Archaeology Program Extends to Puerto Rico: Looking at the Past and the Future

by John Gagnon, promotional writer

Sam Sweitz has been a wandering scientist interested in sherds and sugar; houses, mills and gold mines; and history unearthed by archaeology.

Now he is settled in Houghton as an assistant professor of anthropology and archaeology in the social sciences department, and, from that vantage, he dreams of expanding the reach of Michigan Tech’s world-renowned industrial archaeology program.

Sweitz already has seasoned credentials. His work has spanned four time periods and four countries: prehistoric Mayan culture in Belize; 18th–20th century Mayan culture in the Yucatan; 19th century gold mining in the United States; and now the 20th century sugar industry in Puerto Rico, where he wants to understand the evolution of capitalism and its impact on local people.

"It’s interesting," he says. "Everything is connected. I am fascinated by how decisions made in one place can affect people in another place."

For instance, the demand for sugar, along with the accompanying industrial apparatus, changed the way social status was achieved in the Yucatan—from a tradition of age, gender, lineage and experience to a new world of occupation and income.

In pinpointing these cultural changes, Sweitz bases his inquiry on the presumption that ordinary people matter.

"One of the primary missions of historical archaeology," he says, "is to talk about the lives of everyday people."

A native of Yakima, Wash., Sweitz earned a bachelor’s degree in archaeology and history at Boston University; he bypassed the master’s degree and earned a PhD in Anthropology from Texas A&M; and he came to Tech’s PhD program in Industrial Heritage and Archaeology as a postdoctoral fellow in fall 2005.

Since then, he has visited Puerto Rico five times to begin to research the sugar industry and build connections with local scholars and institutions.

Puerto Rico's sugar economy was "pervasive," Sweitz says.

The industry was based on what is called a central, an expansive array of a mill, a company store and a company town—characterized in part by both paternalism and peonage, and segregated, "to some degree," on the basis of race, ethnicity and occupation.

In embarking on this study, Sweitz is the detached scientist. "My place is not to judge but to find out what happened in the past and what changes resulted."

In particular, he is working at Central Aguirre—the lone surviving example of a central with a company town in Puerto Rico. Located on the south-central coast, it was built around 1900, reached its peak in the 1950s and shut down in 1990.

The central was the product of an infusion of capital by American investors after the United States gained possession of Puerto Rico in 1898 following the Spanish-American War.

The development of the system intrigues and engages Sweitz, whose work ultimately will constitute a marriage of oral history, archival history and archeological history—from recollections to maps to pottery. The material culture, which is the warp and weft of archaeology, reflects the impact of the industry on the local population.

In an even broader scheme, Sweitz's work might affect our understanding of the processes and the future impact that the spread of capitalism might have on indigenous people.

"We're trying to understand processes—global markets and commodity exchanges—that are still happening today in the developing world," he says. "Industry is going there, capital is going there, and it's changing local culture there."

In this respect, Sweitz says, the past could inform the future—that is, ameliorate the hardships and enhance the benefits of industry and capitalism.

"We hope to better the lives of the people we work with," he says. "There needs to be some outreach. By doing studies like this, we're understanding the evolution of not only the sugar industry, but also the community itself and the people in it. Aguirre is a post-industrial community. The mill is shut down. Jobs are leaving. The economy is depressed. The community is starting to deteriorate. These people are in a tough position, and they are left to wonder, 'What are we going to do with this mill that's derelict? How are we going to preserve our community? What do we do next?'"

In turn, Sweitz asks, "How do we answer these poignant questions? How do we help them keep their past but move on in a new direction? How can we incorporate the past with the future? How can we help this community move on in a post-industrial world?"

So, why does he care about a small island and its sugar—and the sweet and bitter fruits of its industry?

"Because," Sweitz avows, "this is the story of humanity."

Sweitz has high hopes for his labors.

He wants to establish a cooperative agreement with the University of Puerto Rico to collaborate on this work; exchange students and scholars; organize a field school to train both American and Puerto Rican students and have them enroll in Tech's master's program in industrial archaeology; and establish a dual degree offered by both institutions.

"It's exciting," Sweitz says. "It really will expand the impact of the industrial archaeology program—a beachhead in the Caribbean and in Latin America."

The initiative complements the expansive geographical reach that already characterizes Tech's industrial archaeology program.

Tech scholars work in the Norwegian Arctic, the West Indies, Mexico, Hawaii, Utah and New York.

Michigan Tech is the headquarters of the Society of Industrial Archaeology and the home of the organization's scientific journal.

Biomed Engineering Undergraduate Named Goldwater Scholar

Sophomore Jared Cregg (Biomedical Engineering), of Eden Prairie, Minn., has been named a 2008 Goldwater Scholar. The scholarship provides $7,500 for tuition, fees, books and room and board.

Under the direction of Assistant Professor Ryan Gilbert (Biomedical Engineering), Cregg is conducting research on the development of novel, tissue-engineered peripheral nerve grafts.
Currently, nerve material is harvested from other locations within the body to repair damaged peripheral nerve. Thus, developing synthetic replacements is necessary. Cregg has invented a polymer coating technique that allows for the construction of three-dimensional conduits that direct axonal outgrowth. He has presented his work at the fall 2007 Biomedical Engineering Society meeting.

"Being named a two-year Goldwater Scholar is a great honor; an honor that can be celebrated not only by me, but by my peers and faculty as well," said Cregg. "It demonstrates Michigan Tech's strong capacity for undergraduate research in science, math and engineering."

"Jared entered my lab with no research experience. However, he worked very hard over the summer months to learn his research area. As a sophomore, he is conducting independent research at a graduate-student level," said Gilbert. "Jared has shown that with some effort and hard work, amazing things can happen in the laboratory. He is an exceptional individual."

The Goldwater scholarship is one of the most competitive awards an American undergraduate in science or engineering can receive. This year, 321 scholars were named from a field of 1,035 nominations. Only 52 of the scholars are majoring in engineering. The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency that honors the memory of Senator Barry M. Goldwater.

Cregg is also a member of Michigan Tech's cross-country ski team and plays violin in the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra.

First Friday Social at the Par and Grill

The next First Friday University Social is scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. on Friday, April 4, at the Par and Grill, at Portage Lake Golf Course.

All faculty, staff and graduate students are invited. First Friday University Socials provide a casual setting for informal discussion and socializing.

Complimentary soda and light snacks will be served, and a cash bar will be available. Come and enjoy the company of your colleagues.

Don Keranen Memorial Jazz Night Friday

Hot jazz and spicy Caribbean rhythms will chase away the late-winter blues Friday, April 4, at 7:30 p.m. as Michigan Tech's annual Don Keranen Memorial Jazz Night takes to the Rozsa Center stage.

For more than 40 years, Michigan Tech students have played jazz under the leadership of just three directors: Don Keranen (1967-88), Rob Wernberg (1989-91) and Mike Irish (1991-present). They've toured Michigan, the Midwest and Jamaica numerous times and once played at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, winning awards at college jazz festivals and warming many a cold winter night in Keweenaw clubs and auditoriums.

Jazz greats from Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago have joined the bands for concerts, commenting on the skill of students who aren't music majors but center their lives on jazz, often playing long after graduation and returning to Houghton to jam with Irish whenever they can.

In addition to directing Friday's rich menu of jazz, Irish will announce the winners of this year's Don Keranen Awards for outstanding jazz musician and most improved player during the concert. Tickets, $12 for the general public and $7 for students, are available from the Rozsa Box Office (487-3200 and http://www.tickets.mtu.edu ) and at the door.

MEEM Graduate Seminar Thursday

Professor Md Amanul Haque, of the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering at Pennsylvania State University, will give a MEEM Graduate Seminar, "Coupling Mechanics at the Nanoscale," Thursday, April 3, at 3 p.m. in MEEM 112.

Lunch and Learn April 9: Positive Child Discipline Strategies

The Benefits office along with the Little Huskies Child Development Center will sponsor a Lunch and Learn to help the University community learn more about positive discipline strategies for children ages 0-6. It will be held Wednesday, April 9, noon-1 p.m. in the Memorial Union Alumni Lounge.

Susan Donnelly, a consulting psychologist for Little Huskies, will be leading the discussion and will provide time at the end to answer questions.

Bring your lunch, and drinks will be provided.

If you have any questions, contact Renee Hiller at 487-3309 or rlhiller@mtu.edu .

Physics Colloquium Thursday by Distinguished Nanotechnology Researcher

Professor Mark A. Reed, Harold Hodgkinson Chair of Engineering and Applied Science and the associate director of the Yale Institute for Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering at Yale University, will present a physics colloquium, "Biodetection with Semiconducting Nanowires," Thursday, April 3, 11 a.m. in Fisher 135.

Reed's talk will focus on the physics and technology of semiconductor nanowires and nanowire sensors and a new approach for integration. These devices are highly sensitive to bound charge, enabling specific label-free detection to attomolar concentrations and the response of live cells.

Reed's research activities have included the investigation of electronic transport in nanoscale, molecular and mesoscopic systems. Reed is the author of more than 175 professional publications and six books, has given 17 plenary and over 265 invited talks, and holds 25 US and foreign patents. His awards include the Kilby Young Innovator Award (1994), the Fujitsu ISCS Quantum Device Award (2001), Fellow of the American Physical Society (2003), and the IEEE Pioneer Award in Nanotechnology (2007).

For more information, contact Yoke Khin Yap, ykyap@mtu.edu or 487-2900, or Ranjit Pati, patir@mtu.edu or 487-3193.

Presentation Today on Development of India

Graduate student Ashwini Kashelikar (Civil and Environmental Engineering) will talk about her home country, India, today, Tuesday, April 1, 6-7 p.m. in Dillman 202. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Regarded as one of the oldest civilizations in the world, India traces its history to as far back as 3,300 BC. Kashelikar will briefly talk about India's history but will focus on India as it is today: What impact did the British rule have on the country? What does being a nuclear power mean to Indians? In a time when the Indian economy is being regarded as the second fastest-growing, with indigenous companies hungry to acquire big, global brands, what is holding India back? What is thwarting India's efforts to become a prosperous nation?

Apple Seminar April 16: Developing with Mac OS X Leopard

Steve Hayman, Apple consulting engineer, will give an Apple seminar, "Developing with Mac OS X Leopard: The Power of UNIX," Wednesday, April 16, 10 a.m.-noon in EERC B45. The seminar will demonstrate the foundation of the Leopard OS, introduce tools for development, design and more. Learn how to use Automator to simplify repetitive tasks.

Join Hayman as he talks about software development on the Mac with Apple's Xcode tool suite. We'll look at building applications with Xcode and Interface Builder; the role of scripting languages including Applescript, Ruby and Python alongside C and Objective-C; re-using objects from Apple's Cocoa, WebKit and ImageKit frameworks; nifty higher-level tools, including Automator for workflow design, and the groundbreaking Quartz Composer graphic development environment.

For more details or to register, visit http://edseminars.apple.com/seminars/event.php?eventID=1084 .

SFRES Spring Symposium Friday

The annual School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science spring symposium sponsored by Xi Sigma Pi National Forestry Honor Society, "Ecosystems and Climate Change," will be held Friday, April 4, in U. J. Noblet Forestry G002. An array of presentations will be offered throughout the day.

Assistant Professor Thomas Pypker (SFRES), hydrologist and micrometeorologist, will present "Climate Change and Hydrology" at 10 a.m.

Research Associate Professor Andrew Burton (SFRES), below-ground processes and ecosystem ecology researcher, will present "Tree Physiology and Carbon Allocation Responses to Climate Change" at 11 a.m.

Assistant Professor John Vucetich (SFRES), population biologist, will present "Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale, 50 Years of Research" at 1 p.m.

Associate Professor Nancy Auer (Biological Sciences), fish/conservation biologist, will present "Rehabilitating Lake Sturgeon: Challenges in a Time of Climate and Economic Change" at 2 p.m.

Chris Burnett and Justin Miller, green timber consulting foresters of Big Creek Forestry in Marquette, will present "What Field Foresters Can Do About Climate Change" at 3 p.m.

Job Posting

Staff job descriptions are available in the Human Resources Office or at http://www.admin.mtu.edu/hro/postings . For more information regarding staff positions, call 487-2280 or email jobs@mtu.edu .

Faculty job descriptions can be found at http://www.admin.mtu.edu/hro/facpers/facvac.htm . For more information regarding faculty positions, contact the academic department in which the position is posted.

Faculty Position

Non-Tenure-Track Lecturer—Computer Network Systems Administration (CNSA) Program
School of Technology

Michigan Technological University is an equal opportunity educational institution/equal opportunity employer.

In the News

Research Professor Rolf Peterson talks about the wolves and moose of Isle Royale with Charity Nebbe of Michigan Public Radio: http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/michigan/news.newsmain?action=article&ARTICLE_ID=1251826§ionID=6 .

Well, we didn't win, and they got our name wrong, but Michigan Tech's spunky Chem-E-Car team caught the attention of Beacon Journal reporter David Giffels, who wrote a great story on the competition, held recently at the University of Akron:

http://www.ohio.com/news/top_stories/17136841.html .

Another student team won its regionals, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' student design competition at Missouri University. Its window-washing robot, Frank Jr., astonished all in attendance. The Columbia Missourian's Tiffany Chan wrote the story: http://www.columbiamissourian.com/stories/2008/03/30/robotic-window-washer-climbs-top-title/ .