Dr. Shawn Morton: Awarding Excellence in Research
Friday, August 11th, 2023
NWP Instructor Dr. Shawn Morton
Twenty-five years ago, before pursuing an undergraduate degree in archaeology, Dr. Shawn Morton picked up the Yellow Pages and meticulously flipped back and forth, looking for an “archaeologist.” Finding one, he asked if he could tag along for the day as a volunteer to get a feel for archaeology.
On that day, despite managing to dig up mostly poison ivy, sunburn, bug bites, and scratches, he fell in love with the field. While Dr. Morton wasn’t always sure about his career prospects, his desire to research and teach within his chosen discipline was abundantly clear.
Originally from Ontario, Dr. Morton has spent more than half of his life in Alberta. He relocated from Calgary to Grande Prairie after securing a position teaching anthropology at Northwestern Polytechnic in 2019. “I feel fortunate to have landed at NWP, where we have great students, colleagues, and community.”
Opportunity and quality of life attracted Dr. Morton to the Peace region. Here, he can work with students in a way that he finds rewarding while researching in a supportive environment. He can also enjoy the post-secondary journey with his wife, a fellow academic, without either pausing their careers.
One of the broadest courses of study in the social sciences is arguably Anthropology. “It doesn’t matter what you’re into,” said Dr. Morton. “Ritual practices in baseball? Anthropologists study it. Human evolution? That’s anthropology too! The marriage patterns of non-Western traditional societies or the differences in gendered language in your favourite sitcom? Believe it or not, that is anthropology.”
Dr. Morton focuses on archaeology, or, as he says, “the study of the human story based on the stuff they leave behind.” He completed an undergraduate archaeology degree from Wilfrid Laurier University and both a master's and a doctorate in archaeology from the University of Calgary.
The tactile component of the work drew him to the field, which archaeologists often joke is the blue-collar work of academia.
“Archaeology can be uncomfortable. It can be hot. It can be wet. It can be dangerous. In the field, it is always dirty work,” he adds. “But importantly for me, when one is engaging in archaeological field research, it is a whole-body experience.”
Archaeologists aren’t just reading about the past or communities. They are drawing them forth from the material record. The associated travel is also an added perk for Dr. Morton, who is equally happy in rural Alberta or Belize doing his thing. And it shows.
In 2023, Dr. Morton was awarded Northwestern Polytechnic’s Faculty Research Award. Being immersed in research allows Dr. Morton to hone his skills as a “nerdy professional athlete.”
“I get to do something, to pursue questions that I am deeply invested in-that I am passionate about-and get paid to do it,” he says. “NWP has helped me to further my career, to follow my passion, and I hope that I in some way reciprocate by making sure their investment was a good one.”
It would seem that the learning community is happy with Dr. Morton’s valuable contributions. The colleague who nominated him for the award praised his impact across levels. “Shawn’s reputation as a scholar contributes positively to NWP’s name recognition and prestige in the region and the wider academic world.”
At the moment, Dr. Morton has three projects on the go, which, fortunately, he can do with his wife, Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown, from Athabasca University.
In addition to working on a long-running archaeological research project investigating an Ancestral Maya town in Belize, the couple is advancing a new project investigating boomtown development at the Old Bezanson Townsite just east of Grande Prairie. The dynamic archaeology duo has also been contracted to write a textbook through the University of Toronto Press.
“It looks like it’s going to be a busy year,” said Dr. Morton. We couldn’t agree more.