Research Relationships: An Interview with Monet Watson

Research Relationships: An Interview with Seton Hall student Monet Watson

Monet Watson is a Junior at Seton Hall and is a Triple major in Anthropology, Sociology, and Philosophy.

You are doing a lot of exciting research these days. Can you describe what you’ve been working on?

Most of my time has been spent working on the Woman in the Iron Coffin. I was lucky enough to be able to present the results of the isotopic chemical analysis (looking at chemicals in the body and inferring things based on their levels) at the Women and Gender Studies Conference here at SHU and as a poster at the Society for American Archeology Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Before this project I was going to do the same type of analysis on teeth from southern Sudan, but it is a much bigger project than the Woman in the Iron Coffin so decided to forgo that project in favor of the Woman in the Iron Coffin. I don’t know what project I’ll be working on next since I graduate soon but I’m hoping I can continue doing this type of work in the future.

Anthropology – what brought you to it?

I am the youngest of eight by 11 years and my siblings would have me watch the National Geographic channel to keep me busy and out of their hair; after the program ended, I’d have to tell them what I learned. I grew to love National Geographic and wanted to be like the experts on the shows I watch. I learned through National Geographic that the people who were working in Egypt were called Egyptologists. The one I idolized at the time was National Geographic’s Explorer-in-Residence and Egyptologist Zahi Hawass. So, I decided to be an Egyptologist and take his job when he died. Well, he’s still alive and I realized that more documentaries had many people with anthropologist after their name and I started paying more attention to what they did. Soon enough I was in love with the field and decided to pursue it; by this time, I was 14 years old.

When I got to college, I wanted to be a cultural anthropologist who was going to study Ancient Nubia because their language is like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics but there is no Rosetta stone to translate it. I thought I would go there and crack the language and learn all there is to learn about ancient Nubians. However, ancient Nubia may be flooded soon due to the construction of hydroelectric dams and I would have nothing to study; also, I don’t like large bodies of water. So, I talked with Dr. Savastano, Dr. Quizon, and Dr. Quinn in the anthropology department and that was when I was introduced to the southern Sudan project and biological anthropology.

Afterward, I changed my focus to cultural anthropology and pursuing a curation career, but curators need around 20 years of academic experience to be considered for those jobs and I didn’t want to wait that long. So, projects and analysis became my main interest because if I was going to work for 20 years I might as well know it well and enjoy it. Through that I found more appreciation for biological anthropology and now that is where I want to make my mark, hopefully something of ancient Nubia will still be left by the time I’m ready to go there.

What was your path to working on the Martha Peterson (Iron Coffin Woman) project?

Sometime during the last summer Dr. Quinn emailed me about the Woman in the Iron Coffin project and asked if I’d be interested in working on it and presenting at the Society for American Archeology Conference. After that she gave me papers and articles to read that were relevant to the analysis and Martha’s circumstances. I was ecstatic to work on this project because as a young black woman I’d be helping give a voice back to another young black woman who lived in a tumultuous time of our shared history.

As the analysis started and I learned that she was a free black woman in the 1850s I nearly shouted for joy! It became clear that she was a woman who did not fit the dominant narrative of what so many of us are taught in school. She was free. That was the point of no return for me. Martha Peterson’s story has a piece of me – a fragment of our intertwined narratives, background and existence that speaks to better days on the horizon. I’ve learned a lot from her from this project and I am honored each time I tell her story. The knowledge that she was not alone in being free during this time will help reconstruct the inaccurate narratives we are told about free black people, enslaved black people, and black immigrants in America in the 1850s. What’s more is that Martha may have eaten black eyed peas 148 years before I had some for my first new year. We still practice the same food traditions that we have for hundreds of years and that links us more than anything else.

How do you find time to balance all these activities?

Unfortunately, I cut out going to club meetings and majority of my extracurricular on campus activities. I also assigned specific days for certain projects so I could stay on top of things. I didn’t always adhere to that but when I did it helped calm the feeling of being overwhelmed and allowed me to make headway on my projects. The good thing though, is that I really do enjoy what I’m working on, so the stress comes more from deadlines than the actual material. Finding a balance and staying on top of things is a daily struggle.

In what ways have Seton Hall University Libraries (books, databases, ebooks, ILL service, librarians) assisted your research process?

I used the library to research designs and architecture of the houses of Martha Peterson’s time period. Mainly information I could use to have a deeper understanding of what the 1850s were like. I didn’t need to use the libraries as much for the isotopic chemical analysis of Martha because Dr. Quinn provided all the information I needed to know.

Which library databases are your preferred starting places to begin when you are looking for current research articles?

EBSCO Host (SHU Search), but it’s just because that is what I’m familiar with. If I start a project reasonably early, I poke around in the other databases just to see what’s in there, but as it stands, I start in EBSCO Host (SHU Search).

Many of our students are undergraduates who are just beginning to develop their research and writing skills. Is there any advice would offer fellow student that we can share with them?

Talk to your teachers! I’m not joking! I would not have been given the opportunity to work on the Woman in the Iron Coffin if Dr. Quinn didn’t know who I was. Teachers are people too, and oftentimes they want to help not hurt you. Branch out with what you’re interested in, this is your bachelors. If you want to change your major, change it! If you want to take an art class, take it! Find what you’re interested in now because it’ll just become more difficult to justify the change the longer you wait.

You are in college to network as well as learn, this is your job for the years you spend here. Make connections and meet people, this will help you find friends as well as become familiar with others in your field. For writing, have your essays edited by as many people as you can before you turn it in, however, everything is a suggestion so follow what you want your paper to be. Don’t be afraid of criticism, it’s a facet of life that will help you grow and become certain of yourself, your beliefs, and your arguments. For research, use your resources! The library is more than a study hall, the books there are some that you would not have access to otherwise. If you dislike going to the library bring friends so you can groan about it together. Lastly, enjoy yourself! Yes, your entire future may be hinging on these years but guess what? It’s not! Do you and don’t be ashamed of your decisions if you made them for you, not if they were made for you.

What are your next steps?

Graduate, get a masters, get a doctorate, be stable, work on projects until I can’t anymore. Hopefully, in that order. I would love to continue to reconstruct narratives with geochemistry for other individuals throughout history; I am leaning towards individuals who would be classified as black. I feel that those narratives get lost and are neglected when research is conducted and I want to remedy that. During all of this I would like to teach and share what I know, that is the first step to disseminating knowledge in my eyes and there is a lot of rectification to do.

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