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Quadrangle Magazine Spring 2009

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George Armelagos

It’s been quite a year for George Armelagos, Goodrich C. White Professor and chair of anthropology. He traveled to San Francisco last November to receive the 2008 Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service to Anthropology from the American Anthropological Association, and in Chicago this month he accepted the 2008 Charles R. Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Added to a trophy case that already includes the 2005 Viking Fund Medal for outstanding achievement in the field, they complete a trifecta of the highest awards in his discipline—honors previously bestowed on such household names as Margaret Mead, Louis Leakey, and Claude Levi-Strauss.

“It’s been great,” Armelagos says of his anno mirabilis. But he’s more interested in talking about his research and his protégés, offering brief descriptions of projects old and new and lauding the students who have passed through his classes but remain in his Rolodex. Even a short conversation with Armelagos is enough to suggest the sort of energy and curiosity that have garnered him an international reputation and the admiration of generations of students.

George Armelagos
George Armelagos

And they tend to stay in touch. Dennis Van Gerven, for example, a student from his early days at the University of Utah.Van Gerven is now a celebrated teacher and researcher, but in the 1960s he was lost in college and about to drop out when he took “one last course”: an anthropology survey. Armelagos found him sitting outside the classroom one morning, Van Gerven remembers, and said, “Why don’t you drop by my lab and see what some other students are working on?” A class project led to an honors thesis, then to an article in a prestigious journal, and now, says Armelagos, “We’ve published together in five different decades.” While he admits it’s “unusual” to have a relationship with a student that continues throughout your career, Armelagos adds that, as teachers, “That’s one of the things we do: encourage them, and also give them credit.”

He’s done this with Emory students since 1993, not just igniting interest in anthropology but sometimes launching careers in it. This year Armelagos is pleased to have “four undergraduates who are going to give papers at the national paleopathology meetings.” In fact, more than thirty College students have published or given papers arising from a single Armelagos course, an introduction to skeletal biology. “It’s something I’m really proud of,” he says.

Armelagos’s chief scholarly contributions have been in paleopathology and the study of human diet, but his expertise is wide and includes skeletal biology and infectious diseases. His preference for using multiple scholarly tools has been a hallmark from the start. While still a graduate student, Armelagos worked on a dig in Sudanese Nubia, and his application of epidemiologic and demographic techniques to standard paleopathology began a flood of published research that has made the Sudanese Nubians the most studied archaeological population in the world.

This commitment to a varied perspective makes Armelagos seem a sort of living embodiment of the “four fields” approach, which unites cultural and physical anthropology, archaeology and linguistics under a big disciplinary umbrella.

“I’m a biological anthropologist interested in cultural systems,” he explains. “Really it’s looking at the same things with different systems. At one time you had a real separation in departments” (here he mentions a famous program that dropped archaeology, then boasted it wouldn’t be doing “stones and bones” any more), “but now I think it’s moved back to this sort of broader perspective. And I think that’s why our students are doing so well.”

Notable Faculty Achievements

Eugene Agichtein, assistant professor of mathematics and computer science, won a Microsoft “Beyond Research” award.

Christopher Beck, senior lecturer in biology, Patricia Brennan, associate professor of psychology, and Michael Sullivan, associate professor of philosophy, each received the Center for Teaching and Curriculum Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Hashem Dezhbakhsh, professor of economics, received the George P. Cuttino Award for Excellence in Faculty Mentoring.

Michael Elliott, associate professor of English, Frank McDonald, professor of chemistry, and Regina Werum, associate professor of sociology, received the 2008 Emory Williams Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Justin Gallivan, associate professor of chemistry, was appointed an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow for 2008-10.

James Taylor, assistant professor of biology, has been named one of 2008’s top young investigators (“Tomorrow’s PI’s”) by Genome Technology magazine.

Cynthia Willett, professor of philosophy, was elected to a three-year term as co-director of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy.

Kevin Young, Atticus Haygood Professor of English and Creative Writing, was named curator of literary collections for Emory’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library (MARBL).

Student Honors

Crystal Azu has won a prestigious UNCF-Merck Undergraduate Science Research Scholarship funding two summer science internships.

Stephen Deaderick, Jeffrey Schram and Ramone Williams each received Emory's 2009 Humanitarian Award recognizing the spirit of volunteerism and a sense of community.

Alexandra Kamins is one of just thirty-seven winners of the Gates Scholarships nationwide–and roughly 100 worldwide–for graduate study at the University of Cambridge.

Kevin Kelly, Afeef Nessouli, Katherine Sheehan and Marie Walters have been awarded the Robert T. Jones Sr. Scholarship for study at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Recent Faculty Grants

Peggy Barlett, anthropology—Georgia Department of Agriculture

Lawrence Barsalou, psychology—Boston College, National Science Foundation

Patricia Bauer, psychology—National Institutes of Health, Northshore University HealthSystem

Michele Benzi, math and computer science, Keith Berland, physics, Simon Blakey, chemistry, Stefan Boettcher, physics, John Boli, sociology, Irene Brown, sociology, Tim Dowd, sociology, George Jones, biology, James Nagy, math and computer science, Ojas Parekh, math and computer science, Ivan Rasnik, physics—National Science Foundation

Rong Cai, Russian and East Asian Languages and Culture— Chinese Consultate General

Monica Capra, economics—Georgia Research Alliance

Huw Davies, chemistry—Wake Forest University, Georgia Research Alliance, Health Research, Inc.

David Frisvold, economics—University of Wisconsin, Yale University

Craig Hill, chemistry—Office of Naval Research, TDA Research, Inc.

Uriel Kitron, environmental studies, Leslie Real, biology, James Rilling, anthropology, Elaine Walker, psychology— National Institutes of Health

Gary Laderman, religion—Arcus Foundation, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation

Debra Lipstadt, Jewish studies—Jewish Community Endowment Fund

David Lynn, chemistry—University of Pennsylvania

Cora Macbeth, chemistry—American Chemical Society

Sara McClintock, religion—Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation

Michael Rich, political science—Fulton County, United Way of Metro Atlanta

Niall Slater, classics—Getty Foundation

Eric Weeks, physics—American Chemical Society, National Science Foundation

Carol Worthman, anthropology—Duke University

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