Connecting students with Far East anthropology

Mitchel Hendrickson

Mitchel Hendrickson studies the archeology of the Khmer. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

Since 1966, the Silver Circle Award has been presented to some of UIC’s best teachers. Winners, who are honored at their college commencements, receive $500 and their names join a long list of distinguished colleagues. But what makes the award especially meaningful is its selection committee: the graduating seniors.

Mitchel Hendrickson is the only scholar in North America studying the archeology of the Khmer, but he’s found ways to connect with those who’ve never heard of the Far Eastern empire.

He teaches courses on the region, archeology and religion of the Khmer that are cross-listed in other departments like Asian studies and religious studies.

Because he has young children, he limits his field work to an intense six weeks each summer in Cambodia, trying to see as many of his colleagues there as possible.

“It’s important to make sure that all the information we obtain is conveyed back, not only to the institutions that we work with in Cambodia but to the Cambodian students — they are the next generation of Khmer archeologists,” says Hendrickson, assistant professor of anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The Khmer Empire lasted from the beginning of the 9th century until the mid-15th century, including what is now Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.

“To give you some idea of the scale of this empire — 12th century Angkor had a population of about 11,000. At the same period, the population of Paris was 12,000.”

Hendrickson teaches a core course in writing for all anthropology students that starts with the basics, then proceeds to academic and research writing. “It’s not a course I expected to teach, but it has become a course that I really enjoy,” he says. “It’s essentially teaching them how to write and think.”

At the end of the semester, students produce their own research proposals.

“I know the students treat it like their ball-and-chain course, because they have to take it, but they find that by writing a lot, you learn a lot,” he says. “I don’t think students realize that writing is a craft — you can’t just have a paper come out at the last minute,” he says. “I learn a ton from teaching it — I’ve actually tried to write my own papers in different ways.”

This is only Hendrickson’s second year at UIC — and his second year as a teacher. “I think I’ll be a very good teacher in about 10 years,” Hendrickson says. 

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