In Focus: Alexis Boutin

"I can always rely on the library to fulfill my research needs"

What is your research focus?

My research is on human skeletal biology and what it can tell us about the lives of past peoples. By applying osteological methods to human remains, we can learn about a person’s gender, age, or even occupation – regardless of whether she or he died 10 or 10,000 years ago. I settled upon this field, called “bioarchaeology,” while being trained broadly in biological anthropology, archaeology, social theory, and the history and languages of the ancient Near East. I have participated in excavation and survey in Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Crete (and California!), as well as conducted research on collections at the British Museum, University College London, and currently at UC Berkeley’s Hearst Museum of Anthropology as co-director of the Dilmun Bioarchaeology Project. With the data I collect – from human skeletal remains, archaeological contexts, and ancient texts – I explore how personhoods were embodied in the past, via gender, sex, sexuality, age, class, kin relations, religion, etc. I interpret the life courses of these personhoods by means of fictive osteobiographical narratives.

How has the library helped you achieve your goals in this area?

I can always rely on the library to fulfill my research needs. If the book or article I need isn’t in the collections, I know I can get it within days via Link+ or Interlibrary Loan. The electronic journals are also an essential resource for staying current in my field. Just as important, though, are the services that the library provides for my students. The staff has ordered all of the textbooks, reference manuals, and DVDs that I have requested for my courses, as well as putting them on reserve for student use. We have also benefitted immensely from Paula Hammett’s work as the Social Sciences librarian. Her library orientation sessions and Anthropology Research Guide have been a key to my students’ successful completion of their research projects.

What is your favorite library memory?

My most potent (if not fun!) memory of the library is hunkering down on the third floor to finish writing my Ph.D. dissertation. My older daughter was a baby at the time, which made working at home difficult. When I needed to hammer out an especially complex chapter, I would pick a quiet corner and plug in my laptop (preferably in the Special Collections room, where I could draw inspiration from the posters of the Cotati Accordion Festival).