|Kasia Szremski Excavating a camelid |
mandible (photo: Jordan Farfan Lopez)
|Plans and Profiles #18: Kasia Szremski, Interaction and Agriculture in the Ancient Andes|
1) Tell me a little bit about your project.
2) How did you become interested in this particular problem?
One of the things that I am really interested in is how social identities are formed and maintained/transformed over time. Since Barth, we have known that interaction between groups is an important part of identity formation and there have been several interesting archaeological studies, particularly in the Classical world, looking at how interaction between different groups lead to the formation of Greek and Roman identities (for example, see Knapp and Van Dommelen 2010). The Andes are also a great place to study the impact of intergroup interaction on identity, because it is a region that has extreme ethnic and ecological diversity and many different groups had to interact with each other in order to gain access to different natural resources. However, while many researchers studied interaction between expansive groups such as the Inka or the Wari and the groups that they respectively conquered, less attention has been paid to interaction between small-scale, non-state groups. I feel that studying interaction between these smaller groups is important because it can provide important insight into what local geopolitics were like before expansive groups come into the area as well as to better understand how local geopolitics affected larger regional processes.
3) Why did you choose crowdfunding as a means to support your research?
Kasia (right) excavating in a pit near a wall
(Photo: Luisa Hinostroza)
I chose crowdfunding because, I think that it is an interesting way for scientists and the public to interact. Based on conversations that I have had with people outside of science, it seems clear that the public at large don’t have a clear idea of exactly what it is that scientists do, or how scientists use their grant money. This becomes particularly obvious when one looks at the comment section at the end of articles on scientific discoveries in media, or when one watches Fox News “report” on things like climate change or the infamous duck penis study. Crowdfunding is one way to help bridge this gap by getting the public to be actively involved in scientific research. For example, on Microryza, the crowdfunding platform that I am using, not only do you have to explain your project and justify your budget, but you provide your backers with periodic updates about your research, which gives the donors an insider’s view of how discoveries are actually made. You can see my page here, as an example. Furthermore, I think that crowdfunding may become an important source of funding for small, seed projects, especially for younger researchers since the competition for traditional grants has become exceptionally fierce.
4) If you could ask the people who lived at your site(s) one question what would it be?
5) Why did you choose Vanderbilt University?
After I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago, I knew that I wanted to pursue a PhD in Andean archaeology but was unsure of where to apply. As much as I loved Chicago, I knew was that I couldn’t stand another Chicago winter! I consulted with one of my professors, and he suggested that I check out Vanderbilt, so I did some online research and was immediately impressed by what the department had to offer and I also really like the theoretical approach taken by many members of the faculty. Overall, my time at Vanderbilt has been great, we have a very small student to faculty ratio and the faculty is very supportive of student research initiatives. We also have a really tight knit graduate community, so overall the experience there has been really great.
6) How do you unwind when you need to get away from your research?
I am an avid runner and find that running is the best way to unwind and relax after a long day. While we were excavating, I became really well known in Sayan, where our field house was, because I would run every evening after getting back from the field. This proved to be quite the attraction for the local kids, who would track me down every afternoon in order to find out what time I was planning to run that day so that they could join me. Since starting grad school, I have competed in 5 marathons, and right now am getting ready for my 6th!
7) If you could give your younger self advice at the start of your career, what would it be?
I think I would tell my younger self to slow down and relax a little bit and not to worry so much about the little stuff.
8) What archaeological discovery or project do you wish you could have been part of?
Oh, there are so many! I have always been fascinated by Egyptian archaeology and I think it would have been amazing to have worked on some of the early expeditions in the 20’s and 30’s. In terms of more modern projects, I would love the chance to work at Cahokia or at Teotihuacan, which are my two favorite non-Andean sites. I finally got the chance to visit Cahokia last year and it was amazing. I hope to make it to Teotihuacan soon.
9) What books or websites would you recommend if people want to learn more about your area of interest in general? Or your project in particular?
You can follow and support Kasia's research on the crowdfunding website Microryza: How did feasting promote cooperation between cultures in the ancient Andes?
Kasia Szremski, unless otherwise noted in the captions
Plans and Profiles Banner, Tim Rast based on a linocut by Lori White