When sitting down to talk with an anthropologist, one does not generally expect to discuss the works of William Faulkner. However, if the anthropologist in question is Professor Peter Peregrine, this can indeed happen.”The thing to remember about Faulkner,” he said, “is that he is funny.” Useful advice for anyone who has struggled through Absalom, Absalom!
While he is now an anthropologist, specializing in the origins of complex societies, Professor Peregrine began his college career by getting a degree in English at Purdue University.
He fell into anthropology after getting a student job in the anthropology lab and was subsequently offered a full ride if he agreed to continue his graduate studies in anthropology. “I didn’t have anything better to do,” he said of the offer.
In actuality, Professor Peregrine feels that the two fields are very similar: “Anthropology is about understanding what it means to be human, and all great literature is a statement about what it means to be human.”
This view has shaped how he approaches his current work. Peregrine favors a scientific approach rather than a humanistic approach when dealing with anthropology because literature has been doing the humanistic approach much longer and does it much better.
This student of humanity came to Lawrence after teaching at “another institution — that I won’t mention — which took poorly prepared students and hand-held them through a college degree.”
When looking for a new job, he was faced with a choice between University of Pennsylvania, where he could be part of the “golden boy elite group,” and Lawrence.
“At Lawrence, I get to work with really, really outstanding students and push them as hard as I can,” he said of his decision. In slightly more selfish reasoning he added, “My research has no real impact on the world. No one really cares. But here, I get to impact students everyday.”
Furthermore, he doesn’t have to deal with grad students “who are going through divorces and want to tell you about it.”
Professor Peregrine also appreciates the balance Lawrence students strike between work and play, something he tries to do as well. He is currently finishing up a few projects, including a four-year-long book project that has been accepted by the University of Utah press. Working with other scholars, this volume attempts to trace the origins of modern language groups.
In addition, he has been working to take an article he published in 1996 about how political leaders in early complex societies behaved and boil it down into a single statement, which he will present in a conference in March.
Outside of his scholarly endeavors, Peregrine is on the board of the First English Lutheran Church, is a member of the city’s Historical Preservation Committee, and he is also a divisional staff officer of boating in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Other than doing his part for the community, he boats and sails in the summer and in the winter he goes “hiking through the woods with deadly weapons.and dogs.” Animal lovers, rest assured, he claims he hasn’t shot anything in years.
He also watches “too much TV.” Some of his favorite shows are Cops and First 48, because they “make my life feel so much better.” Other favorites are Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters.
Professor Peregrine also reads every night, often while chauffeuring his two daughters to various activities. His current pick is the decidedly creepy-sounding Nightmare Alley, a crime noir novel about carnies. His favorite book? Faulkner’s story collection Go Down Moses.