Monday, February 25, 2008

Good Practice for Grad School

This has been an exciting semester so far, and an immensely busy one. I'm taking ASB 591 Archaeology of Ancient Built Environments, I'm still working on a paper with Dr. Martin, I still have quite a bit of data entry to do for Dr. Smith, and I'm sitting in on Dr. Martin's graduate seminar entitled Biology and Society.

This seems like pretty good practice for graduate school-- since I'm doing all of the reading for two seminars and working on a major research project. If I am lucky enough to get accepted into the Master's program at NAU, it can't be much worse (except for the drive).

In Dr. Smith's Built Environment class, we're reading up on how the many ways that archaeologists propose for inferring culture from architecture. We've had some really stimulating conversations (there are five us us unrolled in the class), and kicked around many things I had never considered.

We've covered new broad topics each week:
  • The Meaning of the Built Environment - reading mostly works by Amos Rapoport, who proposes that the environment can possess lower-level meaning (cues for what we are supposed to do), middle level meaning (e.g. identity, status, power), or high level meaning (e.g. world view, spiritual meaning). Intriguing urban design/social engineering controversy: Urban planner Robert Moses designed expressway systems in New York City, and supposedly designed the expressway bridges with such low clearance that public transportation (buses) could not go under them. This discriminated against the poor communities (few had automobiles) preventing them from visiting parks, baseball, etc. He is even credited by some with driving the Brooklyn Dodgers out of New York. read more at Wikipedia.
  • Settings for Activities - Dana Anderson, Susan Kent, and more Rapoport. We covered the definition of "activity" and "activity areas", discussed the types of activities (daily, subsistence, ritualistic, production, consumption), the types of activity areas (shared or dedicated), and Rapoport's concept that activities cannot be viewed alone, but as part of a larger activity system. He believes that settings are also part of larger setting systems.
  • Habitus and Home - Looking at domestic structures, Richard Blanton, Kent Lightfoot, and others looked at methods for identifying meaning. Most of these authors make it clear that to gain a full picture, one must combine data from archaeology, ethnohistory, and even oral histories.
  • Housing and Communication - House construction and design is to a large extent a consumer decision... how much to spend, etc. Blanton looks at how the decoration and design of a house communicates on multiple levels: What group the owners are in, their status in the community, etc.
  • Roland Fletcher - His model for settlement growth is pretty interesting (although I'm not sure what it can be used for if you are an archaeologist). It grows out of his belief that interpersonal interaction and limits on communication increase as settlements get larger, ultimately limiting the size of growth until the interactions are curbed or new facilitating communication technologies emerge. See The Limits of Settlement Growth.
We have 8 more weeks of topics, usually reading 6 papers per week. I need to read a related book and write a publishable review, and I also need to produce an original research paper, some kind of cross-cultural comparative study using existing data.

If I can survive this semester, I should be able to handle the real thing.

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