Interview with Dean Saitta, Professor of Anthropology, University of Denver. Providing insights that expand our understanding of the past.
Q: Your writings are diverse. Can you explain what brought you to this place in your career?
I started my anthropological training as a physical anthropologist, then moved into prehistoric archaeology, then historical archaeology, and now urban anthropology. So, my reading has been wide and deep, my teaching interdisciplinary, and my field experiences diverse. That’s why I’m interested in an integrated, holistic approach to urban planning and design that considers how those practices are influenced by culture, history, and evolved human psychology
Q: How do you differentiate your teaching from others in your field?
I don’t know that it’s all that different, except maybe more interdisciplinary. I use a variety of teaching methods and strategies in the classroom, and I like to get students out of the classroom and into the field as much as possible. The Denver region is a wonderful natural laboratory for studying the relationship between people, environment, and culture. I like to take advantage of our location by encouraging experiential learning.
Q. What motivates you each day to do what you do?
Love of the job. I have great students and colleagues.
Q. How is your profession different from the early days, now that there is much more technology involved in learning?
The teaching side of the profession is much more student-centered. Some say we now have a “learning” paradigm rather than a “teaching” paradigm. There’s more collaborative learning: learning in student groups, often mediated by students. There’s even student peer-to-peer grading. At the same time, I’m not sure that things have improved all that much compared to the early days. There’s still a place for the teacher! There’s no substitute for Socratic dialogue as a classroom teaching technique, and my most memorable classroom experiences were often provided by charismatic lecturers.
Q: Why do you call Colorado home?
It’s where my job search, right out of graduate school in 1988, led me. But it works perfectly in terms of research and recreational interests.
Q: What has been your most interesting project you have worked on?
Hard to say. Right now it’s a toss-up between the archaeological work I did on 13th century Ancestral Pueblo (ancient Zuni) town formation and social dynamics in west-central New Mexico, and historic archaeology at the Ludlow Massacre Memorial in southern Colorado. Both projects led to important new insights that expanded our understanding of the past. Certainly, my most gratifying project up to now has been the Ludlow project, because in 2009 the Ludlow Tent Colony was recognized as a National Historical Landmark (NHL)—one of 23 in Colorado. I have high hopes that my Intercultural Urbanism project will be just as successful and gratifying.
Q: How important is it to get the community involved in major developments, and at what stage?
It’s very important to do it, and to do it early. That was the case with the Zuni Tribe when we were working in New Mexico, and also with the “descendant community” of mineworkers and trade unionists in southern Colorado when we were working at Ludlow. In the latter case, citizen support and buy-in were crucial to getting the archaeological fieldwork up-and-running, and to achieving NHL status for the site. It also was nice to be part of anexpanded community of citizens, scholars, and policy-makers dedicated to that cause.
Q: What would you do if you weren’t in your profession?
Hmmm…I’ve always liked to cook and I’ve thought that if I wasn’t being a professor that I’d be in culinary school or working as a chef. My wife Martha is an architect, and I’ve always considered that to be among the noblest of professions.
Q. What is your advice to others getting into the field?
The standard liberal arts professor’s advice: follow your passion.
Q: What do you like best about Colorado?
The geographic location. And the weather. Any surprise?!