Project Overview

Prehistoric Traces and Popular Icons: The Cultural Politics of Dinosaurs in the United States

Faculty Sponsor

Elana Shever (


Sociology and Anthropology


The ubiquity of dinosaurs in the cultural landscape of the United States presents a paradox: dinosaurs are a group of long-extinct organisms that represent a prehistoric world untouched by our contemporary one, and yet they are also popular icons created by the combination of science, art, and capitalism. They are thus natural/cultural objects par excellence. The proposed project will create a fine-grained portrait of the interactions between people and these iconic creatures in an effort to better understand the social and political deployments of the prehistoric world in contemporary American society. It focuses attention on how popular engagements with the prehistoric world help us make sense of our environments, and particularly environmental change, today. Dinosaurs offer an especially clear lens to examine this because of their widespread popularity in the U.S. and frequent use in both education and entertainment. This research investigates the messages about natural history, science, and the environment that ordinary people take from their encounters with dinosaur fossils, models, toys, images, and discourse. In particular, it explores how different groups of people interpret the prehistoric world in light of current debates about evolution, extinction, and environmental change, and long-standing questions about gender, violence, and place-making.

Student Qualifications

The students working on this project junior collaborators. We will have weekly meetings in which we will check in with everyone’s progress (including my own!), discuss strategies and problems, and bounce ideas off each other. I am particularly interested to hear the students’ thoughts on emerging themes in the data. The ideal candidate has taken an ethnographic methods course (ANTH 211 or equivalent) and has experience with Maxqda. Some of the tasks that you will be doing will likely include: • transcribing interviews and writing summaries of them • entering and coding data using Maxqda • gathering, organizing and coding relevant newspaper and magazine articles • conducting library and internet research to fill in historical, demographic and other background information • working with me to devise a method to organize and code audio-visual (film) materials, and then implementing it Beyond the skills to do these things, I am looking for students who are hard working, responsible and highly motivated, who take initiative in learning new skills, and who are able to work independently.

Number of Student Researchers

2 students

Project Length

8 weeks

Applications open on 01/15/2017 and close on 02/07/2017

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (