Characterized by shimmering, red-violet hair and vibrant, hazel eyes, Alyssa filled the halls of Monteverdi and the trenches of Podere Cannicci with life and infectious laughter. At nineteen-years-old and at the onset of her sophomore year at the University at Buffalo, this fresh academic dove head-first into the field of archaeology that she had only begun to dip her toes into with Professor Sebastiani in the previous year—a trek into the unknown beyond her currently pursued major of biological sciences.
While she already had an affinity for history, particularly world history, which led her to take Professor Sebastiani’s course on the seven wonders of the world, the intensive labor of an archaeological field school was an unexpected pathway for this student. Upon further inspection, however, the ease with which Alyssa enjoys the diverse experiences that come her way is not surprising. In the realm of her humor, for example, she expressed that practically “anything” can make her laugh: “I’m just laughing all the time,” she explained, even beginning to chuckle through her words as she described her love of silly jokes, ridiculous conspiracy theories, and her easy amusement over the thoughts in her head. As she spoke, I recalled Alyssa in my trench at Podere Cannicci with trowel in hand, bursting into unquenchable waves of laughter beside one of our freshly exposed walls—sending ripples into all who surrounded her and continuously lifting the spirits of her fellow workers under the sun. Her own mind, however, jumped to her connections made beyond the trench, particularly to an instance of her fast-made friend Megan jumping on her back in full revelry of the moment with an energy that this student never ceased to joyfully perpetuate.
While Alyssa embodied a certain free-spirited attitude this season, this sudden comfort and degree of spotlight are peculiar for the young scholar. Back across the sea, at her well-populated university—a “culture shock” of size and diversity of experiences and backgrounds compared to her small, tight-knit primary and secondary schools—Alyssa found herself to be relatively shy and quiet in her first semesters, taking longer to warm up to those around her than she did during the field school. Unsure of whether her quick comfort at Monteverdi was caused by the close conditions of living together, by being thrown head-first into the work, or perhaps, by the unfamiliar terrain of Italy, Alyssa hypothesized: “New country, new me…this is helping me…spring free.” Now, she has found that she has “become more of a people person,” spending time with those consistently around her and enjoying meeting people different from herself.
This attention to others’ experiences and differing opinions likewise plays into her caution with historical narratives: Just as Alyssa enjoys tracking how proposers of conspiracy theories find evidence for their claims and their followers conform quickly toward even the most ridiculous of ideas, this careful student of science recognizes the issue of neutrality even in the most careful presentations of historical evidence—particularly regarding how narratives of the past are always informed to a certain degree by the views of the author while submerging other perspectives. It is through a recognition of these biases and an openness to difference, similar to that which Alyssa embodies in her daily life with those around her, that those reconstructing the past can increase the ethics of their approach.
While allowing her to continue to expand the boundaries of her comfort zone and her mind, the IMPERO Project has also acted as a means for Alyssa to question the potentialities of her academic direction. Beginning to look to other pathways other than biological science, participation in this field school season has allowed this curious young mind to explore how she might bring the importance of valuing humanity to other fields of research: In particular, Alyssa would like to push back against some of the attitudes of the medical field that can cause patients to be viewed from the point of view of ailment rather than of personhood, and moving towards the humanities, such as through the medical cultural anthropology course that she took in the past year which addressed social attitudes towards death and hospice care, can allow this student to reaffirm the importance of the human in queries of the scientific. This issue infiltrates the realm of the humanities itself, however: “When you read about history, it’s usually about the countries,” Alyssa explained, “…the people are a byproduct instead of the focus.” Thus, our project, underlined by the goal of “giving back the history to the people who are here,” sits well with Alyssa’s intellectual goals, and she hopes that her presence in this field school has helped to solidify this desire while remaining attentive to the social impact that narratives of cultural heritage have on the identification of present communities.
Defined by this awareness and care of the living beings that surround her, kindness and courtesy are deeply important to Alyssa; however, this genuine care should not lead others to underestimate her strength. In internal fire, she has boundaries for the treatment of herself and others; in external fervor, she pushed her own horizon of expectation for herself regarding physical labor, working through fatigue with determination and watching herself grow stronger by the day. “Physically…I’ve done a lot more than I expected I was going to do,” Alyssa explained, but defying odds went further, even to her emotional strength: “I’ve never…been away from home for this long…I was expecting to be really homesick…but everyone here is really nice…it’s…comforting.” Hailing from the small town of Manchester in upstate New York, preferring the indoors or the beach to bugs and open fields, and typically shy with strangers, Alyssa has expanded the limits of her person in this home away from home through her personability and open mind. Regardless of the direction that her future takes, it will be one in which she continues to challenge herself and those around her to a contagious love of life, simple laughter, and openness to unexpected moments and the potentials of the self.
Text by: Elisabeth Woldeyohannes
Photo by: Emma Ramacciotti