Professor of Anthropology Jeffrey Anderson’s research centers on cultural anthropology – and particularly North American indigenous peoples in Wyoming and Colorado. This fall, Anderson will take a semester-long sabbatical to concentrate his studies on the history of the Arapaho Nation on the Wind River Reservation. He previously worked on the reservation for several years and will return to reconnect with his adopted Arapaho family, pursue some new lines of study,, reopen other unfinished studies.
Anderson will travel to the National Archives in Denver to review medical records of people of Wind River Reservation during the 1890s and early 1900s. His main goal is to find out how populations dwindled so rapidly, with families losing their children – sometimes entire generations at a time – due to a number of epidemic diseases, including measles, influenza, and scrofula, a form of tuberculosis. Anderson wants to find out how these happened and what the medical personnel did to treat those ailments.
“I stumbled upon this case by accident, but decided to look into this matter further. One man lost four of his children within days of each other due to scrofula, and they all were admitted to the hospital,” he says. “How did the doctors back then try to treat these diseases? It got me thinking, and now I will study more about the causes and effects of such diseases, and on the Arapaho people.”
He will continue to the Wyoming State Archives, in Cheyenne, where he will look to find patterns and trends in marriage and divorce in the Arapaho community as American laws were imposed in the early 1900s. The Arapaho people had very distinct cultural forms marriage and divorce that were suppressed by American institutions.
According to Anderson, the best part of archival work is that, “you never know what you are going to find. You can uncover things that have never been unearthed before and then get an overwhelming feeling that you have to tell the stories of those documents.”
In addition to conducting research, he will create a language curriculum at the local school, something he has done previously. Anderson will work with Native instructors to teach the traditional language and culture to younger Arapaho students. He speaks Arapaho well enough to teach it and speak it; however he does not consider himself one of the roughly 300 fluent speakers left in the world. The goal of the education program is to instill a sense of pride in heritage in the youth and keep the language from going extinct.
“I’m driven by discovering new things and contradictions; things are very seldom the way we think they are. I have an eye for contradictions and I enjoy how there is a deep connection with the Arapaho community and their appreciation for contradictions,” he says. “I strive for my work to have an impact on a community and be valued by them.”
Anderson’s work has been recognized by the Arapaho community and he hopes to keep his connections with the community throughout the coming years, especially with his Arapaho family.
He is currently finishing his third book, which is about Arapaho porcupine quillwork art.
He joined the HWS faculty in 2008.