Each month, The Center for Public Humanities interviews a humanities scholar or community member and asks them everything from why they believe the humanities are important to what they're currently binge-watching. We hope that our new blog series, Coffee & Questions, will inspire you, introduce you to a variety of people and fields, as well as create new conversations.
Our guest this month is Aksel Casson, anthropology instructor at Slippery Rock University, teaching courses across the sub-disciplines of anthropology. In addition to teaching a four-field introductory course, he teaches courses in archaeology and world prehistory, the anthropology of religion, medical anthropology, biological anthropology, applied anthropology and regional courses in the archaeology of the Americas and cultures of the Middle East. He routinely takes students with him to Turkey, as part of his archaeological fieldwork and as part of an annual Spring Break trip to Istanbul. Dr. Casson serves on the Center for Middle East Studies, the Center for Public Humanities, the International Arts & Culture Series, and directs excavations at the 19th century historic archaeological site at the Old Stone House in Slippery Rock.
What inspires you in your current position/role?
The daily interaction with students. Nothing is more satisfying to me than when - during the course of the semester - the in-class exchanges begin to switch from a one-way delivery of information(from me to them) to a true conversation, where we share ideas and opinions - and sometimes content - about course material. We're there now, with my Cultures of the Middle East course and my Health and Society course, where students and I are bringing lively discussion of current events into our now well-established theoretical approach to the discipline. It's invigorating.
What work experiences (past or present) have been the most educational for you, and why?
As an archaeologist, it might be surprising to say that it has rarely been the actual act of digging something up, but instead the most educational experiences were the collaborative analysis of the objects that we "dug up". Time spent in laboratories with colleagues, talking about the context of our finds, about how to develop creative tools of analysis or exhibition of our findings, etc. - these are the moments that I treasure. I remember, for example, working in Turkey many summers ago, with a team of international archaeologists, trying to figure out a way to map and recreate on paper the dimensions of ancient building that we - almost literally - stumbled upon. We didn't have any of our high-tech tools with us (we had our phones, a dustbin and a few rulers) yet we managed to calculate angles, sketch the dimensions, record some video content, and then offer an interpretation about the use and history of the structure, including deciphering some Latin engraved on one of the stones. It was terrific.
Why do you believe that the humanities are important to everyone, and not just people in academia?
That's how we understand people and recognize the value of diversity - different perspectives, different experiences - and yet through all of that, our shared humanity shines through. This is clear when we read a book, watch a film, consume some art, or whatever it may be - we recognize the overlaps and the range of experience that is possible. I've taken to listening to books on tape on my commute to and from work - this semester I've been listening to books that take place in other countries, countries where our international students reside. I've listened to books from Nepal, India, and China - all which have better allowed to relate to and understand our students a bit more.
What shows are you currently binge-watching?
The NBA Playoffs.
What is your first thought in the morning and last thought at night?
Who's turn is it to change the baby's diaper?
What's a book you've always wanted to read but haven't gotten around to?
Satanic Verses. It's my wife's favorite book.
Check back next month for more Coffee & Questions. In case you missed our interview last month with poet and political activist, Tuhin Das, click here.
Want to be interviewed? Contact us.
Our vision is to create a community of learners enriched, engaged and enlightened through the humanities.