Katie Hall and her summer research in the Sonoran borderlands

Hi all,

Sonoran Borderlands Desert

The borderland desert that undocumented migrants from Mexico cross to enter the United States.

Katie Hall, soon starting her senior year in the SOAN department, has been immersed in a fascinating and interesting anthropological summer project. We asked her to provide is with a quick overview of her time on the project so far. Here’s what she had to say:

Hey there, friends! Here’s an update on what I’ve been doing in the past few months since graduation.
I’ve spent the last five weeks in Arivaca, AZ as a student and researcher with the Undocumented Migration Project. Arivaca is small unincorporated township located 11 miles from the US-Mexico border. At some points, this border is an imposing 12-foot-high wall of prison bars. At others, it is a low barbed wire fence that can barely stay standing through a summer monsoon. Regardless of the physical presentation of the border, it is overwhelmingly present in our work and the sociopolitical climate of the borderlands. 
The research team surveying migrant detritus discarded in the shade of a mesquite tree.

The research team surveying migrant detritus discarded in the shade of a mesquite tree.

The Undocumented Migration Project is a field school that focuses on using archaeological methods to study human migration across the borderlands. Migrant belongings such as backpacks, clothing, water bottles, food wrappers, and other personal items litter the Sonoran Desert. Many interest groups see this trail of belongings as harmful to the local landscape. While this complaint may be valid, we also see this as an opportunity study the material culture of a very elusive population. These items are artifacts; evidence of history in the making. It is important that we study them now because artifacts of fabric and plastic will not survive to be studied by future generations. Beyond the ephemeral quality of these things, it is imperative we examine them now to document their saga of human suffering and bring attention to the horrors migrants experience in this harsh climate. With the construction of the massive wall along parts of the border and an increase in Border Patrol presence, migrants are forced to traverse the most remote regions of the borderlands in order to evade detection. Crossing through these areas with their host of dangerous plants, animals, and landscapes subjects migrants to injury, exposure, and—all too often—death.

Katie Hall and fieldwork in the Sonoran desert.

Katie Hall and fieldwork in the Sonoran desert.

Each student here has an individual research project that focuses on the migrant experience in the borderlands. These projects range from ethnography and archaeological survey to political science and economic analysis. My own research project falls under forensic anthropology and focuses on the post-mortem processes a body undergoes after death in the desert, as well as the insufficient existing policies of body recovery and how they inhibit the medical examiner’s ability to identify the remains of a missing migrant. 

I want to encourage any Puget Sound student to apply to field schools like this one next summer, regardless of major. Not all of the students here are archaeologists, but everyone is incredibly passionate about the work that we do. Programs like this are a phenomenal way to immerse yourself in a subject and conduct valuable research that you can carry on in the future; many of us are using the research we start here as senior theses, conference papers, and grant proposals. 
You can read more about my research and other students’ projects on the Undocumented Migration Project’s blog at umpfieldschool.tumblr.com.
That sounds really great, Katie. We hope that the rest of the summer is equally productive, and we hope to hear more about the project once you’re back in Tacoma. And enjoy those monsoons!

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