Tales from the Undergrad

Or, Notes from the “What would have happened if” Department

I very nearly switched my major in the second-last year of my Undergrad degree. Having taken almost 20 courses of my major (I had no minor and was clearly insane), I needed to fill some of my electives. I chose Anthropology. Why? Who knows. Maybe I thought it would be easy.

Two things became quickly and abundantly clear to me:
1. It was not easy, and
2. It was goddamn interesting.

I found that I preferred physical anthropology over cultural anthropology, the former dealing with the origins of life through fossilized remains and changes in the structure of homo sapiens through evolution. The latter dealt more with the theory of human cultural evolution; the customs and lifestyles of various cultural groups around the world.

Part of what got me really excited about physical anthropology was my professor, who instead of lecturing out of the text, instead gave us a taste of real-world applications of the discipline: tales from the medical examiner and forensic anthropology, two topics that have clearly been growing in television and print media over the past 20 years (think CSI, Bones, and everyone’s favourite, Quincy). This guy had seen it all: criminal investigations, fiery train wrecks, and the feather in his cap: a stint as the lead researcher for the forensic study of the Franklin Expedition, from which a critically acclaimed book resulted. His stories and slides were beyond fascinating to me.

For the unaware (which is most people, when it comes to stories of Arctic voyages gone terribly wrong), early traders wanted to find a passage to the orient (I'm sure my future movie by that name will be stalled indefinitely due to copyright infringement.) through the north part of North America, which would become Northern Canada.
And so in 1845, Franklin set out from Britain with aparty of 129 men on two vessels. Nine years later it was discovered that they had become ice-bound, wintered two years in the ice, and most men died of scurvy, tuberculosis or lead poisoning (as a result of being treated in the ships' infirmaries to tinned food whose lids were sealed with lead solder). Those who left the ship died of exposure or cannibalism, having either not learned or not been able to adapt to the harsh Arctic conditions.

My professor's tales of exhuming the few buried bodies and getting a look into the history and the runup to this terrible predicament was riveting. For the really curious, check out this note left by Franklin, found in 1859.

I went on to take a couple more Anthropology courses which satisfied my need for both human anatomy (I grew up wanting to be a doctor, but decided it was the wrong path for me after discovering the sight of blood made me queasy) and latin nomenclature (I have no excuse for this). I never did switch majors or pick up an Anthro minor, as that would have added at least a year or two to my degree. But my interest in Anthropology and human evolution lives on, and I happily escape into National Geographic articles or Auel books (though I find the latter goes into some excruciating detail).

And I still didn't get a job in my discipline after completing my undergrad degree.

So maybe nothing would have changed after all.



Day 3



Northwest Passage (Stan Rogers)

Chorus: Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea;
Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.

Westward from the Davis Strait 'tis there 'twas said to lie
The sea route to the Orient for which so many died;
Seeking gold and glory, leaving weathered, broken bones
And a long-forgotten lonely cairn of stones.

Three centuries thereafter, I take passage overland
In the footsteps of brave Kelso, where his "sea of flowers" began
Watching cities rise before me, then behind me sink again
This tardiest explorer, driving hard across the plain.

And through the night, behind the wheel, the mileage clicking west
I think upon Mackenzie, David Thompson and the rest
Who cracked the mountain ramparts and did show a path for me
To race the roaring Fraser to the sea.

How then am I so different from the first men through this way?
Like them, I left a settled life, I threw it all away.
To seek a Northwest Passage at the call of many men
To find there but the road back home again.

Posted bythemikestand at 7:29 AM  

4 stepped up to the mike:

Brianna said... 11:27 AM, November 03, 2006  

Write about the Pitcairn Islands next! Clearly the British are *always* getting lost in remote corners of the world and then having songs written about their adventures.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitcairn_island

http://www.captaintractor.com/html/musicarchive/Land.html#PitcairnIsland

themikestand said... 11:49 AM, November 03, 2006  

You know I'm a big Captain Tractor fan, right?

We're Pitcairn Island ladies
We're Pitcairn Island gents
and we're all the innocent victims
of a strange turn of events

Brianna said... 1:30 PM, November 03, 2006  

Yeah, you turned me on to the band long long ago :)

Sassy said... 1:38 PM, November 03, 2006  

I took ONE anthropology course my last year of undergrad, and caused a huge stir when I suggested that it might be possible for both the Evolution and Creation theories to co-exist. *gasp!*

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