Chair, Department of Anthropology
Director, Archaeology Track
Affiliate, American Studies Program
As an archaeologist, my research takes up questions of religion, visual culture, cultural landscapes, counterculture, and indigeneity in North America. Since 1996, I have undertaken archaeological fieldwork in northern New Mexico each summer, directing projects ranging from excavations at a large 13th century Ancestral Pueblo village, to landscape surveys in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, to excavations at a Spanish colonial village, to excavations at a 1960s hippie commune. My first book, An Archaeology of Doings: Secularism and the Study of Pueblo Religion (2013, School for Advanced Research), explored the changing “religious” worlds of Pueblo communities in northern New Mexico from the eleventh century to the present, drawing on this history to critically reevaluate the secular premises that adhere to archaeological claims about premodern religion. My second book, Comanche Afterimages: Visual Culture and History in Northern New Mexico (in prep), builds from my ongoing landscape surveys in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, in the course of which I and my colleagues have discovered a major distribution of elaborate early eighteenth century rock art panels in the Plains Biographic Tradition style. Working collaboratively with members of the Comanche Nation, I use this iconography and its associated archaeological traces to write a new history of 18th century New Mexico that foregrounds the political agency of indigenous Plains actors.
On campus at Barnard, I direct the Archaeology Track in the Barnard Anthropology Department, and I teach a variety of courses including "Origins of Human Society," "Pre-Columbian Histories of Native America," "American Material Culture," "Archaeology of Idols," and "Thing Theory." While away from campus during the summer, I direct Barnard's field program in New Mexico, which creates an opportunity for Barnard and Columbia students to learn methods of archaeological survey and excavation.
political history, counterculture, landscape, visual culture, religion, indigenous archaeology, Native American studies, American Southwest
American Material Culture (ANTH UN3723)
Provides an intensive introduction to material culture analysis and its potential contributions to the study of American history. As such, our focus is methodological. In seminar, we consider both (1) key texts that give intellectual shape to the central questions in modern material culture studies (namely, “what do things mean?”, “what do things do?”, and “what do things want?”) and (2) published case studies demonstrating how to engage in serious object-based research (including studies of Victorian homes in New England, garbage disposal in modern American cities, post-Katrina reclamation in New Orleans, and the campsites of undocumented migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border). Seminar discussions are supplemented by visits to three NYC museums (the American Museum of Natural History, the 9/11 Museum, and the Tenement Museum) and one Archaeology Repository (Rothschild Research Center), as well as by three laboratory practicums (in which we collectively analyze the material remains of a Spanish colonial village, a 1960s Hippie commune, and a contemporary homeless encampment).
Thing Theory (ANTH G6085)
An intensified concern with materiality and the slippery category of “things” has emerged in the past decade as an explicitly interdisciplinary endeavor involving anthropologists, archaeologists, art historians, political scientists, philosophers, and literary critics among others. The new field of material culture studies that has resulted inverts the longstanding study of how people make things by asking also how things make people, how they mediate social relationships, how they gather particular social worlds—ultimately how things can be understood as having a form of subjectivity, being, and agency of their own. In this seminar, we explore the writings of key scholars who have situated their work at the increasingly blurred boundaries between such “things” as object and subject, gift and commodity, art and artifact, alienability and inalienability, materiality and immateriality, as well as at the disciplinary boundaries between ethnography, archaeology, art history and philosophy.
Archaeology of Idols (ANTH W4065)
"Archaeology of Idols" explores 40,000 years of the human creation of, entanglement with, enchantment by, and violence toward images. Case studies roam from the Paleolithic to Petra and from the Hopi to the Taliban, all the while placing the sculpted, painted, or otherwise constructed devotional objects of archaeology into dialogue with contemporary social theory on the problem of representation, iconoclash, fetishism and the sacred. Archaeological studies are paired with texts by key theorists in art history, anthropology, and philosophy as part of a larger project designed to build an archaeological iconology that grapples with the core question of why humans have always been such prolific makers and breakers of idols. Our goal, then, is not a representative survey of human-idol relations in any particular time or place, let alone in prehistory generally. Rather, our investigations make strategic and selective leaps that highlight idolatry as a basic aspect of the human experience.
2015-2018. Tow Professorship, Barnard College
2014-2015. Weatherhead Fellowship, School for Advanced Research
2014-2015. American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellowship
2013-2016. National Science Foundation Senior Archaeology Grant for research on Comanche imperialism
2010. Gladys Brooks Award for Teaching Excellence, Barnard College
2010. Presidential Research Award, Barnard College
2010. Hunt Post-Doctoral Fellowship, Wenner-Gren Foundation
2010. National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend
2005. Society for American Archaeology Dissertation Award.
2005. Distinguished Dissertation Award, University of Michigan.
Society for American Archaeology, American Anthropological Association
2018. The Aquatic Imaginary of Ancestral Tiwa Landscapes. In “Deep Ecologies of the Northern Rio Grande” session at the Society for American Archaeology meeting, Washington DC.
2018. The Wolf Beneath the Plaza: Pastoralism and Predation in Spanish New Mexico. In “Deep Ecologies of the Northern Rio Grande” session at the Society for American Archaeology meeting, Washington DC. (with Julia Morris)
2018. The Rio Grande Origins of the Plains Biographic Tradition. Invited paper, Southwest Symposium. University of Colorado, Boulder.
2017. The objects of ethical displacement. Invited keynote lecture, “Ethical and Political Materialities”, Princeton University.
2017. Biographic Rock Art of New Mexico: Counter-Archives of Colonialism. Invited lecture, Mayer Center Symposium. Denver Art Museum (with Lindsay Montgomery)
2017. Comanche Rock Art as Counter-Archive. Invited paper, School for Advanced Research Advanced Seminar, Santa Fe, NM (with Lindsay Montgomery)
2017. Latitudinal Movements in Tiwa-Apache History. Invited paper, Amerind Advanced Seminar, Dragoon, AZ (with Sunday Eiselt)
2017. A Thousand Years of Taos Counterculture. Embudo Valley Library, Dixon, NM.
2017. The image, the host, and the question of media archaeology. Plenary speaker at Theoretical Archaeology Group meetings, University of Toronto.
2017. Latitudinal Movements in Tiwa-Apache History. In “Movement and Becoming in the American Southwest” session at the Society for American Archaeology meeting, Vancouver.
2017. Colonial New Mexico, Seen from a Spring: Apache, Comanche, and Hispano Archaeology at LA 102343. Poster, Society for American Archaeology meeting, Vancouver (with Elisheva Charm)
2017. Comanche Archaeology and the Theater of War. Invited lecture, Syracuse University.
2017. Comanche Archaeology and the Theater of War. 2017 Distinguished Archaeology Lecturer. University of Colorado Boulder.
2017. On the Interpretation of Archaic Rock Art. Invited lecture, Southwest Seminars, Santa Fe, NM.
2017. Barbarian Culture: Researches into the other Other. 2017 Distinguished Archaeology Lecturer. University of Colorado Boulder.
2016. The evolution of simplicity: a North American perspective. Invited lecture at Jilin University, Changchun, China.
2016. Equestrian warriors of the American West: New archaeological evidence for the development of nomadic polities during the eighteenth century. Invited lecture at Jilin University, Changchun, China.
2013. An Archaeology of Doings: Secularism and the Study of Pueblo Religion. School for Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe.
2017. Oxford Handbook of Southwest Archaeology, edited by Barbara Mills and Severin Fowles. Oxford University Press.
Articles and Chapters
in press. The evolution of simple society. To appear in Asian Archaeology.
2018. Taos social history: a rhizomatic account. To appear in New Perspectives on the Pueblos II, edited by Peter Whiteley. School for Advanced Research Press.
2018. Ecologies of rock and art in northern New Mexico. In Multispecies Archaeology, edited by Suzanne E. Pilaar Birch, pp. 133-153. Routledge. (Benjamin Alberti and Severin Fowles)
2018. Pueblo emergence on the Taos frontier. In Social Identity in Frontier and Borderland Communities, edited by Karen Harry and Sarah Herr, pp. 57-86. University Press of Colorado, Boulder.
2017. Absorption, theatricality, and the image in deep time. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 27(4).
2017. Comanche New Mexico: the eighteenth century. In The Archaeology of the Colonial Period in the American Southwest, edited by John Douglass and William M. Graves, pp. 157-186. University of Colorado Press. (Severin Fowles, Jimmy Arterberry, Heather Atherton, and Lindsay Montgomery)
2017. On history in Southwest archaeology. In Oxford Handbook of Southwest Archaeology, edited by Barbara Mills and Severin Fowles, pp. 3-71. Oxford University Press. (Severin Fowles and Barbara Mills)
2017. Surface revelations: epistemologies and ecologies of rock art. In Anthropology of the Arts: A Reader, edited by Gretchen Bakke and Marina Peterson. Bloomsbury. (Severin Fowles and Benjamin Alberti)
2016 The perfect subject (postcolonial object studies). Journal of Material Culture 21(1):9-27.
2016 The stress of history: stories of an unfinished kiva. In Exploring Cause and Explanation: Historical Ecology, Demography, and Movement in the American Southwest, edited by Cynthia Herhahn and Ann Ramenofsky, pp. 177-198. University of Colorado Press.
2015 Writing collapse. In Social Theory in Archaeology and Ancient History: The Present and Future of Counternarratives, edited by Geoffrey Emberling, pp. 205-230. Cambridge University Press.
2014 On torture in societies against the state. In Violence and Civilization, edited by Rod Campbell, pp. 152-178. Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology Press, Providence.
2013. Foreword. Mountain and Valley: Understanding Past Land Use in the Northern Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico, edited by Bradley Vierra. University of Utah Press.
2013. Absence. In Oxford Handbook of the Contemporary Past, edited by Paul Graves-Brown and Rodney Harrison. Oxford University Press. (Severin Fowles and Kaet Heupel)
2013. Gesture and performance in Comanche rock art. World Art, special edition edited by Elizabeth DeMarrais and John Robb. (Severin Fowles and Jimmy Arterberry)
2012. The Pueblo village in an age of reformation. In Oxford Handbook of North American Archaeology, edited by Timothy Pauketat. Oxford University Press, London.
2011. “Worlds otherwise”: archaeology, anthropology and ontological difference. Current Anthropology 52(6):896-912. (Ben Alberti, Severin Fowles, Martin Holbraad and Yvonne Marshall, Christopher Witmore)
2011. Movement and the unsettling of the Pueblos. In Rethinking Anthropological Perspectives on Migration, edited by Graciela Cabana and Jeffrey Clark. University of Florida Press.
2011. Becoming Hopi, becoming Tiwa: two Pueblo histories of movement. In Margaret Nelson and Colleen Strawhacker (editors), Movement, Connectivity, and Landscape Change in the Ancient Southwest. University Press of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado (Wesley Bernardini and Severin Fowles)
2011. Archaeology in the humanities. Diogenes 229:77-103. Special issue on “The Humanities Today,” edited by Anders Petterson. (Norman Yoffee and Severin Fowles, published in six languages)
2010. A people’s history of the American Southwest. In Ancient Complexities: New Perspectives in Pre-Columbian North America, edited by Susan Alt. University of Utah Press, Provo.
2010. The Southwest School of landscape archaeology. Annual Review of Anthropology 39:453-468.
2010. People without things. In The Anthropology of Absence: Materialisations of Transcendence and Loss, edited by Mikkel Bille, Frida Hastrup, and Tim Flohr Sørensen, pp. 23-41. Springer Press, New York.
2009. The enshrined Pueblo: villagescape and cosmos in the northern Rio Grande. American Antiquity 74(3):448-466.
2008. Steps toward an archaeology of taboo. In Religion, Archaeology, and the Material World, edited by Lars Fogelin, pp. 15-37. Center for Archaeological Investigations, Occasional Paper No. 36. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale.
2007. Clay, conflict, and village aggregation: compositional analyses of pre-Classic pottery from the Taos district, NM. American Antiquity 72(1):125-52. (Severin Fowles, Leah Minc, Sam Duwe, and David Hill)
2006. Our father (our mother): gender, praxis, and marginalization in Pueblo religion. In Engaged Anthropology, edited by Michelle Hegmon and Sunday Eiselt, pp. 27-51. Memoirs of the Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
2005. Historical contingency and the prehistoric foundations of Eastern Pueblo moiety organization. Journal of Anthropological Research. 61(1):25-52.
2004. Tewa versus Tiwa: settlement patterns and social history in the northern Rio Grande, AD 1275 to 1540. In The Protohistoric Pueblo World, A.D. 1275-1600, edited by E. Charles Adams and Andrew Duff, pp. 17-25. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
2002 Inequality and egalitarian rebellion: a tribal dialectic in Tonga history. In The Archaeology of Tribal Societies, edited by W. Parkinson, pp. 74-96. International Monographs in Prehistory, Ann Arbor.
2002 From social type to social process: placing ‘tribe’ in a historical framework. In The Archaeology of Tribal Societies, edited by W. Parkinson, pp. 13-33. International Monographs in Prehistory, Ann Arbor.
In the News
Oxford University Press has just published The Oxford Handbook of Southwest Archaeology, co-edited by Barbara Mills and Prof. Severin Fowles...
Studying at Barnard means access to graduate-level research opportunities that few undergraduate liberal arts colleges provide.