The Final Countdown (again)

One year ago I wrote what I thought was my final CAP blog. In the post, I summarized my top experiences working with the program over the past six years. Well, it turned out I wasn’t quite done with CAP and I have spent the 2016-2017 year working on still more new projects! I thought I would re-CAP (sorry…) my year and, more importantly, how I plan to use the skills I gained through working on with the program in the next phase of my professional career.

I have been on the job market for the past year and have written many, MANY cover letters. Even though I am a physical anthropologist, I have included information about my experience with CAP in every letter. In all of the job interviews I have had, I have been asked about CAP. I am grateful to have worked with CAP for many reasons, but it has become increasingly clear this past semester how many skills I have gained through CAP and how transferable these skills are post-graduation.


Amy explains artifacts to an elementary school student.
Amy explains artifacts to an elementary school student.

I believe that public outreach is one of the most important things that we pursue at CAP. Because we speak to groups of multiple age ranges and interest levels, it has been useful for me to learn how to speak about artifacts (and their significance) to children and adults. I will absolutely seek public outreach experiences at my next job. Working with CAP has reaffirmed to me that sharing archaeological knowledge with the public is essential to our jobs as anthropologists.


While I was trained how to excavate in many different prehistoric contexts, the CAP experience has been quite different and highly practical. In my prehistoric work, I have never dug shovel test pits or worked collaboratively with people doing construction of course. Because CAP works like a cultural resource management project at times, it has been great for me to pick up more practical skills and to understand how archaeological projects work on a time crunch.

Artifact analysis

Throughout my time with CAP, I have been exposed to many different artifact types. While I celebrate the small victories of recognizing laboratory glass vs. window glass (I’m definitely still more comfortable identifying bones than historic artifacts!), I believe that my ability to work through a question about a particular artifact is much improved. No longer will I think a plate is just a plate or a glass fragment is just a glass fragment – I have learned how to use historical documents to zero in on each artifact and tell a better, more accurate story of the past. I never considered that a nail polish topper would lead me down a path toward learning about one of the first female-owned businesses or that researching a ceramic pattern would guide me toward reading about differential use of plates in the red light districts of Australia.

Archival work

Cover of scrapbook. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.
Cover of scrapbook. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

A mainstay of my CAP work has been integration with the University Archives. There is definitely a strategy to doing archival research and I have had to learn how to get the most out of each visit to the archives. The historical documents available to us here at MSU have greatly improved my understanding of the artifacts we observe in the lab. Looking through student scrapbooks has fulfilled my innate nosiness (hey, why not be honest in my final blog!), but also taught me to think more deeply about what people save and why. It has been quite fun to see if what is between the pages of these scrapbooks has any correlated archaeological imprint during our excavations.

In a real sense, the combination of excavation, artifact analysis, outreach, and archival work has made the campus come alive for me. The sense of knowing (or at least having some semblance of) a historical precedent, especially as it relates to early female students, has enriched my time at MSU immeasurably. It’s very easy to get caught up in our own specific research niche, but CAP has always allowed me to take a break from my primary research and remember that, over 150 years ago, there were students on these grounds that were struggling with the same questions we all have: What am I doing here? What should I study? How will I apply my knowledge in the future? What job will I do?

The last question is answered for me now as I have been hired at Idaho State University. I am sad to leave CAP but I will take the skills I have gained with me to my next position and continue to engage critically and responsibly with the past.

Author: Amy Michael


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