Geeking Out about Hobby Anthropology

Today for Speak Out with your Geek Out, I’m going to talk to you about something I enjoy.

When I was growing up, I wanted to be my own brand of heroine. In my head, I morphed Amelia Earhart, Indiana Jones, Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart and Marie Curie all wrapped up into a happy mixture of bravery, intelligence, talent, beauty and adventure. I had no idea where to begin, but it all sounded so incredibly exciting. (Still does.) New worlds, new cultures, new people, new places. I read an entire set of encyclopedias and poured through books in the library. In my head, I pretended to be this amalgamation even though I wasn’t.

Well, here I am and everything is still exciting to me. I love learning and there’s one discipline I often dive right back into without realizing it: cultural anthropology. Reading opened my eyes to the differences between cultures. I took several courses in ethnic literature in college because those stories (some of which chill me to the bone like the autobiographical narrative Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black which you can read for free online) helped me see the world through the eyes of different people and fictional characters. Those perspectives stuck and I dove into non-fiction. Ancient Egypt, which I started to read and explore as a child, was the first culture I fell in love with. The names didn’t imprint so well but the discovery of the culture did. My travels stretched into art, music, food and other aspects, too.

I do this sort of thing all the time. I look at trends and big picture stuff. See how cultures evolve and dive into history. It helps me imagine how this big crazy world of hours can hold close to seven billion people and not explode. It allows me to see patterns, sure, but also piece together different lifestyles and unique ways of living. That’s why I call myself a hobby anthropologist, because I’m always amazed at the world and trying to make sense of it by understanding and experiencing cultural evolution and revolution. My philosophy is: everybody has a story to tell. The second part of that is: There’s more than one way to be.

My interest in getting to know our world is part of the reason why I love creating characters and settings for my stories and games. I’m not looking at characters in context of skin or hair color or cosmetic differences. It’s about culture and history, too. It’s about avoiding the “paint” of a skin tone and tying it back into where/how/when that character grew up. Setting details help me shape the story on characters that are more realistic. They’re characterized as opposed to behaving like paper dolls. Vampires, immortals and the undead allow me to dive right back into my hobby and think about what it’d be like to tell a story from a character who watches the world change longer than anyone else alive. That’s part of the reason why I enjoy writing about paranormal characters so much. The world is crazy enough as it is. But throw a 1,000-year old vampire in there?

Thanks for listening to me geek out about hobby anthropology. I love every minute of it.

One Response to Geeking Out about Hobby Anthropology
  1. Jess Banks

    So many of the things that drive this geek for you are the things that drive my history geek for me! It all boils down to the wonder that comes from realizing that human history is a big tapestry woven entirely of story, and each thread is a whole lifetime of experience and perspective. Pulling those threads of story is as fascinating and enlightening a pursuit as I can think of.



Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Firefly, Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

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