Faculty Spotlight: Tanya Peres
Tanya Peres is an associate professor in the Florida State University Department of Anthropology, part of the College of Arts and Sciences. Peres has been teaching undergraduate and graduate courses at FSU since 2015 and serves as the department’s graduate program director. Peres is a registered professional archaeologist and has two decades of lab and field experience.
Tell us a little about your background.
I was born at McCoy Air Force Base in Orlando, Fla., where my father was stationed at the time. When I was 6 months old, he was deployed to Japan. My family joined him at Misawa Air Force Base, where we lived for nearly three years. Once I returned to the U.S., I grew up on the east coast of Florida where I graduated from Flagler Palm Coast High School. I attended FSU for undergrad and lived in Kellum Hall during my freshman year where I made lifelong friends whose kids are now applying to FSU. My brother transferred to FSU during my sophomore year, and we lived together for the remainder of our undergraduate years. I graduated from FSU in 1995 with my bachelor’s degree in anthropology and earned my master’s degree from FSU in anthropology in 1997. Then, I moved to Gainesville and earned my doctoral degree in anthropology from the University of Florida in 2001.
When did you first become interested in anthropology with a specialization in zooarchaeology?
In my seventh-grade social studies class, we did a unit on archaeology — it was directly after the second Indiana Jones movie came out in theaters. We took a field trip to the Jacksonville Museum of Art and did a mock dig with an archaeologist from the Florida Museum of Natural History. I was immediately hooked. During high school, my dream was to become an archaeologist. However, because of my family’s worries that I would not find a job after graduation as an archaeology major, I declared education as my major in the beginning of my undergrad career. Soon after, I took an “Introduction to Cultural Anthropology” course at FSU, and two weeks into my first semester, I changed my major to anthropology and haven’t looked back.
What are your current research interests, and what makes you passionate about them?
My greatest research interest is discovering what people ate for dinner thousands of years ago. In 2017, I initiated the FSU Apalachee-Spanish Mission Archaeological Program, FSU-ASMAP, as lead investigator. I am currently collaborating with Rochelle Marrinan, the Department of Anthropology chair, to study Apalachee and Spanish interactions based on the intersections of food in their cultures and traditions during the Mission Period (ca. AD 1633-1704) in the Red Hills Region of Tallahassee. Our research uses data that was uncovered during my 2018 excavations at San Luis de Talimali in Tallahassee and current research at the mission site of San Antonio de Bacuqua, as well as data from Marrinan’s excavations at multiple mission sites in the area.
What do you want the public to know about your research? Why is your topic important?
History happens everywhere, not just in far-away places. Unearthing the history that happened in our backyards is one way we can learn about how people in the past were born, raised, fed their families, and spent their lives. Because of archaeology, we know that Tallahassee has always been a good place to call home.
Who are your role models? Who has influenced you most in your life?
My maternal grandmother, Louise Ruger, was a constant source of support and wisdom. When I was a master’s student at FSU, Rochelle Marrinan was my mentor who taught me how to think and act like an anthropologist. Jerald T. Milanich, curator emeritus of the Florida Museum of Natural History is my writing guru. When I was writing my dissertation, he was on my committee and told me, “Write a page a day and in a year, you’ll have a 365-page book.” I repeat that to myself (and my students) all the time! I am also fortunate to have peer role models such as professor Jackie Eller and professor Katie Foss, colleagues from Middle Tennessee State University, and Aaron Deter-Wolf, archaeologist at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, who have pushed me to be the best archaeologist, writer, mentor and teacher I can be.
How has COVID-19 impacted your research and your role as a professor?
I currently use grant funding from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program for field and lab work. My first field season was scheduled for Summer 2020, but it was canceled due to COVID-19. I was able to direct five weeks of fieldwork in January 2021, but the COVID safety protocols we had to follow decreased our team capacity and slowed our progress. My lab and field work were halted for most of 2020 and into 2021. I have missed working with the students in the lab, so I’m looking forward to ramping our research up over the next few months.
What brought you to Florida State University? Why do you enjoy working at FSU?
I spent my formative years at FSU, training to be a professional archaeologist. The dedication of the faculty and students fostered a sense of collegiality and common purpose, and many of the people that I took classes with are still practicing anthropologists — a true testament to the department’s enduring success. Everyone has a dream job and being a faculty member at FSU is mine. When a faculty position opened at FSU, I jumped at the chance to return and give back to my alma mater that gave so much to me. I can truly say I am living the dream!
What is your favorite part of your job?
I truly enjoy every aspect of being a professor. Every day is unique and brings new challenges and opportunities. Working with students in the classroom, lab or field is energizing and my favorite part of the job.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I love to feed people, so I spend my time cooking in my spacious kitchen. I enjoy hanging out with my family, and when I have time to myself, I like to read and quilt.
If your students only learned one thing from you (of course, hopefully they learn much more than that), what would you hope it to be?
To always make the most of your circumstances and resources.