Project Overview

Making Mesozoic Meaning: People and Dinosaurs in the American West

Faculty Sponsor

Elana Shever (


Sociology and Anthropology
Environmental Studies


What does it mean to be a human, an animal or an object? These fundamental questions arise, quite unexpectedly, in people’s encounters with dinosaurs. Based on in-depth ethnographic research in the Denver metropolitan area and the badlands of the American West, this book project explores how dinosaurs lead us to rethink humanness, animality and objectness together. This occurs, for instance, when museum visitors who initially regarded dinosaurs as the ultimate Other come to consider their common animality as they hold a fossilized dinosaur vertebra the same shape as their own, or when they view Stegosaurus footprints showing that they too slipped in the mud. Likewise, when paleontologists and volunteers excavate fossils and make casts, they challenge the opposition between animate and inanimate, and distinctions among organism, rock and plastic. This book will analyze how meanings, values and matter emerge out of the everyday interactions among people and dinosaurs, in their myriad forms as objects, images and discourses. As scientific specimens and cultural icons simultaneously, dinosaurs provide an exceptional window into the materialization of ideas about race, gender, sexuality and age; science and expertise; violence, competition and care; the real and the fake; space, time, progress and extinction.

Student Qualifications

The students working on this 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). Knowledge of Maxqda software, the Denver area and/or Spanish are also a plus. 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

Applications open on 01/05/2018 and close on 02/05/2018

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (