Project Overview

Finding Our Beasts: People, Dinosaurs and Science in the American West

Faculty Sponsor

Elana Shever (


Sociology and Anthropology
Environmental Studies


I am looking for student researchers to assist me in writing an ethnography of paleontological science, education and entertainment in the American West. The book will examine how people’s encounters with prehistoric creatures incite them to reassess human exceptionalism and their own place in the evolution of life on earth. My ethnographic research shows that this rethinking occurs, for instance, when someone who regards dinosaurs as exotic beasts holds an Edmontosaurus vertebra the same shape as their own and sees their common animality. Through such experiences, people question the dichotomy between humans and animals inherited from the European tradition. I also have found that dinosaurs prompt people to ask whether kinship, sex, race, and species are natural or cultural categories; whether violence and competition are innate behaviors; and whether evolution equates with progress. The book will analyze the interactions between people and prehistoric animal-objects in order to show that the meanings and values of humanity, animality and materiality are not determined by people alone, but created through intimate yet power-laden relations among humans and matter.

Student Qualifications

The students working on this book project will be junior collaborators. We will have regular 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 your thoughts on the themes emerging from the data.
I am looking for students who are interested in gaining qualitative data analysis skills. Some of the tasks that you will be doing will likely include: The ideal candidate has taken an ethnographic methods course (ANTH 211 or equivalent) and has experience using Maxqda software.  Most importantly, 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 and as part of a team.

Number of Student Researchers

2 students

Project Length

8 weeks

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (