Ben Bridges ’17 grew up unafraid to challenge the traditional. He quit baseball in sixth grade to begin ballet lessons. Instead of a formal Elon campus tour, he and his father crafted their own, pulling aside random students to ask about their experiences.

That adventurous spirit drove the Honors Fellow and Lumen Scholar toward an academic path that would allow him to explore other cultures, transporting his scholarship beyond the classroom. An anthropology major with minors in Latin American studies and art, Bridges followed his interest in folklore, anthropology and international studies to southern Peru, where he investigated the combination of mythology and globalization in indigenous Quechua communities.

He analyzed 30 different myths from a 16th century document called the Huarochirí Manuscript. Connections to the natural landscape, conflict within and between tribes, and confrontation with Spanish priests and conquistadors emerged as themes in the text related to colonization, akin to globalization in the modern age. He then conducted ethnographic research in Peru for several months, observing the community and interviewing participants about how myths are perceived, shared and applied in the Sacred Valley community of Huilloc.
Ben Bridges '17 participates in his Spanish class, taught by Ricardo Mendoza.

Bridges found that in addition to serving as a core piece of the Quechua community’s identity, myth guides people in the region toward new opportunities, such as interactions with tourists. He observed villagers transforming myths into commodities, reflecting a pride in Quechua heritage known as incanismo and resulting in an uptick in the frequency of ritual performances and the presence of mythic figures in textiles. Bridges’ research contributes to the scholarship on the globalization of indigenous groups, highlighting the important role expressive culture plays in contemporary indigenous communities.

In addition to presenting his project, “Navigating Globalization through Myth in Quechua Communities of Southern Peru,” at the Student Undergraduate Research Forum, Bridges received the Student Paper Prize at the 2017 Southern Anthropological Society annual meeting. Bridges competed against other undergraduate students for the award, which was accompanied by a cash prize, a collection of donated books and an offer for review and publication in the SAS 2017 Proceedings and Southern Anthropologist, an online peer-reviewed journal.

As a student of anthropology, I’m also a student of geography, political science, biology, sociology and psychology. It’s so fascinating to be in a field of study that can go in any direction you want to take it.

Bridges was an active participant in leadership projects and community service during his time at Elon, including coordinating the Alamance Youth Leadership Academy summer program; mentoring first-year students as part of Adventures in Leadership, an outdoor program that teaches skills such as leadership and self-development; and leading a group of Honors Fellows on a Winter Term service trip to build homes for low-income families through Habitat for Humanity in Asheville, North Carolina.

The recipient of the Outstanding Senior Anthropology Student Award and the Program for Ethnographic Research and Community Studies Certificate in 2017, Bridges is pursuing a doctorate degree in folklore at Indiana University in Bloomington.