Alumni Highlight: Amy Michael
Dr. Amy Michael is a biological anthropologist whose research examines the microstructure of human bones and teeth in order to address questions ranging from health and social identity in the ancient Maya to the effect of lifestyle factors on skeletal age. She is currently a lecturer at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH and serves as a senior staff member on the Central Belize Archaeological Survey project. Dr. Michael was a Campus Archaeology fellow from 2011 to 2017.
As part of our ongoing series highlighting CAP alumni I (virtually) sat down with Dr. Michael to ask her about her time as a Campus Archaeology fellow. During our conversation we talked about how a biological anthropologist ended up spending six years working on projects in historical archaeology, and learned how that experience shaped who she is as an anthropologist.
Q: You’re a biological anthropologist, so how and why did you get involved with CAP?
A: I took a mortuary archaeology class with [Dr. Lynne Goldstein, former CAP Director] and I just really admired her. I thought that she was an incredible mentor and person. At that point in grad school I was still figuring things out and exploring my options in the [anthropology] program. I met with Lynne and she was very welcoming. She saw the value in bringing in different viewpoints to the table. Right away she put me on a project researching sustainability on campus, which got me working in the [MSU] archives. I realized I really liked doing archival work and that led to me developing a gender and landscape project that involved a lot of research in the archives.
Q: Can you tell me more about that project?
A: The project focused on how early college women experienced landscape differently from men. I spent a lot of time in the archives reading through scrapbooks and journals and notes from women’s student council meetings. I was able to piece together that early women on campus were restricted in where they were allowed to be. They needed chaperones to go certain places. But within the journals and scrapbooks you also saw a lot of humor about their situation. The women would pull pranks and write about the rules they had to follow in this really tongue in cheek way. It became less a story of restriction and more about how these women worked to make that section of campus their own. They set up their own student council, they policed themselves, and they made that area of north campus work for them.
Q: What was your favorite part about working for CAP?
A: For me the best part was figuring out that I was interested in an area of anthropology that I previously had zero experience working in. Even though I’m someone whose primary interest is in biological anthropology, [Dr. Goldstein and CAP] helped me conceptualize that to be a good anthropologist you have to be interested in everything else. You don’t have to be excellent in everything, but all fields should inform what you do.
Q: How do you bring what you learned in CAP to what you do now?
A: I think working with CAP and historical archaeology made me a better anthropologist because I couldn’t rest on my expertise in bones. The projects I work on in the Maya world are very much osteology driven, they’re focused on extracting technical and methodological data from bones. [In CAP] I had to get more creative about how to get at things. It pushed me to learn new skills – what isa good, efficient way to search the archives? How can I look at these artifacts? How can I use every line of evidence available to me? Being pushed out of my comfort zone made me realize I’m not just interested in bones and teeth. It gave me a better idea of what I’m interested in and what I can do.
Every job I’ve had I’ve been asked about CAP in the interview. They always want to know, “You’re a bio person but you did six years of historical archaeology?” There’s this assumption that you can’t have other interests, but that’s not true. I think that because of my experience I can speak to a broader audience of students.
CAP has also given me access to something I can share with my students. When I worked at LCC [Lansing Community College] and Albion [College], I was able to send some of my students to CAP. The CAP field school is such an important opportunity for students who can’t afford to spend the time or money to go abroad to get field experience. It’s important to me because I couldn’t afford it in undergrad.
Q: What do you miss most about CAP now that you’re an alumna?
A: Lynne Goldstein! I miss working closely with her and with the CAP fellows. Going to CAP meetings I really felt a sense of camaraderie. I miss being part of a project that was led by someone I really admired.
At UNH, [Dr. Meghan Howey, Professor of Anthropology] runs a campus archaeology project called “The Lost Campus.” It prioritizes freshmen to get them immediately interested in the history of UNH and making a connection to campus. CAP had a big influence on that program. It’s cool to me to be at a place where we’re paying homage to Lynne Goldstein and giving students these archaeology experiences early on.