A Foundation and Good Education: Video Transcript

Dr. José R. Oliver (BA Sociology and Anthropology, Miami, 1977) [Reader in Latin American Archaeology at University College, London]: My interest in archaeology started really with, from a very early age through my grandfather and my father. I, from a very early age, saw archaeological artifacts moving around the house and stories behind the objects and things that captivated my imagination as a child on who were the people who were producing these? Who were those "Indians?" That's really where the seeds for my interest in ancient history began.

I didn't have to move around trying to discover where my abilities were, but wanted to really get a foundation, a good education so that I could pursue my career as an archaeologist. And so, that's how I found out about Miami University.

I was used to palm trees, and beaches, and hot weather all year round. It attracted me to have a sense of what the seasons were all about. It seems like something silly, but for somebody who grew up in the tropics, the fact that I could see snow for the first time was a major event in my life.

The eclectic mixture, even in those days, of international students, who were coming from Luxembourg, we had a group also coming from western Africa, then Zaire, now it's Congo, Nigeria, we had some Colombians as well.

I think that sort of multicultural environment suited my sense of adventure as an archaeologist and anthropologist that I wanted to be, to enjoy these different ways of looking at the world and interacting with different peoples that have different perspectives.

The degree that I got here, because of the emphasis on the arts and the humanities and the broader liberal arts education, provided me a sampling, a good sampling of the sorts of things that I thought I would need to know to be a really good, competent archaeologist. So, when I was here, I was just as interested in taking courses in geology or geography as I was in sociology and anthropology.
But it was the idea that I needed some different disciplines that could inform how archaeologists could take advantage of them to respond to questions about what happened and how people lived the past.

I think the arts, liberal arts and sciences, or arts and sciences in general, it's what really makes sense in a lot of fields that seem to be slated into either being science or either being in the humanities side. The irony of archaeology is that, for us, we really have, we don't have that kind of boundary between science, on the one hand, and humanities, or history, social sciences and arts on the other. I kind of was aware of that, only because of my upbringing at home, but I knew that in order to answer questions about why humans have to adapt in different ways to a changing environment or an environment where human beings' activities impact the environment in any number of ways, you have to know, at least to be conversant with people who were in paleobotany or botany, in climate studies, that you had to know about how soils react to human activities, and therefore soil sciences become important, and the fact that, because we focus on human beings and what they do, their activities do have an impact on the physical world, biological world that leaves records that we could tap on, and knowing how to ask questions to the biologist, to the geneticist, is part of what makes us be very aware of the advances in science.

[March 2015]