Becoming an Anthropologist, Becoming a Teacher

Making Samanu

Learning to Cook in the Fars Province of Iran. Photo credit: Rose Wellman.

Rose Wellman '05, Postdoctoral Research Associate

Major: Anthropology, Asian Studies minor

Thesis: Following the tropes of Orientation: A Penobscot Native American Basket in the Making

Advanced Degrees: Ph.D. in Anthropology

Employer: the Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at Princeton University

I couldn’t have done anything else but become an anthropologist. You might say it was in my blood.

My grandparents, Edie and Victor Turner, were anthropologists and Edie was continuing to do research when I was in college among Catholics in Ireland. Unlike most students, then, I arrived at Mount Holyoke College, already knowing something about the discipline – though I did not know that I would ultimately choose it as my career. It was my first anthropology class at Mount Holyoke College with Professor Debbora Battaglia, Anthropology 101, that helped me make up my mind. I haven’t turned away since. I am now an anthropologist and postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University, specializing in Iran and the Middle East.

I took Anthropology 101 in September of 2001 – 9/11 happened in our first month of class. There were about forty young women in the room. Despite our size, we sat seminar style as Battaglia gave us passionate and clear lectures on the fundamentals of anthropological theory, ritual, material culture, and politics. She developed a series of beautiful lectures interwoven with stories from the Sabarl in Papua New Guinea and her discussions allowed us to question our assumptions about the world.

The readings she offered were spot on and world opening. I was captivated. Although I had heard stories from the field from my grandmother, I had had no training in the theories of anthropology, the approaches, and the development of anthropological thought. It was the vigorous theoretical training at MHC that caught my attention. We were not journalists. We were humanistic theorists, thinking about what things mean, how they mean, and the cross-cultural categories that make the world interesting.

Battaglia became my senior thesis advisor for my thesis on Penobscot Native Americans in Maine and she continues to be a valued mentor. The Anthropology of Reproduction with Professor Lynn Morgan was another transformative class. In a small seminar of about 12 people, we learned to understand and question categories of personhood, conception, birth, medicine, and reproduction. She also taught us to write precisely and efficiently. This training motivated me to study kinship in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the subject of my current book project.

Finally, courses such as the History of Anthropology and the Anthropology of History with Professor Andrew Lass have also continued to prove invaluable. In graduate school at the University of Virginia where I earned my Ph.D., I often opened up the notes I had taken from his lectures, using them to teach undergrads about cultural relativism, the history of anthropological thought, or make nuanced points in graduate school seminars.

Even in my current role as a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton, his classes on historicity, collective memory, and embodiment endure, enabling me to engage interdisciplinary with historians and area studies scholars. I am applying these concepts in the writing of my book to think about the history of 1979 Revolution in Iran and the Iran-Iraq War and describe a cohort Iranians who continue to support the values of the Islamic Republic.

In short, it was at Mount Holyoke that I fell in love with anthropology. Today, though, I am more than an anthropologist. I am also a teacher. Like my professors at MHC, I am driven by the basic desire to raise tough questions and unravel students’ assumptions about their near and distant worlds. Through topics as diverse as Iran, Islam, and food sustainability, I get my students excited about the powerful relationships between normative narratives of modernity and political power, politics and culture, and religion. At the same time, my teaching is driven by the recognition that the best classrooms center on collaboration, exchange, and diversity of thought and experience. This was something I learned at MHC.