Anthropology is a very diverse discipline which can be applied to solve a variety of questions or problems. This could be seen at the recent University of Maryland Anthroplus Conference which brought students together to present on modern applications of anthropology. With support from the St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) Anthropology Department, three SMCM students were selected as the only undergraduates to present their research at this graduate student conference. The conference was separated into three thematic segments: How We Are Where We Are: Places, Spaces & Belonging, How We Are Known: Bodies, Minds, and Identities, and How We Do What We Do: Contemporary Archaeological Methods. Each SMCM student presented on one of the thematic approaches at this conference.
The first student to present was Patrick Martin, a Senior, majoring in Anthropology with a focus in conflict studies. Under the thematic group Places, Spaces & Belonging, Patrick presented his Senior Tutorial research on conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). His project was titled Corruption, Conflict, and the Congolese: Proposing a New Model for Conflict Analysis in the DRC. Synthesizing past ethnographies, news reports, and statistical data on the occurrence of violence among individuals, he proposed a new model for socio-economic causes of continued conflict within the Congo. Citing the creation of informal economies due to lack of infrastructure, groups use ethnic identity and violence to regain agency and survive. Patrick hopes to continue his research and apply his model to other conflicts, as well as investigate ways to find peace.
Next to present was Rita Druffner, a Senior, with a double major in Anthropology and Psychology. Under the theme Bodies, Minds, and Identities, Rita presented her current St. Mary’s Project on the Anthropology of Autism. With the increase of people diagnosed with autism, this project analyzed autistic identity, through societies lens, as well as the lens of diagnosed individuals. Rita interviewed individuals diagnosed with autism from the St. Mary’s community to collect ethnographic data and create a life history. She reviewed how autism is diagnosed by the Psychiatric community, as well as how autism is portrayed and viewed in society. She concludes that autism creates a unique identity for each individual, not defining them, but becoming one of the many aspects of who they are as a person.
The final SMCM student to present was Matthew Borden, a Junior and Anthropology major. Presenting on Contemporary Archaeological Methods, Matthew showcased his investigation into the relevance of oyster shells found at Lower Brambly, a Native American archeological site in St. Mary’s County. First conducting an archeological dig in collaboration with SMCM Professor of Archaeology Julie King, Matthew focused on the size, placement, and quantity of oyster shells found in Lower Brambly. He hypothesized that the increased size of these shells meant a smaller Native American population, allowing oysters to grow larger. Matthew tested his hypothesis by measuring, classifying, and comparing, shells found through shovel test pits. He compared oyster shell size characteristics with documented local historical demographics and found that as population size grew, smaller and smaller oyster shells were present. Matthew also speculated that the largest oyster shells would be found at locations where higher status people lived . Much information can be gained through studying the distribution and characteristics of oyster shells and this knowledge can be applied to other archeological work in the region.
All three presenters offered their unique take on how anthropology can be applied in the twenty-first century. Representing SMCM as the only undergraduates students among graduate students from other colleges, these students took the opportunity to showcase their research to a wider community.