Anthropology students investigate people of the past, present

anthropology, n: The science of humans, or of humankind, in the widest sense. (Adapted from the Oxford English Dictionary)

Few disciplines can claim the distinction as being so broad as anthropology, a field that encompasses in-the-field archaeological digs as well as the study of folklore and culture, and fewer still draw students who are as multifaceted as the discipline itself.

Third-year Christopher Lowman chose to pursue a graduate education due to a passion for archaeological research and teaching.

Christopher Lowman displays an eighteenth-century pipe stem, unearthed in the British Virgin islands. Photo courtesy Christopher Lowman.

Christopher Lowman displays an eighteenth-century pipe stem, unearthed in the British Virgin islands. Photo courtesy Christopher Lowman.

“Graduate work allows me to seek academic and community support for archaeology projects, and also to have a career writing and teaching, and surrounded by others working in many related fields,” Lowman said.

Though graduate school had long been a part of his educational plan, his undergraduate research experiences, including work at sites in Turkey, England, and Palo Alto, solidified this interest.

“I had planned to do graduate work since I decided to pursue archaeology as a career when I was pretty young,” Lowman said. “More practically, toward the end of undergrad I was becoming involved in research projects that were larger-in-scope than an academic year…graduate work seemed like the best means of support for this research.”

Lowman’s current research focuses on a history of the Bay Area that draws connections to Japanese archaeology.

“I’m researching 19th century immigration and cross-cultural interaction between North America and Asia,” Lowman said. “My dissertation will focus on Chinese laborers working in the Bay Area between the 1870s and 1920s. I also have ongoing research on museum collections of Ainu material from northern Japan, from roughly the same time period. Ultimately, I’m interested in ways that these two lines of research can be informative about interactions between North America and Asia at that time.”

Though excited about his research opportunities, it is his newfound passion for teaching that guides his post-doctoral plans: “I have particularly enjoyed being a Graduate Student Instructor [GSI], and so I plan to seek academic jobs doing research and teaching, heading toward a professorship,” Lowman explained, “This past summer I did research at the Smithsonian as part of the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology, and hope to work closely with other museums in the future. Since working with the public is something I’m interested in, I’ve also been involved with many outreach events [including local schools, Public Archaeology Days, and the Gamble House].”

Similar to Lowman, fifth-year PhD candidate Sam Dubal plans to extend his career beyond the confines of strict academia; in fact, the Harvard Medical School (HMS) student’s passion for multidisciplinary drove his decision to take time away from HMS and pursue a PhD in anthropology.

Photo courtesy Sam Dubal.

Sam Dubal mixes mud to make sun-dried bricks for use in constructing a hut in Gulu District, Uganda. Photo courtesy Sam Dubal.

“As I studied medicine at Harvard, I became dissatisfied with the ways in which politics became filtered out of and silenced within both medical education and clinical practice,” Dubal said. “I could not imagine myself pursuing the career that seemed to lie ahead of me, as a purely biomedical physician. In order to create and become the kind of politicized physician I wanted to be, I knew that I had a lot to learn about political philosophy and critical theory.

“Unable to find time to read the radical philosophy and critical theory I craved while in medical school, I decided to pursue graduate school to give myself the time and space to read and equip myself with the tools and theories to re-think a politics of medicine.”

Now that his immersion in theory and philosophy is coming to a close, Dubal will draw upon his experience in anthropology while in residency training, possibly in primary care, emergency medicine, or psychiatry. However, his ultimate goal lies beyond the examination room; he envisions a radical restructuring of the medical industry altogether.

“I seek a joint academic appointment in a school of medicine and a department of anthropology, a position that would allow me to continue to develop a praxis of ‘radical medicine’, a re-formulation of the way we think of the role of medicine in society as a force for radical social change,” Dubal said. “Combining critical theory with medical practice, I aim to develop new possibilities for putting medicine at the service of political change.”

Dubal is already working toward this at Berkeley, and currently organizes the ‘Envisioning Radical Experiments in Clinical Medicine’ collective. Though integral to his vocation, this active engagement with the larger medical community has proved challenging.

“There are many interesting texts to read; many conversations to be had; many talks to attend; and many different paths to growth and learning,” Dubal said. “Graduate school trains students to become scholars, not necessarily scholar-activists…I had to cultivate (and continually re-cultivate) a mindful consciousness and dedication to pull myself out of the ivory tower.”

However, some anthropologists do view their academic research as a type of informative activism. Recent graduate of the joint UCB/UCSF medical anthropology program Dr. Rachel Ceasar studied the intersection of exhumation protocols and the politics of memory in regard to the Spanish Civil War.

Photo courtesy Rachel Ceasar

Rachel Ceasar participating in fieldwork. Photo courtesy Rachel Ceasar.

“The knowledge politics surrounding Spanish exhumations ultimately determine which remains are exhumed and remembered (i.e., Spanish Republican partisans), and which are not (i.e., Berber Muslim mercenaries, Spanish Catholic Nationalist soldiers),” Ceasar said. “By projecting a perspective of the recent past as being resolved through the selective exhumation of victims, this contemporary Spanish project of memorialization reinscribes existing gendered, religious, and racial disparities.”

Ceasar, who spent her post-baccalaureate years living and working in Mexico, is driven by an interest in research, even moving into a new project that was begun at the end of her dissertation.

“I am currently…continuing research examining primary care providers’ perceptions among patients with past or current substance use engaged in chronic non-cancer pain management in the San Francisco safety net,” Ceasar said. “Inspired by Michael Montoya’s community-based participatory research in Orange County, I wanted to conduct research in my own neighborhood and conduct collaborative research and work on a team.”

Though she is more immediately interested in professorships, Ceasar will transition into a postdoctoral fellowship at the School of Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand, in South Africa, and work toward the publication of her dissertation.

About Elizabeth Grossman

Elizabeth is a first-year student in the Chemistry department. Outside the lab, her interest in experimentation extends to the kitchen, and she's often found with her nose in a book.