UCSB Latin American and Iberian Studies Program

Interview with Professor Alicia Boswell

Alicia Boswell is Assistant Professor in the History of Art and Architecture who specializes in the art and archaeology of the ancient Americas. Trained as an archaeologist, her research focuses on understanding the relationships between and within culture groups of the Andes through the material record.

Has your interest for archaeology been something that you’ve been passionate about since you were young? When and how did your interest for it develop?

Actually history was my first passion and in high school I planned to study history in college. While I was aware of archaeology – who hasn’t seen a movie about adventuring archaeologists like Indiana Jones? – it was in college that I learned that archaeology was another approach to study the past. Archaeology prioritizes studying material culture – physical remnants of the past such as historic or ancient buildings, houses – and even trash (yes, trash) – to understand the past. I find this fascinating, think about what is in the trashcan in your room right now – if someone only saw your trash, what would they learn about you? What would they learn about college students and what could that tell us about US society? In college after taking several archaeology classes I went on my first archaeological excavation as part of a study abroad program in Peru. Actually participating in an excavation was thrilling. I spent the month excavating a 1500 year old storage room. It may not sound that exciting to most people but I loved it, discovering what had been left in that storage room when the community was abandoned. Working outside and learning how to excavate and record our findings was fascinating! I also fell in love with Peru, its culture, and rich history. Upon returning to the US for my senior year of college I wanted to figure out how I could continue to work in archaeology. I have since participated in archaeological projects in California, Mexico, and Peru. I continue to carryout research on the ancient societies of the Andes today.

Do you have any ideas on how to motivate today’s generation to take an interest in archaeology?

I think most people don’t realize that archaeological research has many uses! We work in the present to understand the past, but this can be very informative about our society’s future. If you are worried about natural disasters and climate change (and we all should be) – archaeologists have been studying how societies have responded to climate change over thousands of years. They have documented how societies impacted their environment, adapted their lifestyles, and responded to natural disasters. This work also extends to our current society, archaeologists and their research are often consulted in government policy, what has happened in the past, why, and what can we do about it so we can avoid a similar fate. These last few months archaeologists have also played an important role in the Paradise, California Fire recovery efforts. They excavated many of the burned out homes to recover the remains of individuals who died in the fire to reunite them with their family members. While pop culture makes archaeology out to be this exotic occupation full of adventure, it is a field that has some really valuable uses to society in the present.

Any outside interests that you would like students to know about?

I grew up in Long Beach and went to Long Beach Wilson High School (Go Bruins!) –  I am sure that there are many other fellow Bruins at UC Santa Barbara. I also love to play volleyball.

Professor Alicia Boswell

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Read more about Alicia’s work here