Edward Schortman, professor of anthropology, joined the faculty at Kenyon in 1981.

"I began college convinced that my future lay in history (so to speak); the only problem was that the more I studied this subject the more I found myself drawn into ever earlier time periods. After four years as an undergraduate at the University of Delaware, I had successfully worked my way into prehistory and that is where I remain today. Archaeology won me over because it is so exciting to push the boundaries of knowledge beyond the traditional limits of large, literate civilizations into the realm of cultures whose members left no written records. These people are easily ignored when we think about the past and the diverse lifestyles that have characterized humanity from its inception to the present. Describing prehistoric cultures and understanding their varied histories from the materials they left behind (pottery, stone tools, buildings and the like) is a challenge that is often daunting, but always rewarding.

"Preparing for a professional career, I pursued graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where I specialized in the archaeology of Mexico and Central America. This area attracted me because of its vibrant living and complex prehistoric cultures and the opportunity it provides to trace the varied ways in which societies transformed themselves from small-scale nomadic bands into some of the largest civilizations and empires the prehistoric world has ever produced. I have had the good fortune to be able to participate in site surveys and excavations in central Mexico, highland, and lowland Guatemala, as well as Honduras from 1973-1977, directing research programs in Guatemala and Honduras pretty continuously from 1977 through to the present. My interests still range widely and I teach courses at Kenyon dealing with my specialization as well as introductions to archaeology and cultural anthropology, the living and past cultures of North, Central, and South America, the anthropology of politics and the history of anthropological thought. My principal research foci center on two related topics: the manner in which rulers and those they seek to rule contend for political power within hierarchical societies; and the impact of external ties on local social and political developments. I have written, largely with my colleague and wife, Patricia Urban, articles and books dealing with these issues and am currently wrestling into publishable form data collected over twenty years in Honduras.

"Perhaps the most exciting work in which I have engaged since coming to Kenyon in 1981 is the Kenyon-Honduras Program. Beginning in 1985, this course of study has involved 77 undergraduates from Kenyon and elsewhere as full-fledged participants in the archaeological research Pat Urban and I have been conducting in the Naco Valley, northwestern Honduras. Supported by seminar classes in anthropology and archaeology, students are integrated into all aspects of the research process, from defining a question for investigation, to overseeing the fieldwork needed to address that issue, culminating in the analysis of finds and writing up the results in a publishable form. The five months spent in the field are challenging and demanding but the rewards are great. During 1995 and 1996, students had the option of pursuing ethnographic investigations, complementing the traditional archaeological focus of the program. This opportunity has been enhanced in our new research setting, in the archaeologically unknown lower Cacaulapa Valley adjoining Naco on the southwest. As in the past, student participants have the chance to make substantial contributions to our knowledge of Honduran prehistory and modern social processes while learning about archaeology, a foreign culture and themselves."

Areas of Expertise

Archaeology, Mesoamerica, politics, trade, history of theory.


1984 — Doctor of Philosophy from University of Pennsylvania

1980 — Master of Arts from University of Pennsylvania

1974 — Bachelor of Arts from University of Delaware, Phi Beta Kappa

Courses Recently Taught

For most people in most times and most places, religion has been central to defining who they are and how they are related to other humans and supernatural entities. Given the centrality of religion to such self-understanding, it is no surprise that anthropologists have long been interested in the topic and have adopted a variety of approaches to its study. These range from perspectives that stress the adaptive functions of belief systems to those that examine how concepts of the sacred may figure in political contests or shape behavior through the power of their symbols. We will review how these viewpoints and the varied definitions of religion they imply converge within and inform the study of indigenous resistance to colonialism. Belief systems and concepts of the sacred have been, and continue to be, at the core of many of these efforts to deny or ameliorate processes of imperial domination. By examining religion in action, we will arrive at a vivid sense of how religion is used in power struggles, helps people adapt to changed circumstances, and preserves some local control over peoples' understandings of themselves and their relations to the world in which they live. This counts as an upper-level elective for the major. Prerequisite: ANTH 113 or permission of instructor. Offered every other year.

In this course we will look first at how the concepts of "race" and "ethnicity" have been defined within anthropology, particularly American anthropology. Does "race" exist? If so, how is it constituted and in what ways does it shape our collective reality? We will focus on the central role of whiteness in creating the concept of race and racial hierarchies in our nation’s past and present. Issues covered in the course include, but are not limited to: the malleability of racial categories; the political and economic significance of race, and of whiteness in particular; the various ways that racial inequality are reproduced through daily interactions that, on the surface, seem unrelated to race; the conflicting meanings and persistent challenges of ‘diversity’; the manner in which notions of biology are culturally construed to sustain concepts of race within the United States today; and, the many ways in which it can be argued that the past is never over but lives on and shapes the present. The course depends heavily on discussion. In our conversations we seek to analyze race and whiteness in ways that may well be unfamiliar and probably unsettling for most of us. The central point is that life in the United States today makes little sense without considerations of whiteness and race. Further, the significance of those two concepts in ordering our reality only becomes clear when contextualized within enduring cultural, historical and political processes that have deep roots in this country. This counts toward the upper-level cultural anthropology requirement for the major. Prerequisite: ANTH 113 and junior standing or permission of the instructor. Offered occasionally.

Beginning with the Age of Discovery, developing through the periods of conquest and colonization, and continuing into the present, anthropology has embodied as well as defined the Western world's experience with "other" peoples and cultures. Within this broad historical context, this course investigates the emergence and definition of anthropology as a discipline by focusing on significant theoretical issues and "schools" of thought (e.g., evolutionism, functionalism, materialism and structuralism); biographical and intellectual portraits of several major figures who were instrumental in formulating these issues; and continuing controversies in the elucidation of certain fundamental principles (e.g., "culture," "relativism," and "the primitive"). This capstone course is required for the major and is in addition to the six required upper-level courses for the major. Prerequisite: senior standing. Offered every year.

The department reserves individual study for those students who are unusually motivated in an area of the field and who we believe are responsible enough to handle the challenge of working independently. Such courses might be research-oriented (e.g., students returning from off-campus study programs with data) but are more commonly reading-oriented courses allowing students to explore in greater depth topics that interest them or that overlap with their major course of study. To arrange for individual study, a student should consult with a faculty member during the semester prior to when the independent work is to be undertaken. The individual-study course may be designed exclusively by the faculty member or it may be designed in consultation with the student. For reading courses, a bibliography is created, and the student reads those works, meeting periodically (weekly or bi-weekly) with the faculty member to discuss them. Faculty directing the individual study will set the terms of course evaluation, which typically involve either a research paper or an extensive annotated bibliography with a short explanatory essay tying the entries together and situating the debates which they represent. Another option is for the student to write one- to two-page assessments of each book or reading at intervals throughout the semester. The faculty member comments on these assessments and may request periodic reassessments. The course culminates with a synthetic paper that pulls together all the readings. Because students must enroll for individual studies by the end of the seventh class day of each semester, they should begin discussion of the proposed individual study preferably the semester before, so that there is time to devise the proposal and seek the departmental approval before the established deadline. This course can count toward the major or minor.