WHAT THEY LEARNED: Caleb Eckert ’17

For his thesis, the anthropology major and environmental studies minor pondered the pivotal role of water in the lives of those in his hometown.

Caleb Eckert ’17 returned home for the capstone experience of his college career. The anthropology major and environmental studies minor researched the role water plays in his hometown of Flagstaff, Ariz. The resulting thesis, “Unsettling Spring Health,” explores human-place dynamics, settler colonialism, and “ecosystem science theory.”

“My interest first came from initial research into the city of Flagstaff’s water resource planning amidst future changes in human communities and the climate,” says Eckert. “For those in the West who are paying attention to water issues, there has been a fair amount of anxiety about water sources and supply. That anxiety shapes how people think about their relationships to place and about the possibility of living differently. In short, I undertook my research in northern Arizona to better understand the histories and ideologies that shape current water politics in the place I live.”

Since finishing his project and completing his Haverford degree, the former Office of College Communications photographer has returned to Flagstaff, “hoping to further practice attentive ways of living in the high mountain desert” and to “become more engaged in the city’s local politics.”

How did your thesis advisor help you develop your thesis topic, conduct your research, and/or interpret your results?

Working continuously on a long-term project for a full year can be daunting and more than a little convoluted. It is so important to have a few people to talk with and be challenged by while researching and writing. As my advisor, guide, and mentor, [Assistant Professor of Anthropology] Joshua Moses pressed me to ask different questions and keep an open mind to the emergent process of research. Josh sent invaluable theory, art, writing, and case studies my way throughout the year. Additionally, the work in my past anthropology and environmental studies courses cultivated a critical curiosity in me that led me in good directions—and still do. That curiosity manifested in conversations, scribbled field notes, idea maps, geographical maps, photos, videos, audio recordings, and otherwise, all of which contributed to the project in one way or another. Making sense of this through writing was a challenge, itself. Josh provided great feedback on my very, very patchy drafts—as well as the later less-patchy ones. More than anything, though, I think the ongoing conversations with Josh—about the thesis and otherwise—grounded the project throughout.

What are the implications for your thesis research? How or why could this help other researchers or academics, if at all?

I think foregrounding Flagstaff’s status as a settler-colonial society is vital for thinking differently about the different obligations that people have to the land and those who inhabit it. Seriously considering how history and ideology shape human-water relationships is vital as the City enters into an increasingly uncertain future. I hope my research incites creative ways to think about the relational obligations that each of us—as Flagstaff residents, as researchers, as humans living among others—has to place, the land, history, and each other. These commitments must be rooted in place.

Photo by Caleb Eckert ’17.

What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.