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Donny Slater

“Where else could I take students to connect with an original 1661 Eliot Bible and ancient Maya ceramics—all without leaving campus?”

BA, anthropology/archaeology, University of New Hampshire
MA, anthropology/archaeology, Brandeis University
Ph.D., anthropology/archaeology, Brandeis University

Ever since I was a young child I was fascinated by objects, places, and stories connected to the past; a passion that led me to study to become an archaeologist. My primary areas of interest focus on religion, cosmology, and iconography of the ancient Maya and other Mesoamerican cultures. I direct an archaeological project that discovers, explores, and studies ancient Maya ritual caves in Yucatan, but I have also worked at Colonial sites in New England; another area of great interest for me. Before joining the Department of History and Social Science, my time at Andover began with 12 years at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology—an incredible resource here on campus. One of the highlights of my work at Andover is co-directing the HUACA and BALAM Projects – two expeditionary and experiential learning programs to Peru and Mesoamerica, respectively. I am also an avid photographer and am a big fan of hockey, classic rock music, 60s muscle cars, and exploring the outdoors, particularly with my wife and two young daughters Quinn and Maeve. 

Like many people at Andover, at times I feel overwhelmed because I am captivated by such a variety of interests. I think, however, that there is one connecting thread that runs through the majority of my intellectual pursuits: material culture. Things. Stuff. For me, it is not the modern consumerist perspective that is interesting, but rather seeing objects as things that, like people, can have constantly evolving biographies. Material culture items can change hands, be involved in social interactions, and are modified, saved, and discarded—all the while accruing cultural, historical, emotional, and even spiritual value as interpreted by different people at different times. 

Most fascinating to me, perhaps, is that within some cultures such items even transcend the mundane category of “object” and are seen as “subjects” or active social agents. As an archaeologist, using material items to help students better relate to the history and social science curriculum feels natural. And with the Addison Gallery, Peabody Institute, and Archives, Andover has perhaps the most impressive collection of material culture at any U.S. high school. Where else could I take students to connect with a silver cast by Paul Revere, an original 1661 Eliot Bible, and ancient Maya ceramics—all without leaving campus?

Reprinted from Andover magazine.

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