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Adviser and archaeologist: Bogucki finds balance

By Dimitra Kessenides

Princeton NJ -- By day, Peter Bogucki keeps pace with the academic progress of some 750 undergraduates in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. By night, on weekends and on holidays, he delves into his own academic interest: early farming societies in Poland.

Peter Bogucki

Peter Bogucki, associate dean for undergraduate affairs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, holds a Neolithic flint axe from Denmark dated around 3500 B.C. Trained as an archaeologist, Bogucki believes he has found the best of both worlds in his job advising engineering students and pursuing archaeological scholarship.

While there's little crossover between advising and archaeology, Bogucki (pronounced bow-GOOD-skee) has found a comfortable balance over the years.

The associate dean for undergraduate affairs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Bogucki handles a wide range of issues affecting how students adjust to University life. In addition to monitoring their academic standing, he advises freshmen, coordinates undergraduate engineering organizations and institutes support programs for students' academic and professional development.

In his "spare" time, he studies early European civilization between 6000 and 3000 B.C., evaluating data from the digs to which he's contributed over nearly 30 years and writing articles and editing books. Recently, he served as co-editor with Pam Crabtree, professor of anthropology at New York University, of an addition to Scribner's world history series.

The two-volume reference work, "Ancient Europe 8000 B.C.-A.D. 1000: Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World," contains more than 200 entries on the peoples of Europe during the Neolithic era, Bronze Age, Iron Age and early Middle Ages. His other published works are: "Forest Farmers and Stockherders: Early Agriculture and Its Consequences in North Central Europe" (Cambridge University Press, 1988); "Case Studies in European Prehistory" (CRC Press, 1993); and "The Origins of Human Society" (Blackwell Publishers, 1999).

Shifting priorities

Bogucki has focused on Europe's specifically Poland's early farming communities since the summer of 1973 after his sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania. This academic concentration was somewhat serendipitous, as he explained it. "I didn't originally go into archaeology and related areas with the idea of studying Poland," he said. But after spending the summer at Jagiellonian University in Krakow in a program sponsored by the New York-based Kosciuszko Foundation, Bogucki shifted his priorities.

"There was a strong interest in Polish history and culture in my family, but it didn't come automatically to me," Bogucki said of his Polish background. So his family encouraged him to visit Poland "in the hope that I'd discover my cultural heritage." That summer was indeed transformative: He discovered Polish archaeology and met his eventual bride, a young woman from Boston.

The former was the more surprising discovery. Even as a student of archaeology and anthropology at Penn, Bogucki thought the most substantial and significant archaeological sites existed in lands that once were home to great ancient civilizations, like Greece, Italy and Egypt. What could there be in Poland? "I was surprised by the complexity and the richness of the country's archaeological record," Bogucki admitted. "I knew in the back of my mind that there had to be finds there, and there had to be an archaeological record in that part of the world, since it appears everywhere else in Europe."

On his first visit to Krakow's archaeological museum, the young student was most struck by the forms of the tools he saw. "These remains were very different from what you find in North America," he said. "It intrigued me."

"In walking along the hills near Krakow, we'd come across outcrops of flints, and you'd be able to see the raw material there in its natural setting," Bogucki said. "That's when I realized this is an area where prehistoric people really had all this material to use. There was much more contact with the archaeological record than in many other parts of the world."

Bogucki returned to the United States to complete his final two years of college and to move on to graduate work in archaeology at Harvard studying European specifically Polish prehistory. At that time, archaeology and anthropology, particularly the study of agricultural communities, were popular choices for graduate students. But Bogucki didn't look that far ahead and consider his job prospects. He did what he knew the research, the writing and the digs.

Reality set in a couple of years after he'd completed his Ph.D. in 1981. "As with many recent Ph.D.s in anthropology, I found myself 'semi-retired,' which meant teaching part time at several universities and doing all sorts of different things to make a living," he said. But he and his wife had a young daughter, and Bogucki needed a full-time job.

Setting another course

That's why he set himself on another course, yet again, in 1983. An ad in The Chronicle of Higher Education alerted him to a job opening at Princeton for a director of studies at Princeton Inn (later Forbes) College. Bogucki felt prepared for the job, after working for four years in one of Harvard's residential houses.

"I learned how one conducts the business of such a residential environment, which is not just about where students eat and live, but also means devising a program of academic and cultural activities," he said. He saw the job opening at Princeton as a good opportunity, especially since the University expected Bogucki to remain active as a scholar in his field. And the residential college system would expose him to faculty and students across a wide range of disciplines.

"I didn't think of myself as getting out of the faculty business, but the only options were to take some teaching jobs at very remote institutions, which might have lacked the geographical attractiveness of Princeton," he said. "And I liked the idea that I was playing a key role in doing something tremendously rewarding to students. [The residential college system] provides first- and second-year students with a greater sense of coherence in their lives, rather than having to find their own way and experiencing the difficulties of adjusting to college life, feeling adrift."

In 1994, he became assistant dean for undergraduate affairs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and was promoted to associate dean in 2000. He has taught a writing precept in civil and environmental engineering, and now teaches a seminar through the Princeton Writing Program on "Mysterious Megaliths." He leads students in an exploration of the large stone monuments built in Europe between 4000 and 2000 B.C.

Bogucki sees his job as a natural extension of both his goal to help students and of his scholarly work. On the latter, Bogucki said there are more commonalities between engineering and archaeology than one might think. "There's intellectual similarity," he said. "Engineers deal with tangible objects that are the product of human technological impulses, and we deal with physical remains, with the environment. I study early agriculture and bones, flint tools, settlements and their relationship to environment. I've used various methods of radiocarbon dating, which brings me into the more scientific end of archaeology. And my colleagues here can relate to this interest."

Looking back over his 20 years at Princeton, Bogucki believes that he "accidentally" found the best of both worlds in his career. "I'm really lucky to be able to work with students who are so smart and inquisitive, with faculty who are dedicated teachers and innovators in research, and with staff who want to make Princeton a better place to study and work," he said. "The fact that I can also pursue the archaeological scholarship about which I also care deeply is a wonderful bonus."