Building a Literature Bank in Forensic Anthropology Builds Team-Based Skills for Graduate School

Lauren Mitchell, Annaleise Schneider, and Caitlin Hobbs

While the summer semester came with additional challenges because of the coronavirus, these challenges did not put a damper on academic curiosity and endeavors. Throughout the summer I had the opportunity to take a directed applied research course with Dr. Gooding. Through this course I was able to establish a deeper appreciation for the research process. I conducted literature searches and paraphrased research studies and books. Additionally, I learned new methods behind age estimation techniques in forensic anthropology using various skeletal markers. All the while, care was taken to ensure that academic rigor was on par with what we as students would experience in person. Dr. Gooding had online team meetings with us every few weeks to discuss our progress and was always available on our team chat. I also worked on an outreach project for the anthropology open house in order to introduce students to opportunities in biological anthropology within the department. All in all, I learned many valuable new skills with my experience as a research assistant with Dr. Gooding for the summer. From gathering information to aid in the research process and collecting information to synthesizing the information from the source articles concisely. These things will be valuable for my future in graduate school. – Mitchell

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our group research work was shifted to a virtual classroom. While a virtual classroom might seem like a difficult place to conduct group research, our group found we were able to communicate and cooperate from a distance, both effectively and efficiently. Our group conducted meetings intermittently via MS teams, allowing us to chat and collaborate on our research while also providing the unique opportunity to get to know each other and meet one another’s pets. We gained experience in graduate level applications of research skills through intensive research and review, and we were each able to focus on our personal areas of interest. Personally, I was able to explore methods and practices used in the field of forensic anthropology, and to take a detailed look into trauma interpretation, pathological conditions and anomalies, forensic scene recovery, taphonomy, and methods used to estimate the postmortem interval. Towards the end of the semester, we were able to return to campus for a few days for in-person teamwork, cultivating and organizing the skeletal collection for the Department of Geography and Anthropology. Throughout the semester, I gained valuable insight into methods and applications relevant to my field of interest, experience compiling and succinctly annotating articles, and an understanding of team research. This knowledge proved to be exceedingly valuable for my current and future academic endeavors, and subsequently, for my career aspirations. – Schneider

Moving online during the COVID-19 pandemic was definitely a challenge, and with a different group of people it would have posed an issue. Fortunately, everyone involved with our project were the kind of people who could make sure they got their part done with just a few Microsoft Team meetings or reaching out for help if needed in the team chat. The occasional guest appearance of everyone’s pets was just an added bonus. The subject field was wide enough that all of us were able to choose specific topics within the field of forensics. For instance, I don’t have much interest in the medico-legal side of the field and don’t plan on going into the law enforcement field, but I have interest in ancient cultures and grave retrievals so I chose topics relevant to identification of sex, ancestry, and age in skeletons, personal identification, and comingling issues. Unfortunately, unlike the others in my group, I was unable to make it to campus for any extra in-person projects. Regardless, I was still able to gain valuable experience and knowledge working at a graduate level through collecting the necessary studies and annotating them. This experience will be incredibly important moving forward with attending graduate school and later, a career in the field of anthropology. – Hobbs

Anthropology Goes Digital

Chelsea Walker

There’s a saying, that I’ve heard before, that, “Life is like looking both ways before you cross a street, and then getting hit by an airplane.” Now, with a chuckle and a smile on my face, I have to say that sometimes there is a smidge of truth in these sayings. For me, and I’m sure for many others, one very fine example of said saying was the summer of 2020.  After working every semester (including summers) for the last 4 years, all that was needed was an internship or practicum in my final summer semester, and I would graduate with a degree in anthropology! Dreaming of becoming an archaeologist, I was poised to join a field school in Italy, but as COVID-19 spread further, borders were then closed, and field schools cancelled. As I worried for the status of my graduation, and panic threatened to set in, I thankfully kept a line of communication open with my professors who started offering remote practicum opportunities! After much deliberation and communication, I happily ended up taking the opportunity underneath Dr. Gooding, a professor of anthropology at KSU.

 I started off the summer by simply editing websites for KSU’s anthropology department, while brainstorming ideas for an engagement video for archaeology at KSU. This practicum challenged me to be flexible, to think outside of the box, to get out of my comfort zone, and come up with ways to get people engaged and excited about archaeology remotely. I learned new skills in video design, editing, and voice overs through the length of this course that I will be able to take into any career I go into. I enjoy being creative, so once got the ball rolling, then there was no stopping the ideas that kept coming! After finishing the archaeology engagement video, I was then able to take my interest in physical anthropology and the human skeleton and create an engagement video for prospective students. I then was able to create an advice video of tips and tricks for students who have enrolled in “The Human Skeleton” course. In the end, I was able to take my love of anthropology and archaeology and make videos that will help KSU and students for years to come.

Creating an engagement video for showcasing archaeology.

Overall, this practicum taught me to be flexible, roll with what comes my way, and to think outside of the box. From student to student, don’t ever let any obstacle get in your way of pursuing your degree or your dreams! Whether you decide on (or life throws you onto the path of) an internship or a practicum, always keep an open line of communication with the people you are working with and put your best foot forward!

Creating a tips and tricks video for ANTH 2223 The Human Skeleton from a prior student’s perspective!

Mortuary Archeology in Poland: The Slavia Project’s Deviant Burials

Aleese Callum

Images of adolescent female with a copper headband and coin placed by her left mandible. There is also a bow shaped sickle that was placed with the blade firmly against her throat (Slavia Project 2012).

A Little About the Internship

This summer I got accepted to attend a Mortuary Archaeology Field school located in Ryczyn, Poland. The school is well known as The Slavia Project (http://www.slavia.org/), and the objective is to teach students from around the world the studies of Adult and Juvenile Osteology, Human Burial Excavation, Bio-archaeology in Practice, Early Medieval Funerary Practices in Poland, Archaeological Field Research Techniques, as well as Archaeological Material Processing and Curation. The other goal is to rescue the excavations at the endangered archaeological site of Drawsko (the main site for ‘deviant’ burials!)

For several weeks’ students are in both the field honing their excavation skills as well as the lab to analyze the bones and cultural material, and in turn making science look exceptionally cool! Needless to say, this is an AMAZING opportunity and one would be insane to not go for an international trip across the world to dig up bones in a Medieval Cemetery!

Unfortunately, the Summer of 2020 proved to be a very hard one for many, due to the COVID19 pandemic, so this trip, like many others I’m sure, was cancelled. But I will sit here and encourage you that with passion comes determination. So instead of physically travelling to Poland, I took a “Cyber-trip” to Poland’s Medieval Era and discovered a world of Myths, Superstitions, Archaeological finds and Scientific Debate.

Internship to Practicum: What I Did Instead

The first and most important task that I had to ensure, was to establish and maintain my communication with the lead supervisor for the trip. Dr. Polcyn and I communicated via email throughout the entire process. Even after the trip was cancelled and transformed from an internship to a practicum, she was willing to send me references, suggestions for reading material and would answer any and all my questions that I had during my research.

Since my internship had been turned into a practicum, you can guess that a lot of the work was done by digging through Research Articles, Academic Journals and Thesis’ of other researchers. All relevant material had to then be annotated and the final product is, in my opinion, an amazing paper that covers the topic of ‘deviant’ burials and the connection they have to past and modern claims to ‘vampires’! I told you I found a world of Myths and Superstition along-side Archaeological finds! If I am being honest, as fun as it would have been to travel to Poland, I don’t think that I would have discovered the deep connection that the Slavic folkloric culture and today’s modern subculture has with these deviant graves. Yes, I have discovered a modern subculture of individuals who have taken the discoveries made by archaeologist and melded it with Slavic folklore to make the claim that vampires are real and that they themselves are in fact…vampires.

In Conclusion

In the end, I have managed to form a connection with someone who is willing to guide me through my future endeavors within the field of Mortuary Archaeology, that has international experience. I am honored to say that Dr. Polcyn has invited me back to join them for the next session, given the hopes that COVID19 will be a thing of the past.

I have also learned so much and this research has peaked my interest in deviant graves. I would like to learn more about deviant graves from around the world and what cultural connections they may have. Are they as strong as the ones in Europe during the Middle Ages? I am going to work hard to find the answer to that question!

As a final note, I will encourage anyone who has a desire to travel for an internship, please, go for it. I will also encourage you to form strong connections with the individuals that are guiding you through your internship, don’t drop the ball on maintaining a connection with them, even after the internship is over. These individuals can help you in so many ways and who doesn’t want help in forming a successful career or just reaching a certain goal in life?

Works Cited

Slavia Project. 2012. “Grave 6/2012.” Slavia Foundation. Buried with sickles: early modern interments from Drawsko, Poland. Drawsko.

Hidden History: A Library of Congress Virtual Internship

Adrianna Dunn

I started this year with a complete plan leading to my graduation. My practicum requirements were going to be fulfilled this Summer 2020.  I was accepted to be a Research Assistant for Dr. Smith’s Greek Osteology Research Project. But four weeks in Greece turned to eight weeks at home in Connecticut with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the research trip was cancelled and more internships became unavailable, I was unsure as to if I would be able to meet my graduation goal. Luckily, I received an email from Dr. Gooding that contained a virtual internship opportunity that I could complete from home. The internship would be volunteering to transcribe online materials for the institution of my choice. I chose to be a Library of Congress volunteer. Virtually transcribing materials was not how I had expected my internship to be. I had expected my internship to be more hands-on and interacting with multiple people. Though it was not what I had expected, I was glad that I would still be able to graduate when I planned.

To volunteer for the Library of Congress, began with creating a personal account in By the People. By the People is the application by which volunteers can keep track of the materials they transcribe and review. Transcription was needed so that the materials could be preserved and available for search engines and the public. Before I could register for the internship, I had to show that I would be able to complete the work required. I transcribed one of the documents and submitted proof that it was accepted. That was the beginning of my virtual internship.

By the People transcribing portal.

The materials were in different campaigns that the Library of Congress posted. Materials included handwritten and typed papers, legal documents, letters, and even diary entries. Some documents were even from people during the Revolutionary War. Most of my work was self-guided. The Library of Congress provided a How to Transcribe guide, but other than that I was mostly on my own. It was different from other types of internships, as I mostly supervised myself.

I was able to set what times I would transcribe, and review, and I was able to fit time in with my other summer classes. The internship requirement of 150 hours was still in place, so I had to be on top of the time that I needed to work. I was able to break my time up into shifts. Though most of the material was interesting, such as, the drafts of Mary Church Terrell, an African American and Women’s rights activist, it could become tedious to be sitting and transcribing for five hours a day.

Mary Church Terrell paper circa 1897.

Breaking up the time I worked and taking breaks helped me stay focused and not feel as though it was dull. Transcribing every day for eight weeks can definitely feel tiresome. There were some days that I dreaded going back to the computer and looking at more papers. I had to be extremely dedicated and manage my time well.

Over the coming weeks I became better at transcribing and understanding different styles of writing and script. There were stories of different interactions that were enjoyable to read. Creativity was needed to complete the required internship assignments and papers. Since this was a virtual internship, I had to find ways that it could apply to anthropology and what I was learning from it.

I gained access to stories that are not often available in history books or websites. In addition, I could read individuals’ personal writings and thoughts that provided a more complete view of the culture and ideas of that time. Working as a virtual volunteer, I was able to provide completed materials for future research purposes and community access. I gained a better understanding of how historical materials are preserved. It was an interesting look into archival work and public institutions.

Boston newspaper circa 1833-1916.

By completing this virtual internship, I became better at analyzing and connecting materials to anthropology. I was able to learn methods for transcribing and I can now list transcribing as a skill on my resume. I was able to gain better time management and complete the hours at my own pace.  I gained experience with transcribing and found out that I do not want to focus on similar work in the future. I learned more about my work preferences and that I want to work in an environment with opportunities to be active and have more hands-on projects.

There are many benefits to transcribing for the Library of Congress. The ability to set a schedule is great for anyone that has other responsibilities or classes. Transcribing is also a transferable skill and is a notable contribution to a resume or CV. Access to historical materials can enhance cultural understanding and give context to past stories, as well as be more readily available for the public and community use. Though the work can be tedious at times, volunteering virtually is a great option for anyone looking for an internship that they can complete at home.

Transcribing Historical Documents for the Smithsonian Institution

Abby Hill

I was originally planning to intern with a funeral home during the summer, however due to COVID-19 restrictions, they told me they could no longer employ me. Dr. Gooding was kind enough to send me a link to an Atlanta Journal Constitution article about how you can combat boredom at home with volunteering to transcribe with different organizations. After going through Handshake and applying to several different places and not finding anything, I decided to look at the Smithsonian’s and the National Archive’s websites. I chose the Smithsonian because it seemed easier to understand, they provided instructions, and a way to track your time. I was optimistic about the internship after doing an hour trial run of the site and decided that I would do this as my Summer 2020 internship. This type of internship is not what I had in mind initially, but in order to graduate on time, I needed the credit.

            One thing I learned quickly is that to perform well in an online internship, you need to understand how you work best. If you have trouble scheduling your time, managing yourself, or motivating yourself, then an online internship might not work for you. For an online internship like this, I had no direct supervisor or anyone telling me to do x number of hours a day for x many weeks. I would like to say that I am disciplined but I had a hard time consistently working. I had a four-week summer course all throughout June, which took up a lot of my time and energy. And once I was done with reading, writing, and doing homework for my class, I did not really want to sit at my computer for another few hours transcribing.

            I think this internship would be the most enjoyable for people who are interested in linguistic anthropology, a specific collection of documents, or a certain time period in history. If you are interested or passionate about what you are transcribing, that would help the time pass quicker. For the most part, once I got over the hurdle of two or three hours, I could find a productive energy and work for long periods of eight to ten hours. There were still days where I struggled to focus and stay motivated, but what helped me the most was adhering to the schedule I had made. Seeing my days mapped out with the hours I would need to transcribe along with other things like meetings, chores, homework, etc. helped me to visualize the amount of work that I was doing and how it was all adding up in the end.

            One aspect of this internship that I appreciated the most was the portability. I could use my phone as an internet hotspot for my laptop when I did not have Wi-Fi so I could still work. For example, I used this method to transcribe while riding in the car for a few hours. The availability to do this internship whenever I felt like it or had time was another thing that I enjoyed. If I found that I had a spare hour or two, I could log on and work until I had to get off. That level of flexibility is perfect for people who are busy with classes or for those who cannot work a 9 to 5 job. Doing an online internship allows you to create your own schedule that works for you.

            Transcribing aids in public understanding of historical events and everyday life. The public can open their eyes and gain a new perspective about the way our culture has changed throughout time just by reading some letters between parents and their daughter. A good example of this is the Doris Blake collection, which are letters that describe normal happenings in the parent’s lives that they are explaining to their daughter. One specific cultural detail that I remember is Doris’s mother concerned about why an Irish catholic woman moved into a house down the street. She criticized the woman and said that their neighborhood did not need a person like that. Before taking Historical Archaeology with Dr. Powis, I did not know that people in America actively hated Irish immigrants, and it is not talked about often, so it was surprising to read. This instance was very satisfying to me because I could directly connect what I have learned in school with something outside of class.

            A fun thing about this internship was when I told people that my internship was transcribing historical documents for the Smithsonian, everyone was shocked and amazed. It also is fulfilling to have been a part of something that I think is important. Transcribing is essential for preserving historic documents that would be lost to time eventually. Due to the spread of COVID-19, the way people interact with museums may change forever. These institutions now have to digitize everything in order to provide the public with a way of accessing the collections. The first step to doing this, which most large institutions have already begun, is to scan documents, pictures, and digitize audio files. To be someone who promotes continued learning in the face of a pandemic is very rewarding.

The above picture is what my screen looked like as I transcribed. The document window is on the left, which you can zoom in or out or move using a mouse. The transcription box is on the right and is the larger box. Once a volunteer clicks onto the transcription box, it locks so only that volunteer can edit the transcript at a time. Inside the box, you simply type what you can read from the document. Sometimes this is nearly impossible because of really intense handwriting or fading. The Smithsonian made it a rule to simply transcribe what you can see because any amount of words that you can transcribe is more than what was there just a minute ago. The notes box is the smaller box on the right where volunteers can write comments to other volunteers, the staff at the Smithsonian, or just about the document in general.

            But here are some specific tips I found to be useful in doing this internship. First, use a mouse instead of the track pad on a laptop. You have more control with zooming in on the document and it made everything so much easier once I transitioned. Second, really read the general instructions and the specific instructions for each project- some will have advanced instructions depending on the documents. Some volunteers do not seem to read any instructions and will transcribe whole paragraphs incorrectly, but when that happened to me I would put in the notes box how to transcribe something difficult or “Per Smithsonian rules, you no longer need to indicate when something is underlined.” None of the instructions are hard to find and the general instructions are shown to every new volunteer. Lastly, take notes while you are working so you can refer to them later when you have to do your journal entries and essays. Having specific examples of behavior, language, etc. can make doing the work so much easier and I wish someone would have told me that when I first started.

            I do not think I will ever have a job in this field. I am more interested in biological anthropology, but for someone who is interested in linguistics, I think this internship would be interesting and give you experience. As I transcribed, I noted how differently people write and form sentences and how it changed over time. Because I was only an online volunteer, I did not receive any job offers as a result of this internship from the Smithsonian, however I now have a full time position with the same funeral home that I was going to intern with originally. And while my internship is not relevant to the funeral industry, they were very impressed and happy that I was able to get the credit I needed to graduate. So although this was not the internship I had in mind originally, I am able to graduate and feel like I made a small difference in the world.