The Ripple Effect of Imperialism – Understanding Foodways, Community and Identity on the Margins of an Empire – Laura Steele
Imperialism has a dramatic impact on the lives of directly colonized and subjected peoples. Scholars have demonstrated that this impact takes a variety of forms depending on the proximity of the imperial center, imperial goals, the surrounding geography, and abundance of natural resources, among other factors. Limited research has focused on how Indigenous peoples on the borders of empires responded to imperial processes. Laura’s talk explores the effects of imperialism on Indigenous peoples living along the frontier of the Spanish expansion in what is known as west-central Argentina. Her research focuses on Indigenous identity and uses food as a proxy for identity to investigate how Indigenous peoples adapted to, resisted, and/or benefitted from imperial expansion in this region. She analyzes animal bone material to reconstruct Indigenous foodways through time and document shifts in meal preparation. She also uses radiocarbon dating to construct a timeline of events in this region. Her work contributes to ongoing research related to the impact of imperialism on marginalized groups in the past and how this contributes to current events.
Originally from the Mojave Desert of southern California, Laura Ward Steele is a PhD candidate at the University of New Mexico. She received her BS from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and her MA from Eastern New Mexico University. Laura has worked as an archaeologist in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and in Mendoza province, Argentina. She is currently a faunal analyst for Parametrix, Inc., an adjunct instructor at Laramie County Community College in Laramie, Wyoming, and a graduate assistant in the Anthropology Department at the University of New Mexico. Also, Laura recently completed working with a research team at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation surveying homeless and housing insecure youth across southern and eastern New Mexico.
Laura’s dissertation research at the University of New Mexico explores how imperialism impacted Indigenous peoples who lived on the southern borders of both the Incan and Spanish empires in what is known today as west-central Argentina. Her project examines the ongoing effects of imperialism on Indigenous peoples living in this region. She investigates how these Indigenous peoples responded to, resisted, and/or benefited from the imperial expansion that began in the mid-1550s. Moreover, she focuses on Indigenous identity and how Indigenous peoples maintained their identity through food. Laura has earned multiple grants and fellowships for her current research, including through the Latin American Iberian Institute (LAII), the Graduate Student and Professional Association, and the Anthropology Department at the University of New Mexico. In 2020, she was awarded a Fulbright Research Scholar Award to live and work in Argentina for nine months, and she is currently a Latin American Iberian Doctoral Fellow through LAII.
Laura cares deeply for the Indigenous peoples she works with and for those in her surrounding communities. She advocates for and helps women seeking careers in the sciences and careers of their choosing. Through archaeology, she seeks to empower the women around her to tell their own stories and write their own meaningful narratives about their histories. In the future, she hopes to broaden the scope of her research to collaborate with current peoples living with food insecurity in the United States and Argentina.