also expect to get involved with interdisciplinary curriculum and research opportunities. We often collaborate with colleagues and students from other strong units on campus, including Forestry, Agriculture, Engineering, Public Health, and related programs.
The majority of our graduate students receive financial support in the form of research assistantships and teaching assistantships; our graduate students play a critical role in helping us to educate a diverse student body. In collaboration with their faculty advisor, graduate students chart out a demanding but relatively flexible curriculum in which they can take courses from within the department and from related disciplines. We also require our graduate students to complete an internship, which serves several purposes: it gives them an opportunity to use their training in a hands-on setting; it often gives them access to the study populations and data sources that they need in order to write theses and dissertations; and it provides them with professional networking opportunities, which improves their chances of getting employed after graduation.
In short, we’re using anthropological skills and methods to work with people, understand the past and present, and shape the future. If you’d like to work with us, please visit our web site (http://oregonstate.edu/cla/anthropology/) or contact us for more information.