“What truly drives me is studying the past and thinking about lessons that we can apply to the present and how we can then work to improve our future, specifically with a focus on health and equity,” says Dr. Madeleine Mant, a lecturer and research associate in the Anthropology Department at UTM, with a focus in the anthropology of health. Mant is known and appreciated by her students for her accessible, visual, and applicable teaching methods. Moreover, her research achievements are not limited to the classroom rather they are also highlighted in her daily life.
Anthropology has always been described as the most humane of the sciences, the most scientific of the humanities, and a square fit in the social sciences. Mant has worked with individuals that have defined their interests and passions through diverse projects. She explains how it is important to keep this interdisciplinary aspect in mind as anthropology can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The science can focus on linguistic, biological, and archeological aspects—albeit always drawing back to the study of humanity. Students that take anthropology get the chance to think in a slightly novel way—this thinking often interconnecting with many other disciplines. Anthropology provides students with the opportunity to explore a variety of different social, political, and economic movements in an anthropological way that analyses why the world is the way it is.
Mant’s childhood fostered her passion for the past. However, as a young woman, her interests were not limited to archaeology and history as she was also passionate about the arts. She played the saxophone and piano for a few years as well as performed in musical theatre. Mant says that during her childhood, she felt “there was always the aspect of being interested in the past, but the ability to express oneself creatively was also celebrated and fostered.”
Mant is also interested in museums and history, and she explains how lucky she was to grow up in a family that analyzed and questioned the past. Her great aunt contributed to genealogical research, and as such, the concept of history and heritage always played a major role in her family. Mant also mentions her mother, who is an author and taught for many years at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, which is where Mant grew up. Clarity of writing and language was thus a major part of Mant’s childhood. She explains that in her family, it was always encouraged to “read the book before seeing the movie.” She grew up in an environment that was thoroughly immersed in the academic world.
At a young age, Mant knew she would be pursuing graduate school. “I had the privilege of having people in my family that had gone to graduate school and knew about it,” she says. Now that Mant is working as a lecturer, she is mindful that not everybody has family members that have gone to graduate school or even university. She realizes that for her, attending higher education was a foregone conclusion that she would eventually go, which is not everyone’s experience.
“My grandmother was an educator, and so [my] time at grandma’s house was filled with educational games,” Mant says, explaining the impact her grandmother had on her educational journey. She says that keeping her grandmother’s curiosity alive is something that truly inspires her. Mant aims to instill this curiosity of the world in her students.
Mant argues that this curiosity was the driving force of her time as a student. She says she has always been interested in “finding out why things are the way that they are.” She discusses two prominent experiences that catered to her passion for bioarchaeology and working with skeletons. The first being the discovery of the book titled Dead Men Do Tell Tales, a memoir of prominent forensic anthropologist Dr. William Maples. Mant explains that what truly fascinated her was not the forensic work on current cases but rather the forensic work done on historical cases like that of the Romanov’s—an imperial house of Russia reigning from 1613 to 1917, all executed on July 18, 1918. “It thrilled me that you could look into a historical mystery solely by looking at skeletal remains,” says Mant.
The second experience was one that many Canadians are not a stranger to––taking a hard fall on ice, bruising her tailbone, and having to go for a bone scan. “The technician turned all the cameras around to let me see what was happening, and I remember seeing this glowing green skeleton and thinking, ‘that is inside of me, and I have no idea what is going on.’” From then on, Mant began to redirect her passion internally towards herself.
“I wanted to use the past as a vehicle between the present and the future,” Mant elaborates. Mant is unconditionally thankful to have discovered anthropology in high school as a way to learn more about the world. At the University of Alberta, Mant completed an Honours Bachelor of Arts of Anthropology. She explains that in the honours program she was required to write a thesis; Mant looked at paleopathology of ancient Egyptian sample remains. This allowed Mant to get the chance to do a biological anthropology analysis, performing a differential diagnosis to look at some of the diseases and health conditions in individuals.
Additionally, during her undergrad at the University of Alberta, Mant worked as a historical interpreter in the summer at Fort Edmonton Park. She spent her summers in costumes—19th century and early 20th-century clothing—interpreting history to the community. She explains that this was a very rewarding experience that nurtured her passion. She was able to interact with a plethora of different people, from those knowing a lot about history, to those with limited preconceived notions. At this point in time, many of the citizens in Edmonton were Métis, so her interactions encouraged people to think about how the demographics of the city looked different than what was assumed. Mant says that it was very powerful to be able to address the interrelationships between Indigenous Peoples and settlers.
Mant emphasizes that her experience at the University of Alberta encouraged her to subsequently get her Master of Science in paleopathology at Durham University in the U.K. At Durham University, Mant studied dental cavities and linear enamel hypoplasia of the dental remains of individuals from middle-class and lower-class cemeteries. She analyzed the role that an individual’s socio-economic status had on dental health in the 18th and 19th centuries of London.
She elaborates that this experience was even more memorable because of her work with Dr. Charlotte Roberts, the co-author of the book titled The Archaeology of Disease. “My university career and movement across countries have been about going and working with specific people,” Mant says.
Then, Mant shifted her focus to the trauma of the postmortem and perimortem at McMaster University. Her work at this time analyzed contemporary hospital records from general hospitals. Through this research, Mant worked to determine how trauma manifested itself in individuals in the 18th and 19th centuries as they dealt with the rise of massive industrialization. The main initiative of this was to analyze the stories communicated by human bones, the history written within them, and what information was communicated by the hospital regarding the incident.
Mant elaborates that attaining archives of hospital records from numerous different facilities is a journey of its own. One of her projects involved a year’s worth of research, spending four and a half months solely travelling between archives and seven months in the Museum of London lab conducting data collection. “Working with the historical records really inspired me during my post-doctoral fellowship—the Banting fellowship at Memorial University,” she explains. Following this, Mant continued to solely work with historical records and was one of the first researchers to be granted access to the records from Her Majesty’s Penitentiary, the oldest operating prison in Canada.
Alongside being a research associate, Mant works as a lecturer in the Anthropology of Health Department at UTM. The courses Mant has taught form the core of the anthropology of health program—which is a special focus stream within the anthropology department. She has taught and continues to teach ANT214: Food and Nutrition, ANT220: Introduction Anthropology of Health, ANT338: Laboratory Methods in Biological Anthropology, and ANT 341: The Anthropology of Infectious Disease. To Mant, ANT220 is her most foundational course because it introduces students to the anthropology of health as they define words such as health, disease, and illnesses through the application of their own personal experiences.
Mant describes her teaching style as enthusiastic. She says that she is lucky to be able to teach topics she is passionate about. She hopes that her teaching is accessible, friendly, and fosters trust and community. “I hope that my teaching style and passion inspires others to follow up on those topics being taught,” elaborates Mant. She further explains that the most important thing about teaching is asking what we can do with the information we gain in our studies. It is one thing to acknowledge the existence of a topic but another to analyze its impact on the world around us.
With online learning, Mant has found that even more students are attending her office hours outside of class. She explains that while it is important to reach course objectives and work on academic skill-building, it is just as important to ensure that courses are accessible and running in an environment where students are able to ask questions. She refers to Dr. Fiona Rawle’s ongoing project of “The Pedagogy of Kindness” and how increasingly important it has become, especially during the pandemic. Mant has been learning different ways in which individuals may need assistance or accommodations, which has helped her to be more empathetic to her students.
“The best advice I can provide is to be kind to yourself because you are your best cheerleader,” says Mant. She emphasizes that it is important to take care of yourself by taking periodic breaks. She encourages students to communicate with professors before deadlines when they need further clarifications, and to attend office hours because professors provide this time for their students as a platform for their success. That being said, Mant explains how it is also essential to be responsible for your own learning journey. Most importantly, Mant encourages us to take everything day by day—to trust our instincts to guide us through our decisions.