Traveling to sacred spaces in Native American history as part of the Southwest Seminar, anthropology major Barbara MacGuigan ’18 found that the most important part of the trip for her was the human element. “The ruins were beautiful, but for me, talking with native people, hearing their stories, was most inspiring,” says MacGuigan. “You can go see all the old buildings but unless you have someone to talk to, it’s not the same—there is no real context.”
MacGuigan traveled to the four corners region with financial help from the College’s Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) chapter. “I wanted to go on a southwest trip, but my family couldn’t afford something like this,” she says. “It would have been a very big struggle to do without the Gerda Blumenthal Award. Dr. [Julie] Markin actually sent me the information for the PBK award. She was like, ‘Hey you should do this because it’s right up your alley.’ It also helped that my church gave me a pretty hefty scholarship.”
Her project, writing a fictional tale depicting local culture and built around cultural research and immersion, was an idea she hatched with Markin, assistant professor of anthropology. This cross-disciplinary take on anthropology, intermingled with creative writing, appealed to MacGuigan from the start. “I was really into the idea of being one of those people who tells the stories of people who don’t get their stories told,” she says. “My goal was to write a piece that was grounded in native culture that also encompassed the feel of the place we visited.”
During the trip, she and her classmates were treated to incredible views and opportunities: a rafting trip down the San Juan River with Navajo guides, hiking in Chaco Canyon, visits to Durango, Santa Fe, Mesa Verde, and the Navajo Nation. A rafting guide told a ghost story one night around the campfire, a tale of Navajo folklore about skinwalkers—people who can transform into any animal they desire. This was the inspiration for MacGuigan’s own ghost story, Ghost Sickness, the apex of all her efforts on the trip.
Beyond benefitting from the expertise of the two anthropology professors on the trip (Markin and Aaron Lampman, the co-creator of the Southwest Seminar) MacGuigan found that learning though cultural immersion is what she wants to do with her life. “This trip really solidified my goal to be an anthropologist. If I had the opportunity to take the trip again, I would,” she says. “In fact, I just might.”