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Anthropology comic series, workbook connect fun to critical thinking

Alan Flurry

The Center for Applied Isotope Studies provides crucial research and analytical expertise in radiocarbon dating on campus and around the world. The commitment of its faculty, staff and students also stretches into helping young people think about science by bringing anthropology to life:

[Former CAIS research scientist Alice Hunt] wanted a way to hook undergraduate students while teaching them the skills professors are looking for in their students—namely, critical thinking and how to work through a problem from start through analysis to conclusion. And it had to be a medium in which she could embed scientific knowledge.

It was a tall ask, but soon it hit her: comic books.

“There is a whole body of literature on the value of teaching with comics and graphic novels,” said Hunt, who is now the assistant director for instructional development at Center for Teaching and Learning. When she met an illustrator at a conference, it was kismet.

She storyboarded the concept, ran it by fellow researchers and, with the illustrator’s help and the assistance of CAIS Director Jeff Speakman, brought the idea to life.

“We picked real problems CAIS was dealing with rather than making up a storyline,” said Hunt, who has a doctorate in archaeological materials analysis, which she describes as the intersection of materials engineering and anthropology. “I’ve oftentimes found that audiences care more about the human behavior questions, and then I can slip science into those stories. Likewise, the scientists who get really involved in their data forget the human behavior component.”

Carbon Comics currently consists of two bilingual (English and Spanish) issues, the first focusing on radiocarbon dating, a process used to determine approximate ages of objects that contain organic material, and the second on archaeometallurgy, the study of historic use of metals by people. The goal is to extend the series into 10 to 15 issues that can be used as a substitute textbook for undergraduates. In the meantime, Hunt and doctoral candidate KC Jones have brought the series—and a junior archaeology workbook Jones co-authored in 2016—to schools across the state.

Created in Speakman and professor Victor Thompson’s graduate archaeology seminar, the UGA Junior Archaeologist Workbook was inspired by the National Park Services Junior Ranger program. Like its model, the course even includes a badge for students who successfully complete all the modules.

Our anthropology colleagues are some of the most talented and enthusiastic scholars at UGA and the passion for their varied disciplines inspires boundless creativity. These extraordinary publications are but one example, though an important 'artifact' of their excellence and engagement during this particular era on our campus. #greatpeople

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