Gabriela Sheets receives the Society for Medical Anthropology’s Dissertation Award for her 2017 dissertation on “The Developmental Ecology of the Infant Microbiome”.
The Committee describes Sheets’ work as “novel meshing of anthropology and biology to explore an emerging area of general interest,” and thought it was likely to “make important contributions well beyond the medical anthropology community.” One member called it an “exemplar in where science should go.”
“Recognition begs reflection, and reflection begs gratitude. The beast that this dissertation was to become invited me on a marvelous journey through the lives, stories and biologies of many Salvadoran families, for which I am forever grateful. Before my observing eye, life spilled out. She sometimes clumsily, but always excitedly, tripped over herself to whisper her secrets and to weave her tales through the human body. Even under and around the long shadows of death where meaning was mute, her whispers sounded. Thank you Emory for the opportunity to research questions that excite me, always supported by frameworks rooted in our anthropological and biological heritage. I hope to make even a small difference with the tools and drive that you provided for me.” Gabriela Sheets
Dietrich and her co-authors, Adriana María Garriga-López and Claudia Sofía Garriga-López, point out in the article that the state Puerto Rico is currenlty in after the recent hurricanes cannot be seen without taking into account the history of this US territory. They cite mismanagement such as “extractivism, monoculture, and poor waste management”, as well as the so called Jones Act as unnatural disaster that strike the island.
The authors offer a vision for the future: “What vulnerable communities need is an infrastructure of sustainable economic development and reliable everyday public services so their existing adaptive capacities can be strengthened and supported.”
Dietrich wrote her dissertation on “The Corporation Next Door: Pharmaceutical Companies in Community, Health and the Environment in Puerto Rico”.
Barnes is currently the assistant dean of social sciences and a professor of sociocultural anthropology at Endicott College. She wrote her dissertation on “Still Uplifting the Race: Black Professional Wives and the Career and Family Debate.” Her most recent book “Raising the Race: Black Career Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood and Community” won the 2017 Race, Gender, and Class Section Book Award from the American Sociological Association.
The cemetery was part of the Mississippi State Asylum, which was operational from 1855 to 1935, an era in which psychiatric asylums were common throughout the United States. Dr. Zuckerman has drawn conclusions about the health of the asylum patients from the archives of the asylum’s discharge records. These records are allowing Zuckerman and other historians and anthropologists in the Asylum Hill Research Consortium to form a database of individuals who were buried there. They have received many inquiries from family members about ancestors whom they think died at the asylum, and the Consortium’s hope is that people will be able to readily access the information.
Zuckerman also hopes to exhume more of the bodies in order to learn more about health and the diagnosis of madness in the late-nineteenth to early-twentieth centuries. The bones could provide information about the diseases, malnutrition, or living conditions of the patients. Zuckerman’s research focuses on the bio-social determinants of health inequalities. Her dissertation at Emory was an evolutionary, social, and ecological history of syphilis in England. Since syphilis was a common cause of insanity, Zuckerman’s expertise positions her well to conduct research at this site.
Several master’s students at Mississippi State have already analyzed the exhumed bones to make conclusions about health. One student used genetic sequencing to reconstruct oral bacteria from skeletons. Another student studied tooth enamel to make conclusions about nutritional deprivation and severe stress. Yet another student found evidence of pellagra, a disease caused by Vitamin B deficiency, in both asylum records and skeletons.
The stories of the patients buried at the Mississippi State Asylum are sure to unfold in the next few years, and we look forward to Dr. Zuckerman’s contributions.