What Kind of Ancestor Will You Be?

On September 22, 2022, Jennifer Ortiz, director for the Utah Division of State History, visited BYU for the annual Fernando R. Gomez lecture. Jennifer’s vision and intention for State History includes diversifying the narratives we collectively share as a state and ensuring those who practice history better reflect our demographics in Utah.

History is the way people want to express themselves. Jennifer Ortiz, the first woman to run the 125-year-old organization and the first person to identify as a minority, shared with students and faculty about The Peoples of Utah Revisited program. The multi-year initiative is designed to celebrate Utah’s diverse past and is a follow-up to the original Peoples of Utah project published over 50 years ago.

The initiative is comprised of a variety of events to teach families and communities how to record, scan, and treasure their history. “The goal for the project,” says Ortiz, “ is working with community groups to tell their stories in ways they want to tell them; to gather those untold stories, amplify misrepresented voices, and share with communities across the state that their stories are important.”

Along with this major project, Ortiz spotlighted an assortment of projects focused on the last 50 years of Utah’s history created to document history for the misunderstood and growing populations in the state. Amongst these are the Utah Historical Quarterly, which presents updated research in the field of Utah History; the Women’s history initiative, which examines the contributions Utah women have made over the years; and the collections and library program, which houses a host of Utah artifacts, photographs, and manuscripts.

Ortiz emphasized how the original Peoples of Utah project changed the trajectory of public history in the state saying, “It really laid the foundation for diversity in teaching scholarship on Utah history.” She encouraged all to get involved in recording their personal history.

Learn more about BYU’s Department of History.

BYU Anthropology Celebrates 75 Years

“The most common response I receive when I tell someone that I am studying sociocultural anthropology is, ‘What is that?’” says Elisabeth Morris, a senior in anthropology from Virginia. “For me, personally, anthropology is a means to learn how to respect and understand differences between cultures while holding true to my own beliefs.”

It’s been more than 75 years since the first anthropology course — a class on archaeology — was taught on campus. The Anthropology Department in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences now offers two majors, a secondary major, a master’s degree, and a certificate. The department hosts archaeological and anthropological field schools each year, as well as a variety of opportunities for students to participate in mentored research on topics and regions they’re interested in.

Celebrate with the Anthropology Department on Friday, September 16, 6-8 p.m. at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures.

Morris believes anthropology is an important area of study that helps people gain understanding, which leads to compassion and a desire to serve. This idea was reinforced as she spent the summer in Brazil as an intern at the Institute of Brazilian Studies at the University of São Paulo in São Paulo. In addition to studying Brazilian culture in the archives, she interacted with the people that lived there and visited numerous museums, parks, and cultural centers. 

“I learned that while there are distinct factors that separate my culture from Brazilian culture, people remain people,” says Morris. “The issues we believe are unique to our lives and societies are not — we have much more in common than we think. Anthropology is necessary in the world today and can be used to heal the wounds of the past.”

Anthropology Through the Eyes of an Educator

Michael Searcy, BYU anthropology professor and department chair, says, “​​The Anthropology Department has the goal of teaching our students how to explore the human experience and seek solutions to real-world problems.”

One of the best aspects of the program is the field school program where students get to travel to international countries to study various cultures or participate in an actual archaeological excavation. According to Searcy, “There is nothing like discovering artifacts buried beneath the earth and touching them for the first time in hundreds or thousands of years!”

As students immerse themselves in the study of human behavior, they come to understand how humans get along, how to combat prejudice, and how to contribute to the well-being of society. They anticipate a variety of career paths and job security in law, user experience, media, government, community leadership, and more (see a list of Anthropologists In Action below). 

“For anyone interested in studying some of the most fascinating societies in the world, past and present, our degree programs in anthropology are ideal for students looking to broaden their career opportunities in the future,” says Searcy.

Anniversary Celebration Details

To commemorate its 75th anniversary, the Anthropology Department is hosting an open house at the BYU Museum of Peoples and Cultures on Friday, September 16, from 6-8 p.m. The event is open to the public and includes a backroom tour. The museum is located at 2201 North Canyon Rd. in Provo.

Anthropologists in Action

Here is a list of current job titles for which anthropologists are well prepared, courtesy of the American Anthropological Association:

  • Lead Experience Researcher and Social Impact Researcher, Airbnb
  • Social Scientist, CDC
  • User Experience Researcher and Staff Research Scientist, Facebook
  • Health Scientist, FDA
  • Computational Anthropologist, IBM
  • Principal Engineer, Health Researcher, and Research Scientist, Intel
  • Historian and Cultural Anthropologist, National Park Service
  • User Experience Researcher, Netflix
  • Principal Researcher in Human-Centered Systems, Nissan
  • Community Manager, Reddit
  • Digital Curator, Program Curator, Research Scientist, Museum Educator, and Archivist, The Smithsonian Institution
  • Health Scientist, Department of Veteran Affairs
  • Research Forester and Research Social Scientist, US Department of Agriculture
  • Social Development Specialist, World Bank

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