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Graduate Student Profile: Paige Madison November 14, 2015

Posted by emmiemiller in Uncategorized.

For this last week leading up to HSS, we will be changing up the scholar profiles to give some love to the scholars that work hard to assemble aesthetically pleasing and informational poster presentations for HSS. The poster session will be Friday, November 20th from 7:30pm to 8:30pm in the Grand Ballroom (Mezzanine Level) of the Westin St. Francis and will feature entries related to “Images of/in Science.” To give you a small sampling of what to expect, here is the first in our series of poster presenters!


Paige Madison, “How to Study Fossils: Imaging and Knowing Neanderthals”

Abstract: For my pIMG_4894oster, I’ve examined how images and representations of hominin fossils were created, circulated, and used to create scientific knowledge in the nineteenth century. I focus on the first Neanderthal skull, which was widely discussed in the UK—despite never leaving Germany. Because fossils like the Neanderthal were so rare and delicate, naturalists such as Thomas Huxley were forced to study representations of the fossils in the form of casts, photographs, and illustrations. I argue that, despite these mediums’ potential for introducing interpretation or error, these reconstructions and renderings of the fossils were embraced in the nineteenth century. I think this raises interesting questions about access and circulation of knowledge. Also, the Neanderthal story sheds light on how claims are generated about scientific objects—even without access to the objects themselves. The final section of my poster asks how these issues of access to fossils are being solved in paleoanthropology today, and to answer this question I’ll have some fun, interactive toys for people to play with!

Rewards and challenges of putting together a poster: Putting together a poster is great because it gives you another dimension with which to tell your story: images! My story is very visual, so it lends itself well to a poster. Because of a poster’s limited space, it’s definitely a challenge to be concise. The limited space requires that the argument is succinct and clear, which has been a useful skill for me to practice while I’m working through a large dissertation. For me, the biggest advantage of a poster session is the potential for conversation. Giving a talk is a great experience, but interaction with the audience in that context is limited. I look forward to my poster sparking open discussions that make me think critically about my research.


What didn’t make it onto the poster? 

I would love to have included more images! After visiting some archives last year, I have numerous images of fossil skull sketches, illustrations of gorilla skulls, and more. Though they didn’t make the cut this time around, I think those sketches images provide great insight into how naturalists were attempting to understand the Neanderthal—what were they comparing it to and so forth. However, that doesn’t fit in the short argument I’m trying to make with my poster. Again–I’m still practicing being concise!

What are you excited about doing at HSS?

There are a number of talks I’m looking forward to this year, but I especially enjoy the roundtables held mid-day. These roundtables often give people the opportunity to have open, insightful, and progressive discussions, which I find interesting and valuable. And, of course, I’m looking forward to all the great GECC events!

Biography: I’m a PhD candidate at Arizona State University and I’m interested in the history of paleoanthropology. My dissertation asks how scientists have used fossils to make claims about what it means to be human. For my dissertation, I’ve narrowed in on three fossils that sparked debates in the study of human evolution, one of which is the subject of my poster: the first Neanderthal fossil! I’m also interested in using history as a tool to communicate science to the public—especially through online tools like social media—so I work with outreach programs at ASU and I will be live-tweeting the meeting.


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