Alumni Spotlight: Molly Zuckerman’s Research on a Forgotten Cemetery

Dr. Molly Zuckerman (PhD, 2010), Associate Professor of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures at Mississippi State University, has been making the news lately. After 7,000 bodies were found buried under the University of Mississippi Medical Center, she has been involved in exhuming and studying the skeletal remains and the asylum’s health records.

lead_960The 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.

Professor Todd Preuss featured on NPR

An article featured on NPR discusses the complications that arise when rodents are commonly used to test medications intended for humans: namely, a disappointingly high failure rate once medications are tested on human subjects.

Todd Preuss, an anthropologist at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University and Associated Professor of Anthropology, indicates that rats were initially studied to learn about rats. At some point they transitioned to “prototypical mammals.” Dr. Preuss points out that rodents have not only developed quite differently from humans, but the specific test subjects can also be described as lacking genetic diversity.

Dr. Peggy Barlett featured in an AJC article about sustainable food efforts in Atlanta

 

The AJC published an article featuring Emory’s accomplishments in food sustainability in the hospitals as well as Emory Dining. Our own Dr. Peggy Barlett, Goodrich C. White Professor of Anthropology and Chair of Emory University’s Sustainable Food Committee, is quoted. She has been a trailblazer for sustainability for the Emory community and beyond. A co-founder of the Piedmont Project to expand Emory’s sustainability Curriculum, Dr. Barlett has worked with a dozen faculty since 2012 to create and support the Sustainability Minor at Emory University.

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Dr. Debra Vidali presented Showcase on Native American issues

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The Anthropology Department successfully hosted a lively Showcase on Native American issues on Tuesday November 8th. Students in Emory University’s Indigenous Peoples of North America course presented their enlightening projects exploring public education and social justice applications on Native American histories, identities and present day controversies including the #DakotaAccessPipeline and #WaterisLife movement. The class had the opportunity to present to an audience from the Emory community and beyond, including the President Dr. Claire Sterk and Senior Vice President Ajay Nair.
The event was followed by an animated discussion.

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Dr. Isabella Alexander’s Article and Interview with Public Radio International

Isabella Alexander, Visiting Assistant Professor and Alumna of Emory Anthropology, wrote an article for Public Radio International (PRI) on the migrant crisis at the Moroccan border.

You can also listen to the accompanying radio special on PRI’s The World at http://www.pri.org/node/154322/popout (starting at minute 6.25).