Ep. #30 Bringing your heart home: Tiffany Cain talks Tihosuco identity and heritage projects

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Especially when you’re dealing with questions of representation of the past, politics around the past, especially when you’re dealing with not just the past, but a violent past, right, it’s ethically irresponsible to not recognise your own position in that conversation, in that space. And that doesn’t mean that you necessarily take sides, but I do think that it means that you act as a connector for conversations.”

Tiffany Cain, a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, and team member of the Tihosuco Heritage Preservation and Community Development Project, spoke to our own Ian Pollock at the AAA Conference in San Jose last year about her work with the local people of Tihosuco in Quintana Roo, Mexico. In this jam-packed episode, they discuss the cultural history of Tihosuco and how it has influenced and constructed the identity of the local people today, question how we do anthropology with people who are no longer alive, unpack the process of knowledge collection in an ‘umbrella’ heritage project, compare solo and team ethnography, and reflect on the attachment that researchers have to their fieldsite.

Since this episode was recorded at the AAA Conference, you might notice a difference in sound quality – that’s just because instead of recording in our usual studio back at HQ, TFS was on the go! Special thanks to our friends from the Dirt podcast, for letting us use their microphones.


“You’re bringing so many disciplines together. You’re talking about history, you’re talking about art history, you’re talking about archaeology, you’re talking about anthropology.”

“I think there has been a tradition in anthropology broadly where we like to be able to imagine ourselves outside of the communities within which we work, at least to a certain distance. And I think there is legitimacy to that – in many ways, we will always be Outsiders to our communities unless we are working within our own communities … And even in that space there becomes a distance because of the ethnographic process.”

“To deny that we have real impact in the communities that we work in is, you know, to misrepresent ourselves”

Ian: “I would love to keep spending more time where I did my research!”
Tiffany: “It’s hard to let go”
Ian: “Cause you’re writing about it all day back in your office or wherever your home writing site is, you’re writing about it all day. Your head is still there, it’s hard to bring your heart home.”

“A common misconception about archaeology is that we don’t work with people who are alive.”

“History is way too big for any one person, but when one person holds this portion of the story, and another person holds this portion of the story. When these people meet the history gets longer.”

Tiffany: “Heritage has a sort of … feeling to it, that creates very deep ties between particular types of historical narrative and the understanding of self vis-a-vis the collectivite of the community”
Ian: “…it’s an emotion that somehow relates objects or materials or stories or narratives to group identity.”
Tiffany: “…History is often concerned with moving closer to a particular kind of truth … Heritage also often does that, but it may not – it may also just be these narratives that we know and we hold onto … that become central to how we relate to others in our community … it’s our truth”


If you’d like to read more about Tiffany and her work in Quintana Roo, check out her website: https://www.tiffanyccain.com/ and https://www.penn.museum/sites/chc/projects/

Penn University also interviewed her in an article about the project and what is involved for the researchers involved that you can read here: https://www.penn.museum/sites/chc/506-2/
(there are loads more articles about sub-projects available too!)

For more information about the history of Tihosuco and the Maya, Penn Museum has published this article ‘The Modern Maya and Recent History’, available here:

P.S. TFS has a new Facebook Group coming soon – so stay tuned!

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com

Shownotes by Deanna Catto

Image ‘Ruined Structure at Second Former Jacinto Pat Hacienda – Mayan Rebel Leader in Caste War of Yucatan – Near Tihosuco – Yucatan – Mexico – 02’ by Adam Jones (2012) available at:

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