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Amy Hirshman, Ph.D.

Associate Professor - Anthropology


Dr. Hirshman completed her Ph.D. in Anthropology in 2003 at Michigan State University. Dr. Hirshman’s research broadly encompasses social stratification, power and the political economies of emergent state societies, and positioned research results as an evaluation of the relative explanatory power of dominant theoretical models on these topics within Mesoamerica archaeology.

She studies these broader concerns through the lens of craft production, with an emphasis upon ceramics. Ceramics are easily manipulated in both form and decoration, are used by individuals from all social strata, and are crucial to tasks ranging from the mundane, such as daily food storage and preparation, to the most symbolic, including religious expression and political rituals reifying state power. Therefore, products of craft specialists (or non-specialists, as the case may be) and their final distribution within the archaeological record provides insight into cultural change, including, but not limited to, economic, political and social centralizing and decentralizing forces within a given cultural context. The emergence of the Late Postclassic Tarascan state of western Mesoamerica (emerged ca. AD 1350 in what is now Michoacán, Mexico), and the concurrent social, political, and economic changes involved in state emergence, is the particular focus of her work. However, her data crosscut multiple temporal periods (over 1000 years, from the Classic to the Postclassic periods in Mesoamerica) and place results within that larger temporal context.

Using the lens of ceramic artifacts, she currently engages in studying the organization of ceramic production and distribution prior to and concurrent with the emergence of the Tarascan state. With an emphasis on “ceramic ecology” approach to her work, which underscores people and their behavior in the past. She also utilizes multiple lines of evidence, from ceramic style and morphology to archeometry (including chemistry and petrography) to ethnographic analogy and ethnoarchaeology to interpret data and develop a model for the context of ceramic production, distribution, and consumption in the Prehistoric Lake Pátzcuaro Basin.

Dr. Hirshman currently teaches an introductory physical anthropology and upper-division archaeology courses, though she has taught across the discipline of anthropology since arriving at WVU. Her courses highlight multiple lines of evidence in a comparative framework, with an emphasis on student discovery. She also is an academic advisor to sociology and anthropology majors at WVU. 

Selected Publications

Hirshman, Amy J. and Christopher J. Stawski. Distribution, Transportation, and the Persistence of Household Ceramic Production in the Tarascan State. Ethnoarchaeology 5 (1):1-23. Doi: 10.1179/1944289013Z.0000000002 

Hirshman, Amy J. and Jeffry R. Ferguson. Temper mixture models and assessing ceramic complexity in the emerging Tarascan state. Journal of Archaeological Sciences 39:3195-3207. Doi:10.1016/j.jas.2012.05.003

Hirshman, Amy J., William Lovis, Helen P. Pollard.  Specialization of Ceramic Production: A Sherd Assemblage Based Analytic Perspective.  Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 29(3): 265-277.  Doi:  10.1016/j/jaa.2010.03.003

Courses Taught