Dr. Fisher is currently in Blaubeuren, Germany, continuing her research into 5000 B.C.-era farming sites in places where they would not expect to be found due to poor agricultural conditions. Funded by a National Science Foundation grant, the project is collaborative with archaeologists from the University of Tübingen in Germany and the University of California in Santa Barbara.
I am originally from Maryland—grew up in Baltimore. I’m an amateur musician. I play the cello with the UIS chamber orchestra. I played the cello when I was a kid, didn’t have much time for music when I was in undergraduate and graduate school, and then I picked it up again when I got here.
I am an archaeologist. For people who don’t know
what that is, it’s the field of anthropology that deals with people of the past, cultures of the past, and investigating them through their material remains—the foundations of houses, their garbage, and essentially, the remains of the things they made and the things they threw away.
My particular interest is in the Stone Age. I study the last hunter-gatherers and the first farmers of central Europe. I’ve been working in Germany for 20 years now and taking students to Germany since 1995.
Beginnings in archaeology:
I watched Indiana Jones and I think that had a lot of impact on many people of my generation getting into archaeology in the 1980s. Needless to say it’s not much like that in reality. Mostly, I got into archaeology because of a college class.
I began college as an English major and then a friend recommended that I take a human evolution class, so I did. Something about looking at hands-on evidence really pleased me. I liked the combination of archaeology and the study of human evolution, which is another branch of anthropology. It joins natural science methods and concepts with social science. You’re asking questions about culture and society, but you’re drawing on geology and biology and ecology and many areas of natural science. That just got me excited.
How do students get to go to Germany to do field work with you?
It’s a class, Sociology/Anthropology 473, Archaeological Field Course/Germany. I take six or seven students at a time for a month in Germany and they participate in the research project. They get training in how to recognize Stone Age artifacts, record data in a way that we use for our research project, excavate, and also do some of the lab work—we wash the artifacts, we label the artifacts, we start inventorying them and so forth. They learn all of that, so they don’t have to already know how to do it, it’s an educational process. They become part of a crew that works on the project.
Major project underway:
A National Science Foundation grant project. It’s collaborative with archaeologists from the University of Tübingen in Germany and the University of California in Santa Barbara. The four of us put this project together. We’ve been investigating early farmer sites in Central Europe in an area where we did not expect to find them—sites that indicate that farmers were active in an upland area with no water and relatively poor agricultural soils. It’s one of those pieces of evidence that comes as a surprise. We’re investigating how these upland farmers were making use of another kind of resource. UIS field students get together for a photo in Borgerhau (2007).
One of the things I like to do in my teaching is to get people investigating questions that are of interest to them. I try to do this in several different ways. One is through getting students involved in research projects. I’ve had students analyzing materials with me from my archaeological research; I’ve worked on a research project with some students on an Illinois archaeological site, and of course I’ve taken students to Germany with me.
In the classroom, I try to create assignments that will allow students to learn things in their own way and to answer questions that are of interest to them—that means open ended research assignments. I like to include a lot of hands-on activities in my classroom, and I encourage a spirit of inquiry. It’s not me telling students answers, it’s all of us exploring questions in an open-ended way.
One of the ways I get to know a lot of students, faculty and community members at UIS is through the chamber orchestra. In the community, I am a research associate at the Illinois State Museum, which is a fascinating place. They do work that means a lot to me as a comparison for my European research.