By the time Emily Boak '13 graduated from the University of Chicago last year with a degree in anthropology, archaeology and geographical studies, she had already discovered her love of research, thanks in large part to her involvement in a U.S. State Department-funded project called the Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership. She will talk about her work on the project, as well as how Blair helped her to discover her passions and ultimately connect with the college professors moving the project forward, during a March 27 Society of Skeptics presentation in the Chiang Center for Innovation and Collaboration (CIC).
"Working on this project through the University of Chicago's Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes introduced me to a niche of scholars using geographic information systems and high-resolution satellite imagery to map archaeological sites, not just looking at a single site, but at whole regional systems of settlements and irrigation systems," said Emily, who found every University of Chicago class "absolutely fascinating" and loved having the freedom to very liberally choose her courseload. "I got involved simply by emailing the professor who was leading the project and got very lucky with the timing."
College Connections & Narrowing Down Major Options
Noting that she came to college with a vague plan of studying political science or public policy, Emily hopes Blair students take away from her talk the power of getting in touch with college professors, even if you have never met them or taken their classes, and letting them know you're interested in what they do.
When Emily arrived in Chicago in 2013, she quickly found that the university had a solid two years of core curriculum and that most students didn't seriously start courses to fulfill major requirements until midway through their second year. She spent a lot of time as a freshman and sophomore trying out various disciplines, taking courses in math, social sciences, art, geology and biology. After spending six months in Paris studying history, Emily was torn because she really enjoyed history, science, art and languages, but ended up deciding on her major by looking through the course catalog and choosing the one that had the most classes that she found interesting.
'Learning as a Part of Living'
Anthropology and archeology, Emily soon discovered, perfectly fused her passion for all of those other disciplines. Although some of those interests dated back to childhood, she credits Blair with helping her find her career path. "Blair and all of the incredible teachers and individuals who I met there played a huge role in how I got to where I am now," she said. "I think that, more than anything, the approach to learning that is infused into every day at Blair is what has been most formative, for it followed and encouraged my sense of curiosity and independent thought. Through countless conversations with teachers and mentors on walks to School Meeting, in the dorms, at formal dinner, on the sports fields and in Thursday Chapels, Blair made it clear to me that learning is not something that just happens in school; it is part of living."
During her 7 p.m. presentation in the CIC's Collaboration Forum, Emily will detail for the audience how the Afghan Heritage Mapping Project came into being as a partnership among the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and Kabul Polytechnic University. During her "fun, very visual talk," Emily will address how Blair shaped her scholarly interests, explain how connecting with college faculty members can lead you down unexpected paths and underscore the impact of war on cultural heritage.
"The project I am working on has access to extremely high-resolution aerial imagery of Afghanistan, and I will share some of these images from various periods from the 1950s to today," concluded Emily, who will touch on her work tracing the 16th-to-17th century Silk Roads through Afghanistan, through which she and colleagues have found nearly 200 previously unrecorded "caravanserai," which are caravan inns where travelers, merchants and pilgrims would stop. "The scale and scope of study that satellite imagery allows gives archaeologists the opportunity to focus on huge areas."
All members of the Blair community are welcome to attend Emily's lecture and she encourages audience members to learn more about her University of Chicago lab and the Afghan Heritage Mapping Project in advance of her presentation.
The History of Skeptics
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.
The program was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon.'65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.