Q&A: Catherine Althaus
Catherine Althaus '14 circled the globe this summer to study how museums treat human remains.
Catherine Althaus ’14 is returning to Northwestern for her senior year having completed what she calls “an entire life’s bucket list.”
The biological anthropology student was the 2013 winner of the $9,000 Circumnavigators Travel-Study grant, which funded 10 weeks of international research this summer. The award is jointly funded by Northwestern and the Circumnavigators Club Foundation.
The only caveats? That Althaus circle the globe, visit at least five countries on three continents, and travel alone.
Althaus’s itinerary included England, France, Spain, Morocco, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Peru. Her focus was the treatment of human remains in museum collections.
Althaus spoke to Weinberg magazine before she departed.
What drew you to the study of human remains?
I had an internship with the curator of biological anthropology at the Field Museum through the College’s Chicago Field Studies program. My primary task was to perform image analysis of CT scans of Peruvian mummies to create clean 3-D reconstructions. I became fascinated by the intersection of scientific and cultural interests that characterizes the study of human remains.
What have you discovered since then?
That the storage of human remains is done very differently around the world. In some countries, human remains are extremely sacred, and you cannot put anything on display. Others have policies for the donation of bodies, and if permission is granted, they can be viewed.
The differences between ancient and more modern remains are also interesting to me. Some, like the Aborigines in Australia and the Maori in New Zealand, have cultural ties to living populations. Then there are other remains that are thousands of years old, and have no populations fighting for them.
How do you feel about traveling alone?
I studied abroad in Spain last year, which was my first time out of the country. After my program ended, I spent four weeks teaching English to Spanish children. Creating my own lesson plans and living abroad without a network of American peers was an unbelievable experience. That was what gave me the confidence to apply for the grant and know that I was completely capable of traveling by myself.
How will you follow up this experience after you graduate?
I’d love to spend my post-graduation years abroad — traveling, researching, volunteering for the Peace Corps. My eventual goal is to become a college professor or museum curator so I can continue investigating questions I am interested in and teaching others about what I love.Back to top