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Archives For November 2015

By: Joseph Quisol

As a political science and international studies double-major, I participated in the Senior Arctic Council Officials Meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, this past October, 2015. The Arctic Council is an international forum for setting environmental and social policies within a region undergoing rapid change, including changes in climate and capitalist development. Although only the eight Arctic nations cast votes on issues, sitting at the table are the six major Arctic indigenous groups, who contribute to and often drive these policy discussions. I participated as an official member of the Arctic Athabaskan delegation and was able to witness international policy making first hand. Also, I was able to incorporate this experience into my political science bachelor’s essay.

Joseph Quisol

Joseph Quisol

This opportunity was made possible through Dr. Annette Watson’s National Park Service Award and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences travel funding. Through her grant, Dr. Watson was able to hire me as a research assistant to examine indigenous perspectives on natural resource policy. During the previous summer, I gained great knowledge of quantitative research at the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute at Princeton University and found this background especially helpful for my research assistant position.

My bachelor’s essay “Postcolonial Approaches to Community Development” will look at how locals can create their own solutions for issues within their communities, rather than more “top-down” approaches to government. At the Arctic Council Meeting, I was able to observe how policy makers want to draw on both traditional indigenous knowledge systems and Western sciences to address issues such as the declining salmon population in the Yukon River. Policy is being created through consensus, and I noted that this collaborative approach is radically different from the methods of the United Nations and other governance strategies.

I have always been interested in “bottom-up” governance and said that the Arctic Council Meeting gave me an opportunity to see how it works in the real world, at the international scale. It also helped me narrow the focus of my bachelor’s essay. In addition, I met people from across the world and the participants were quite eager to speak with the youngest person in the room. I was able to network with delegates from the United States, from Norway, and from the Saami Council, as well as organizations like the Society of Reindeer Herders and the University of the Arctic. I learned about indigenous strategies of diplomacy from Chief Stickman, the First Chief of the Nulato Tribe of Alaska and the Head of Delegation for the Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC).

Dr. Watson notes, “It was useful to have Joseph participate as a technical advisor to the AAC; he helped to organize a funding strategy for a project that the AAC is working on, to develop an assessment of Arctic salmon fisheries. For me, it was great to have someone there with whom I could share my own insights about how power operates at this high-level forum, as part of my larger research agenda on indigenous politics.”

Ed Longe and Kristin Brig received the School of Humanities and Social Sciences‘ Dean’s Travel Award to attend the Graduate History Association’s conference during the fall, 2015, semester.

By: Ed Longe

The weekend of October 16th-17th  , 2015, was personally notable because it was my first venture into the world of history conferences. Hosted by the Graduate History Association (GHA) at the University of Alabama, the conference centered around a theme of power and struggle. The breadth of this theme meant that the organizers were able to bring a wide array of presenters from all across the United States. I benefited from learning about a wide range of research by fellow graduate students. On a more substantive level, the conference’s breadth of focus has challenged me to consider alternate ways of approaching my own research, which will allow me to fully understand my own topic in greater depth.


Kristin Brig (Left) and Ed Longe (Right) at the University of Alabama.

The other significant benefit to attending this conference is that it has put me in contact with individuals, both students and staff, who share my research interests and are working within my field. During the conference, I spent a significant amount of time discussing ways I could improve my own work, most notably by considering the methodology they have used to conduct their research.

By: Kristin Brig

After working on my bachelor’s essay for a year and two months, I found myself in front of an audience at a conference at the University of Alabama to present the outcome of my research. A page of outlined notes and a PowerPoint were my only companions. Together, we gripped our audience and, in twelve minutes, rapidly drew them into the world of nineteenth-century England. At the end of my session, at least two professors came up to me and held me in deep conversation, all too ready to tell me how my presentation intrigued them.

That being said, I left my first conference feeling rather successful.

During the weekend of October 6-7, I attended the University of Alabama’s Graduate History Association’s annual conference on Power and Struggle throughout history, where I presented my paper on disorder in the nineteenth-century English workhouse. Though small in attendee number, the conference gave the graduate students and professors present an opportunity to interact on a more informal level than what would have occurred at a larger conference, where students often become lost in an academic milieu. I discussed a wide variety of topics with historians from various fields, including shipbuilding in the Atlantic world and slave societies in the antebellum South, and each discussion took place within the frame of the conference’s theme, power and struggle. Sharing old ideas and discovering new ideas broadened my intellectual senses, and such networking and intellectual discussion serve a particular usefulness as I go forward in my master’s research. The theme of resistance appears throughout my own work, and so learning how others treat this theme promotes my own understanding of its history. My next work will thus only benefit from the time I spent at this conference, to which I am grateful.

By: George Dickinson

George_DickinsonGeorge Dickinson is a Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the College of Charleston. Dr. Dickinson’s research focuses on death and dying, medical sociology, and aging.

The fabric of our society is in a constant state of social change. Regarding the life cycle, for example, we have seen a trend in recent years toward deinstitutionalization: natural childbirth (often at home with a midwife), working out of one’s home (thanks to computers), dying at home (home hospice), home funerals (do-it-yourself), and roadside memorials (without the restrictions of cemetery rulings). Formal religion may no longer satisfy needs in a secular society. So, let’s take a brief look at dying and death in the United States.

Some historians view death as having gone through three stages: (1) Living with death (1600-1830), a time when cemeteries were in the city by the church, many children were born but all did not survive childhood, and a belief in fatalism that God was in control and whatever happened was meant to be; (2) dying of death (1830-1945), when cemeteries were moved out of the city (out of sight out of mind), funeral homes came into existence in New York City with the idea of beautifying the body and making it “look alive,” and morphine was developed to lessen the pain of death; and (3) resurrection of death (1945-present), with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan and more recently reinforced with the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, when many individuals can die in a very short period of time.


There has been an increased interest in thanatology (the study of death) because of biomedical breakthroughs (numerous organ and tissue transplants to prolong one’s life in addition to other medical innovations), longer life today thus often adding needed assistance during the latter months/years of one’s life (heart disease and cancer are the #1 and #2 causes of death today, both chronic, lingering illnesses, whereas in 1900 pneumonia , an acute, not lingering illness,  was a leading cause of death), and away from a rural farm environment where one experienced the life cycle on a daily basis (e.g., with shorter life spans than humans, cows and other livestock die after only a few years, unlike humans).  Though there is a recent trend in dying at home through hospice, 80 percent of Americans today die in a hospital or nursing facility, thus presenting a mystique of what happens within such a setting. As one little boy said, “I don’t want to go to the hospital because that is where you go to die,” as he had seen his grandfather taken away from his home to a hospital, and the next time the little boy saw Grandfather, he was stiff, lying in a box, with his eyes closed–dead!

Overall, the US tends toward being a death-denying society. We don’t die in America, we just “go to sleep” (the word cemetery comes from the Greek and means “place of sleep;” if a dead body is casketed, it is placed on a mattress with the head resting on a pillow; RIP is often used to refer to death; some grave markers give a birth year then say “went to sleep” rather than say “died;” and until recent years the room in the funeral home where the body was displayed for a wake had a sign over the door which read “slumber room.” Numerous euphemisms suggest that we do not like to use the word “death” (e.g., passed away, breathed his life, didn’t survive the surgery, kicked the bucket, and called home by God substitute for the word “dead”). We avoid death conversations because we feel uncomfortable and often joke about death and sex to cover up our anxiety about the topics. Perhaps the most bizarre example of death denial is cryonics (body freezing) when the dead body is frozen in liquid nitrogen and kept for years (decades?) with the hope that someday a “cure” will be developed and the body will be thawed, injected, and will wake up with the absolute worst “hangover” and culture shock one ever had! Recently, the late baseball player Ted Williams had his head frozen, not the entire body, with the hope that it will be someday be “resurrected” and cloned onto a new body when he is revived because of a “cure.”

On the other hand, recent events such as “death dinners” and “death cafes” have cropped up in cities in Western Europe and the US. Such events would suggest that the topic of death is “alive” and well. The idea of these eating gatherings is to come to a café on a specified night to have dinner and to talk about death—not a therapy session but to simply “talk” about death. The death dinners occur in one’s home, and the guests are invited to come for dinner to discuss death. Thus, everything that is currently happening does not suggest death denial.

Death anxiety/fear is rather prevalent in our society, particularly perhaps because there is a fear of the unknown. One does not know for sure what happens after death, though there are plenty of speculations. As one child said, “I wonder what happens after one dies. I don’t want to do it, I just want to know.” Perhaps each of us has had such a thought, yet no answers exist as the dead tend to not return.

Options for final disposition of dead human remains are primarily earth burial and cremation. Green burials are becoming more popular, with the body not being embalmed or put in a casket, rather it is washed, wrapped in a shroud and buried.  Also, bodies which are embalmed in more typical burials can be embalmed in fluid with only three carcinogens, whereas embalming fluid normally has over 30 carcinogens. In the 1970s we were burying about 90 percent of dead human remains with about 10 percent of bodies being cremated. Today, this trend is rapidly changing so that some 40 percent of bodies in the US are cremated, with that percentage rapidly rising. With a more secular society, the Christian idea of the “whole body” being resurrected, not possible with cremation, is not as significant a factor. Additionally, the cost of direct cremation is around $1500 to $2000, whereas a burial in a cemetery will cost more in the range of $10,000. Cremation is a final form disposition of dead human remains, thus nothing has to be done with them, yet options are unlimited (placed in a locket to wear around one’s neck, put into orbit, inserted into an Eternal Reef in the ocean for “fish housing,” poured into an urn to place on one’s mantel, or blasted from a canon into the air).

So, as Bob Dylan wailed back in the 1960s, “the times they are a’changin,’” and changing indeed with dying and death in the United States in the 21st Century.

By: Chelsea A. Reid-Short

CReid-ShortChelsea Reid-Short is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the College of Charleston. She is a social psychologist who studies interpersonal relationships and the self. Her research focuses on how individuals form and maintain relationships, including nostalgia.

Thanksgiving is all about gathering with your loved ones. Many of us travel great lengths to be with our relatives over this holiday weekend, and many of us spend the holiday reliving stories from Thanksgivings past. Your grandparents may tell you about what Thanksgivings were like when they were kids. You’ll laugh about funny incidents from previous holidays. You’ll compare this year’s meal to last year’s spread. All of this feels great. You might even call it the “warm and fuzzies.” That’s the power of nostalgia for you.


Nostalgia is a sentimental longing for your valued past events and experiences. Typically when individuals are asked to report about a time for which they feel nostalgic, the events they describe involve close others.1 While nostalgia can be aroused in many ways, scents, like that of a freshly baked pumpkin pie, are particularly adept at eliciting nostalgia due to the close links between scent, memory, and emotion. In research I conducted with collaborators at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Southampton, individuals sampled a variety of scented oils (e.g., pumpkin pie spice, apple pie), reported how nostalgic the scents made them feel, and responded to questions assessing their current psychological state. To the extent that the scents made them feel more nostalgic, the individuals experienced greater positive emotions, optimism, and self-esteem. These individuals felt that their lives had more meaning and they felt more connected to their pasts, which helps maintain a sense of identity. They also felt more connected to their loved ones.2 Other psychological research has found similar benefits of nostalgia, and research has found that feeling nostalgic can help counter loneliness.3

The nature of nostalgia makes holidays ripe for nostalgic experiences, and your current holiday experiences may become times for which you are nostalgic later on. You’re forming happy memories with your family while the scents of delicious foods waft through the air, and this can benefit you in more ways than you might expect. When you gather with your families during the approaching holiday weekend, make sure you really breathe it all in.

1 Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C., Arndt, J., & Routledge, C. (2006). Nostalgia: Content, triggers, functions. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 91, 975-993.

2 Reid, C. A., Green, J. D., Wildschut, T., & Sedikides, C. (2015). Scent-evoked nostalgia. Memory, 23, 157-166.

3 Zhou, X., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., & Gao, D. (2008). Counteracting loneliness: On the restorative function of nostalgia. Psychological Science, 19, 1023-1029.

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