Alex Barker wears several different hats in MU’s Department of Anthropology and the Museum of Art and Archaeology. One of these hats involves his research and fieldwork on the European Bronze Age and the ancient American southeast. The other involves the directorship of MU’s Museum of Art and Archaeology. Standing at the crossroads of several disciplinary fields, most of Barker’s field research has in recent years dealt with a single broad question: how social complexity grows out of egalitarian societies. His fieldwork in North America and the Old World follows this transition over different periods and regions.
The fact that Nancy M. West finds herself focusing so heavily on the visual in her research and teaching may at first seem to be “a sort of a curious thing,” but for the associate professor of English this fascination for the visual extends all the way back to a childhood devoid of photographs. “I love thinking about what photography means to people. Having grown up with very few photographs in my household, I’ve always been drawn to them,” she admits. It was no surprise, therefore, that West stumbled upon her first book project while scrounging through the bargain bin of an antique store: “I came across all of these old Kodak ads from the turn of the century, and I thought they were amazing. The images were just breathtakingly beautiful. The captions were unlike those we see now in ads. They were much more elaborate, much more descriptive. They addressed the consumer in very interesting, clever ways, and I just fell in love with them.” And at that serendipitous moment, the idea for Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia (2000) was conceived.
“Collaboration is necessary for someone like me because I don’t have a field,” says Barker. “Am I an anthropological archaeologist or am I a museum director? I’m both. We often talk about interdisciplinary research; by necessity, mine is completely interdisciplinary. It is always sitting between and spanning multiple disciplines.” He collaborates, for example, with other museums and research centers, for example with Michael D. Glascock of the Missouri Reactor Center’s Archaeometry Laboratory.
Collaboration has been at the forefront of West’s research from the beginning. Although collaboration is said to take twice a long as working on something by yourself, West reports “I’ve always thought it was really sad in some ways to be an academic, working so much in isolation. Questions arise, such as ‘whom am I writing this for, how many people are going to read it, and what social good am I doing?’ For me collaboration helps alleviate some of those anxieties about the usefulness of the work. Whenever I get anxious, I can turn to my co-author and ask, ‘Why are we doing this project again, and why is it important?’ We can sort of borrow each other’s energies at different times. There is truly that spirit of doing it together—a joint venture.” In this spirit, West has collaborated on a number of conference papers and articles with graduate students and other colleagues because she finds that collaboration pushes her in different ways. For example, working with Pelizzon, with whom she wrote From Celluloid to Tabloid, challenged West to be a better writer. “She is a wonderful stylist,” says West of her poet collaborator, so that “whenever I write a sentence and revise it, I wonder if it is a sentence she would like, or how I could make it better. She also tells great narratives, knows how to tweak anecdotes really well, and knows how to make a critical book read like a narrative, which is a real gift.”
The teaching honors awarded to West bear witness to her pedagogical skills, including the Gold Chalk Award (1999, 2005), the William T. Kemper Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching (2004), and the English Graduate Student Association’s inaugural award for Outstanding Graduate Faculty Member (2005). Reflecting on her teaching, West states: “I really believe in interdisciplinary work—not just to present students with a reference every once in a while to an artistic or scientific movement, but to really see things from inside those disciplines. I think there are very rich connections to be made, and so I try to get students thinking in interdisciplinary ways.”