Adjunct Feature: Dr. Heather Walder

Picture2Heather Walder is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology for 2016-2017.  She recently completed her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and her dissertation investigated intercultural interaction and colonial encounters across the Upper Great Lakes region of North America. She has extensive teaching, research, and cultural resource management experience in the Midwest, and she most recently worked for the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Her interest in archaeology first took root during her undergraduate field school excavating a 9th century AD town site in the Czech Republic, where she learned that she loved the outdoor fieldwork, camping, and camaraderie often involved in archaeology. However, as her mother would attest, Heather was destined to be an archaeologist since childhood, when playing in the dirt and conducting messy “science experiments” in the kitchen were some of her favorite pastimes.

After being accepted to the UW-Madison Ph.D. program, she became interested in investigating stone inscriptions in the Mauryan Empire in India under the reign of Ashoka, in the 3rd century BCE. As part of an experimental archaeology course, Walder carved a rock inscription of her own to better understand inscription carving technologies and how they might have served as part of the empire’s system of expansion and integration of outlying areas. She eventually travelled to India to participate in an intensive Urdu language training program and to explore the possibilities of pursuing dissertation research at inscription sites there.  As far as she knows, she is still one of the only Midwest archaeologists also conversant in Urdu!

After these initial fieldwork experiences in India, Walder’s geographic interest shifted to the Upper Great Lakes, when she recognized that large-scale research questions about regional interaction and colonial expansion might be more readily addressed in North America than in South Asia. With funding from the National Science Foundation and many smaller organizations, she undertook a systematic materials science investigation of personal adornment items such as glass beads and ornaments cut from copper trade kettles from 38 archaeological sites across Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, eastern Minnesota, and northeast Missouri, including several collections of the Michigan State University Museum. This work was particularly enjoyable, as she was able to spend an entire summer circling the Midwest in a state vehicle, analyzing artifacts from numerous curation institutions and conserving grant funds by camping everywhere from National Forests to the backyards of collaborating researchers! The summer culminated in several weeks of archaeological chemistry analyses of glass beads at the Chicago Field Museum, where she employed elemental analysis (LA-ICP-MS) to categorize the chemical compositions of glass trade beads to address her questions about trade, interaction and chronology. She is excited to be building on some of this research here at MSU today.

Picture1As a Visiting Assistant Professor, Walder is focusing on developing her long-term research trajectory with a new archaeological survey project, teaching Introduction to Archaeology and other courses in her areas of expertise, and collaborating with the Campus Archaeology Program.  Her new survey project, the Chequamegon Bay Archaeological Survey (CBAS), is a community-based participatory research program seeking to locate and investigate historically-documented Wendat (Huron) and Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) communities along the southern shore of Lake Superior, near Ashland, Wisconsin. She is also continuing her materials science research on early historic copper-based metal artifacts from the Midwest, utilizing the handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) instrument shared by Anthropology and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (in the College of Natural Science). Along with other faculty, she is applying for external funding to curate, digitize, and expand research and public access to the Marquette Mission site (20 MK 82) legacy archaeological collection, which was excavated by Michigan State from the 1980s – early 2000s. Walder is a dedicated teacher-scholar with a passion for undergraduate experiential learning, and an advocate for integrating faculty research into all classroom levels. She brings innovative and collaborative approaches to the investigation of colonial situations in the Midwest with the hope of better understanding the social and economic aspects of human intercultural interaction past and present.

Image, top right: Dr. Walder guest excavating at Fort Michilimackinac, July 2013

Image, lower right: Dr. Walder investigating an Ashokan Rock Edict in India, January 2010


This article appears in our Fall 2016 newsletter. Read the entire newsletter here.