Graduate Student Highlight: Edward Henry

Edward Henry is an archaeologist with the Department of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. His research explores major shifts in the structure of social, economic, and political organization. Specifically, he is interested in the transformation of both ritual/religious and economic structures as complex hunter-gatherers transition to a heavier reliance on domesticated food production.

He is currently working on his dissertation, “Building Local Chronologies for Middle Woodland-era Earthen Enclosures in the Middle Ohio Valley: A Perspective from Kentucky’s Bluegrass Landscape”. As he nears the end of his dissertation writing, we wanted to find out how he chose a path in archaeology.

How did you get started with anthropology?

A Boy Named Azizbek and I Making Faces in Beshkube Village, Uzbekistan.I was first introduced to anthropology while pursuing an undergraduate major in Secondary Education at the University of Kentucky. This major required me to take classes that would develop my capacity to teach subjects common to high schools across the country. I focused on history, but I also needed a minor. Because I was interested in the historical aspects of social change (e.g., conflict, economics, technology) my undergraduate advisor suggested I take a cultural anthropology class. My life was forever changed by this decision. In my introductory class I remember reading Philippe Bourgois’ In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. I was amazed at how ethnographic descriptions could inform our understandings of society within particular historical and cultural contexts. That class peaked interests in what anthropology had to say about history, and more specifically, inequality. 

What steered you to archaeology?

Describing the Profile of an Excavation Trench Through the Ditch at Goff EnclosureWhen I took my first archaeology class, a Ph.D. candidate visited to describe his research on costal hunter-gatherers and an archaeological fieldschool he was directing on an island off the coast of Georgia only accessible via a 30-minute ferry ride. He said the eight weeks of hands-on learning (i.e., manual labor) would be intense—requiring students to stay in tents and begin working around 7am everyday. But something else in his description of this field experience caught my attention: work would end everyday by 3:30 in the afternoon at which time students could spend the rest of the day at the beach! I quickly agreed with a good friend sitting behind me that this would be how we spent our upcoming summer. My first field experience taught me how to excavate and exposed me to geophysical methods that allowed one to “dig digitally”. After this experience I knew that archaeology would be a way that I could fuse many of my interests: history, anthropology, and the outdoors. 
After attaining a Master’s of Arts from the University of Mississippi in archaeology and terrestrial geophysics I applied to the Ph.D. program here at Washington University in St. Louis.  

What is your dissertation research focused on?

My research interests have changed slightly to focus on the material remnants of ancient small-scale societies. However, I am still interested in the historical contexts for inequality and social change. I explore these interests by tracing the shifting ritual/religious and economic institutions that accompanied the transition from complex hunter-gatherers to societies who relied more on low-levels of domesticated food production. In Eastern North America this happened between roughly 1000 B.C. and A.D. 500. Currently, I am examining these changes in the context of Early and Middle Woodland period societies of the Ohio River Valley. These societies began building burial mounds and geometric earthworks, organized and maintained a continental-scale trade network, and institutionalized ritual symbolism and practices over vast geographic spaces. My dissertation research investigates the nature of geometric earthen enclosures in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky, including their diverse histories of construction, use, and abandonment. In doing so, I examine how and why peoples periodically convened at these places to cooperate in altering local physical and social environments through collective action. I am fortunate to have also had the opportunity to examine similar issues surrounding ancient pastoralists in Central Asia

Most recent publications

2017. Henry, Edward R., Bill Angelbeck, and Uzma Z. Rizvi. Against Typology: A Critical Approach to Archaeological Order. The SAA Archaeological Record 17(1). In Press.

2017. Henry, Edward R., W. Stephen McBride, and Philip B. Mink. Anthropologically Focused Geophysical Survey and Public Archaeology: Engaging Present-day Agents in Placemaking. In Archaeological Remote Sensing in North America: Anthropological Applications Using Innovative Technologies, edited by Duncan P. McKinnon and Bryan S. Haley. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa. In Press.

2017. Henry, Edward R., Anthony L. Ortmann, Lee J. Arco, and Tristram R. Kidder. Tetrahedron Baked-Clay Objects from an Early Woodland Context at the Jaketown Site, Mississippi. Southeastern Archaeology 35(1) DOI: 10.1080/0734578X.2016.1223498

2016. Henry, Edward R., and Casey R. Barrier. The Organization of Dissonance in Adena-Hopewell Societies of Eastern North America. World Archaeology 48(1): 87–109.