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Claassen and Robbins-Schug are honored for their research

claassenrobbins_t.jpgBOONE—Dr. Cheryl Claassen and Dr. Gwen Robbins-Schug are faculty members in Appalachian State University’s Department of Anthropology. They also are active researchers and scholars whose work is adding to, and sometimes changing, the accepted knowledge base in their respective fields.

Claassen and Robbins-Schug have been recognized by their colleagues for their scholarly work and their contributions to the College of Arts and Sciences.

Claassen recently received the college’s Donald W. Sink Outstanding Scholar Award. Robbins-Schug received the William C. Strickland Outstanding Young Faculty Award.

Each received a cash award to assist with research-related travel expenses, a certificate and a medallion to wear as part of their academic robes during commencement and convocation ceremonies.

Claassen came to Appalachian in 1983 shortly after completing her Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard University.

On average, she publishes a book every four years and two articles each year.  Her most recent book, “Feasting with Shellfish in the Southern Ohio Valley: Archaic Sacred Sites and Rituals,” was published by the University of Tennessee Press. The book challenges long-standing theories about hunter-gatherer life in the southern Ohio Valley.

“It’s important that our students understand women are being recognized for research activity, not just for being teachers in the classroom,” Claassen said of the award.

She plans to use the award money to travel to western and southern Mexico or Guatemala to continue her research related to sacred landscapes, such as caves, trails and mountain top shrines.

That research has evolved from her decades-long research pertaining to freshwater shell middens – heaps of clam, oyster, whelk or mussel shells that originally were considered to be waste piles. Claassen argued early in her academic career that they were more likely feasting locations or sacred sites, a theory that since then has been championed by other scholars.

She will use what she learns about pilgrimages and trails in Mexico to better understand what sacred places, such as caves, springs and waterfalls in the United States might have been like and how they were connected by paths and trails.

“When I started my academic career, I studied shells as economic food debris, then I began thinking about these shell places as ritual places, and then about what other kinds of ritual places were part of the landscape,” Claassen said. “I have heard a lot of academic researchers say they had finished a project and couldn’t think of what to undertake next. My research is all connected.”

Claassen has received three National Science Foundation grants during her academic career, served for six years as the editor of the “Regendering the Past” book series published by the University of Pennsylvania, and has been the keynote speaker at several national and international conferences.

Professor Kenneth Sassaman from the University of Florida refers to Claassen’s work “as a benchmark of contemporary thinking in archaeology” that has been “agenda setting and highly provocative.”

Robbins-Schug is in her fourth year as an assistant professor of anthropology. She came to Appalachian in 2006 while she was a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Oregon.

While at Appalachian, Robbins-Schug has established herself as a top researcher. Since completing her degree in 2007, she has published five journal articles in top-tier journals such as American Antiquity and the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. She has a forthcoming chapter in a book to be published by the University of Oklahoma Press, two encyclopedia entries, three published abstracts, and she is sole-author on a forthcoming book, “Bioarchaeology and climate change: a view from South Asian prehistory,” which will be published by the University Press of Florida.

Dr. Clark Spencer Larsen, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at Ohio State University, writes of Robbins-Schug’s forthcoming book, “It will be a major contribution in bioarchaeological research and it address a timely and important topic, climate change and human adaptation in the past.”

“Receiving this award confirmed my sense that my department chair values my contribution to the department, the university, and to the field,” Robbins-Schug said of her nomination for the award. “He has worked hard to get me the resources I need to conduct my research. It’s nice to know value has been placed on my research contributions, especially for a relatively new faculty member.”

She will use her award to supplement a Fulbright Faculty Research Fellowship she has received to conduct research in India next semester. This work will focus on the health impact of urbanization in South Asia by examining skeletal material from the Harappa and Kalibangan archaeological sites.

Robbins-Schug will be accompanied by recent graduate Kelsey Gray, who will be entering the master’s degree program at University College London in the fall. Gray has co-authored two publications with Robbins-Schug.

“There aren’t very many bioarchaeologists researching in India. If I can encourage young scholars to focus on that academic area, it will really help expand the field of research,” she said.

In addition to her contributions to research, Robbins-Schug has helped the anthropology department build its curriculum in biological anthropology. As a result of the growing student interest in the area, a second tenure-track faculty position in biological anthropology has been added to the department.