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Shannon Novak

Shannon A. Novak

Contact Information:

snovak01@syr.edu

315.443.4347

316A Maxwell Hall / 406 Lyman Hall (lab)

Shannon A. Novak

Professor, Anthropology Department


Senior Research Associate, South Asia Center

Courses

  • 2024 Spring
    • ANT 499 Honors Capstone Project
    • ANT 131 Introduction to Biological Anthropology
    • ANT 631 Method and Theory in Biological Anthropology
    • ANT 400/600 Selected Topics - Bioarchaeology II
  • 2023 Fall
    • ANT 436/636 Bioarchaeology
    • ANT 495 Research for Distinction in Anthropology
  • 2023 Spring
    • ANT 496 Distinction in Anthropology
    • ANT 631 Method and Theory in Biological Anthropology
    • ANT 400/600 Selected Topics - Excavating Bodies in Archives
  • 2022 Fall
    • ANT 434/634 Anthropology of Death
    • ANT 470 Experience Credit
    • ANT 433/633 Human Osteology
    • ANT 495 Research for Distinction in Anthropology
  • 2022 Spring
    • ANT 131 Introduction to Biological Anthropology
    • ANT 631 Method and Theory in Biological Anthropology
    • ANT 495 Research for Distinction in Anthropology

Highest degree earned

Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Utah, 1999

Bio

 

As an anthropologist, I seek to understand human bodies as living beings, material substances, and cultural symbols. To do so involves following variable tissues and traces that persist across generations and geographies. My fieldwork, in turn, takes place in multiple settings, including ethnographic sites, as well as archives,  laboratories, and archaeological excavations. Broadly trained in bioarchaeology and social theory, my research is especially concerned with multiple ontologies of the body and ”more-than-human” assemblages. In one form or another, my studies have engaged with ruptures that occurred across the long nineteenth-century and whose resonances are experienced in the present. 

My most recent work stems from the movement of indentured laborers from India to the Caribbean—in particular, British Guiana—to replace enslaved Africans on sugar plantations following emancipation. From distant colonies these workers brought traces of their homeland, including plants and practices that would animate social and material landscapes in new ways. This included subaltern healing practices associated with the goddess Mariamman, better known by her Sanskrit name, Kali. In the wake of plantations, these rural practices were revitalized in independent Guyana and, in the past three decades, transplanted to North American cities where thousands of Indo-Guyanese settled in the U.S. and Canada. Since 2016, I have been conducting ethnographic research on the outskirts of Toronto at the first Mariamman temple established there. I introduce my work on transnational ritual ecologies in a forthcoming edited volume, "Embodying Diversity." My chapter, “Plot-life in Flower City,” serves as the framework for a monograph that I am currently developing.  

Not unrelated, though a congregation of a different sort, is a previous project that is currently being synthesized. The Spring Street Presbyterian Church in New York City was a site of worship and social action in the first half of the nineteenth century. By gathering as a mixed-raced congregation and promoting a radical abolitionist stance, the church became a target during the 1834 race riots. Memories and materials associated with this now defunct institution were inadvertently exposed during recent construction in lower Manhattan. Excavation of the church burial vaults (ca. 1820-1840) recovered mortuary artifacts and commingled skeletons of some 200 peoples. These remains offer fascinating insights on a community who gathered in response to dramatic social, economic, and ecological upheavals brought on by an accelerating global economy. Archival records and family histories are being integrated with the skeletal findings to examine migration, disease, labor, and social identities in this diverse group. Collaborations with historians and archaeologists, artists and filmmakers, and geo- and biomolecular scientists, among others, are being integrated into an edited volume.

The questions and concerns involved in these current studies emerge from my earlier research on the American West. Here, traces of the past continue to haunt landscapes and the living, destabilizing and transforming identities in unexpected ways. My first book, "House of Mourning: A Biocultural History of the Mountain Meadows Massacre" (2008), examines the murder of some 120 men, women, and children in 1857 by a local militia in the Utah Territory. My analysis of skeletal remains from the massacre site is integrated with archival records and oral histories to offer a portrait of the victims as individuals, family members, cultural beings, and living bodies. Ethnographic and ethnohistoric research in both Utah and Arkansas, drew my attention towards the living and questions regarding how the victims’ bodies and biographies have been deployed in cultural politics over some 150 years. These findings are elaborated in a series of journal articles and edited volumes.

My second book, "An Archaeology of Desperation" (2011), is a co-edited volume that synthesizes the findings from excavations at the Donner family encampment in the Sierra Nevada. Here, a contingent of overland emigrants became snowbound during the winter of 1846-47 and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. In this book, specialists weave together lines of evidence from archaeology, history, ecology, and osteology to reflect on human social behavior under extreme conditions. Both books received the James Deetz Award from the Society for Historical Archaeology.

Areas of Expertise

Body and society, new materialism, anthropology of knowledge, historical bioarchaeology, gender, ritual, necropolitics, North America, Indo-Caribbean diaspora

Research Grant Awards and Projects

"Human Osteology Teaching Assistant and Laboratory Techniques", Sponsored by Syracuse Office of Undergraduate Research & Creative Engagement (SOURCE) Research Assistant Grant.

"Digitizing and Disseminating the Spring Street Archaeological Project", Sponsored by Syracuse Office of Undergraduate Research & Creative Engagement (SOURCE) Research Assistant Grant.

"Graduate Research Fellowship Program", Sponsored by National Science Foundation.

"Graduate Research Fellowship Program - Warner", Sponsored by National Science Foundation.

"Graduate Research Fellowship Program", Sponsored by National Science Foundation.

"Transnational Ritual Ecologies in the Wake of Plantations", Sponsored by Appleby-Mosher, Maxwell School.

"Excavating Bodies in the Archives: Generating New Methods and Collaborations", Sponsored by NSF Research Team Seminar.

Selected Publications

Presentations and Events

Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, "Archival Shapeshifting: Wandering and Wondering With, and Beyond, the Page" (November 16, 2023)

Excavating Bodies in the Archives: Generating New Methods and Collaborations, NSF Research Team Seminar, "Archival Shapeshifting: On the Muddy Paths of Transcendence between Nations and Altered States" (May 1, 2023 - May 5, 2023)

Paper Bodies: Excavating Archival Tissues and Traces. Paper to be presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, "Archival Shapeshifting: On the Muddy Paths of Transcendence between Nation-States" (January 4, 2023 - January 7, 2023)

Annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, "Archival Shapeshifting" (January 6, 2023)

Alternative Regimes of Power and Protection: Ritual Interiors and Experiential Infrastructures of Society and State. Paper to be presented at the New York Conference of Asian Studies, "Playgrounds in Wastelands: Embodied Repertoires of Play, Power, and Persuasion" (October 6, 2022 - October 7, 2022)

South Asia Center of Syracuse University Speaker Series, Maxwell School, Syracuse University, "Plot-Life in Flower City: Transnational Ritual Ecologies in the Wake of Plantations" (April 22, 2022)

Ioanna Paraskevopoulou. Relics and Continuities in Europe: An Interdisciplinary Symposium, Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, Princeton University, "Digested Bones and Harmful Practices: Digestive Plots at the Third Cemetery of Athens" (March 4, 2022 - March 6, 2022)

Gladyck, S., Novak, S. A., Barta, J. L., American Academy of Forensic Sciences Annual Conference, "Examining the Ancestry of the Spring Street Presbyterian Church Burial Vault Population Using mtDNA Analysis" (February 21, 2022 - February 25, 2022)

Excavating Bodies in the Archives. Paper to be presented at the annual meetings of the Society for Historical Archaeology, "Sketchbook (Bio)archaeology: Bodies Multiple and the Archives they (Re)create" (2022)

Annual meeting of the American Anthropology Association, Invited symposium: Human Responsibility and Transcendent Truth: How Metapersons Help People Create Themselves, "Playgrounds in Wastelands" (2020)

Colloquium Series, Department of Anthropology, Cornell University, "Specimen 2032: Ontography as Method and Practice" (November 15, 2019)

School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, "Assembling Heads and Circulating Tales: The Doings and Undoings of Specimen 2032" (February 15, 2019)

Anthropology Department, Princeton University, "Making Time with Other Peoples’ Bodies: Temptations and Conflations at an Abolitionist Church in Manhattan" (January 24, 2019)

Hicks, K., Darroch, M., Novak, S. A., Annual meeting of the Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG)—North America, "Alleyway Archaeology: Slow Spaces Betwixt and Between" (2019)

Annual meeting of the Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG)—North America, Invited symposium: Heritability and Heritage: Theorizing Archaeologies Encounter with Genetics, "Barn Burning: Where Species Meet on Spring Street." (2019)

Annual meeting of the American Archaeological Association, Invited symposium: The Future of Bioarchaeology in Archaeology, "What is It?: Doing Bioarchaeology with Matter" (2019)

Honors and Accolades

Faculty Advisor of the Year, Maxwell School (April 30, 2024)