Shawn Phillips

Associate Professor of Anthropology
Specialties: Bioarchaeology, Health and Disease, Forensic Anthropology
Ph.D., State University of New York, Albany

Other affiliations:
Research Associate, New York State Museum
Project Director, Program for Archaeological Research-University of Kentucky

Photo – Cemetery excavation in Kentucky (Dr. Phillips second from right)


ANTH 100 – Introduction to Anthropology
ANTH 200 – Human Emergence
ANTH 300 – Human Variation
ANTH 303 – Forensic Anthropology
ANTH 409 – Medical Anthropology
ANTH 410/510 – Plagues, History, & Medicine


Courses Under Development

Methods in Biological Anthropology
Bioarchaeology


Research Interests

Skeletal and dental pathology; measures of health variability at the inception of class formation in nineteenth century North America; the biomedical efficacy of medical and public health practices; epidemiological transitions during the historic period; skeletal biomechanics; health consequences of deviancy, disease, and other socially stigmatized conditions; forensic casework; biocultural theory.

My research agenda investigates how “disease” and health issues intersect with medical/cultural ideology and social action. My work focuses these issues as they developed in the historic period of North America and the Caribbean. My fieldwork includes the direction of bioarchaeological excavations (the archaeological excavation of human burials) in Kentucky, New York, and Wisconsin. In addition, I conduct research in archival and laboratory settings. I have worked with police departments and participated in forensic investigations in New York and Wisconsin. In Kentucky, New York, and Wisconsin I consulted with state officials and policy makers on the construction of and amendments to state and local statutes concerning the treatment and recovery of human remains found under suspicious circumstances. My current research projects include:

1. Holmes-Vardeman-Stephenson Cemetery Project. The research question for this project is to investigate the health, dietary (bone chemistry), biomechanical, and genetic changes in this family line from the 1700’s to the present day. The living descendants of the family line strongly support this important study and have supplied their own biological data (DNA samples and anthropometrics) to further extend the number of generations included in the analysis. This cemetery, excavated during the 2000 field season, represents the only family line in North America to span the pioneer period to the present day that is available for study. The results of this study hold significant implications for understanding how historical events such as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Industrialization, and the Progressive Era affected the human biology of American society over the past 250 years. At the moment, there are several journal manuscripts and a monograph in preparation for publication that resulted from the research on the H-V-S Cemetery Project.

2. Oneida County Asylum for the Mentally Ill. The research question for this project investigates the health consequences of long term exposure to an institutional environment. In this study I utilize historical documents and skeletal remains associated with the asylum which was in operation from 1860 to 1895. These sources of data provide information on the daily activities, experiences, quality of life, and health conditions present at the asylum. Since the institution was a custodial facility, where inmates remained during the extent of their adult lives, it is possible to test for the consequences of institutional life. This study demonstrates implications for the consequences of medical treatment and helps to elucidate cultural understandings of a variety of diseases, especially mental illness. This project has spawned over a dozen conference presentations, two articles, and a monograph is currently being prepared for publication as a book.

3. Cayman Islands – Demographic & Epidemiological Transitions. A pilot study is underway to investigate health changes in the Cayman Islands from 1860 to 1940. This timeframe represents a period in which unprecedented changes in health and demographic patterns took place in most areas of the world. How and why these changes took place remains a mystery. To test for how and why such changes took place, I have identified a sound data set on the Cayman Islands that is available for study from the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research. Once the pilot study is complete, I intend to conduct a broader study and apply for funding from the Pan American Health Organization.

4. Disease, Stigma, and Social Action in past populations. The research question for this project is to determine if evidence of subtle social action is visible in the bioarchaeological record. Medical historiography is rife with examples of how sufferers of certain diseases (i.e. leprosy, syphilis, tuberculosis, AIDS, etc.) would lose their individual identity in exchange for the popular understanding once they were stricken with a malady. Since medical history is so pervasive with such discussions, my goal is to determine if stigmatized attitudes of the diseased are detectable in the bioarchaeological record. I have produced two articles on this subject.


Selected Publications

“County institutions as crucibles of social judgment: Bioarchaeological evidence of the consequences of disease and social stigma.” Northeast Anthropology Spring 2001 61:27-47.

“Deviancy to mental illness: Nineteenth century mental health care.” In, Science and societythrough time, Neil Schlager, ed. New York: Gale Press (2000).

“Recovering lost minds: Evidence of insanity in a 19th-century almshouse skeletal sample.” In, In remembrance: Archeology and death, David Poirier and Nicholas Bellantoni, eds. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey Press (1997).

“Inmate life in the Oneida County Asylum, 1860 to 1895: A biocultural study of the skeletal and documentary records.” Monograph under review for publication as a book by the New York State Museum Press.

“Kentucky Pioneers: Life and Health in a Kentucky Family from Revolutionary War to the twenty-first century.” Monograph in preparation for the University of Kentucky Press.

“Worked to the bone: Life and labor in a nineteenth century asylum for the mentally ill .” In, Human biology in the archives: Demography, health, nutrition, and genetics in
historical populations, AlanSwedlund and Anne Herring, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. (Manuscript in press).

With Brenda Baker (Arizona State University)
“A possible case of gout in an adult female from 17th-century North America.” (Manuscript in preparation for the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology).