Tattoos Redux

When our colleague Peter Monaghan wrote about scholars who have symbols of their work tattooed onto their bodies, we had no idea how many others would respond with their own stories and art.

Below, a sampling of the ink, along with the scholars’ explanations:

My tattoo reads “logos kai eros” (“reason and desire”) in Ancient Greek. The first time I came across these words was reading Plato, and they stand for me as the two driving forces in philosophy (my field). My tattoo is the work of Cathy Johnson at Regeneration Tattoo in Allston, MA. 

—Stacey Goguen, Boston U.

I got the tattoo a few years ago when I was getting my MA at CUNY Hunter College. The tattoo is of a Paranthropus boisei specimen, KNM-ER 406. Paranthropus boisei is an early hominin that lived in Eastern Africa about 2.6 – 1.4 MA. I find the derived craniofacial morphology of the species to be very striking and beautiful. 

I’ve gotten some interesting reactions to the tattoo. One person said it was “uhm … very occupational.” Another told me it was “aggressive.” Most people are able to recognize it as some type of primate cranium, although I once had someone confuse the cranium with a Koopa Troopa from Mario, the video game! 

—Gabrielle A. Russo, U. of Texas at Austin 

Attached you’ll find two pictures of my forearm, which I had tattooed with Kara Walker’s Cut after I defended my dissertation, “Blood at the Root”: Lynching as American Cultural Nucleus through the Department of English at the University of Rochester in July 2009. The tattoo simultaneously celebrated the dissertation, my new job, and my book contract for “Blood at the Root” (SUNY Press, 2011).

For years, I had planned to inscribe myself with some avatar of the process, though the subject made for a difficult choice. I, like many who have theorized American lynching practices, have ethical questions about reproducing images of that violence, so I chose Walker’s self-portrait — a stylized image whose violence is made apparent upon closer inspection — after a friend suggested that Walker’s silhouettes, which I write about in my book, would complement the rest of my black ink. Initially, I wanted to tattoo myself to represent some kind of closure to this research but, by the end of the process, I realized there is no closing, no seam between my intellectual and personal life or between my mind and body. The tattoo concretes intellectual, affective, and ethical commitments. 

—Jennie Lightweis-Goff, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

“Love” in the International Phonetic Alphabet

—Amanda Byrd, speech-language pathology graduate student, U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

I got my tattoo since my name is Esther. It’s the general formula for an ester linkage — a Carbon double bonded to one oxygen and single bonded to another oxygen flanked my two R groups (or carbon based groups). I got it because it’s dorky and it takes a bit of knowledge to get the joke. I got it once I got accepted into grad school to get my Ph.D., which I just completed in August at UT—Austin. Most of my colleagues have responded quite well to it. I’ve only had one person roll their eyes at how ridiculous it is. Since I’m a biologist most ask what it is (its been at least 4-5 years since any of my direct colleagues have taken O-Chem). I get a lot of people thinking its an amino-acid.  Any chemist I’ve shown it to has gotten it right away.  

The ester tattoo also started a small string of tattoos that plot my career as a scientist. After I passed my candidacy exam I got two embryos of the organism that I worked on in my graduate work. I got some non-science related tattoos after I graduated that relate to my time in Austin since I loved it so much. I just started my post doc and I am making plans for my next tattoo (no idea yet) and when I will get it (most likely after my first publication). Then of course getting a professorship (hopefully) and tenure (hopefully).

—Esther Kieserman, U. of California at Berkeley

As a geneticist, I had a double helix tattooed on my left wrist in October 2004

—Anne Galbraith, U. of Wisconsin at La Crosse

I’ve had this tattoo for about four years.

—Tiffany Akin, adjunct English instructor in Memphis, Tenn.

Just saw the request for tattoo pics. I’ve attached one of my first tattoo — a Highway 61 road sign in honor of Bob Dylan’s landmark album. I teach a course on “Bob Dylan’s America” and I write about Dylan’s relationship with American culture.

—William J. Carpenter, High Point U.

I am a Ph.D. student studying human evolution (specifically, the feeding biomechanics of early hominids). My newest tattoo is a piece adapted from the bookplate of Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin’s grandfather. The banner at the bottom reads: “E conchis omnia,” or “Everything from shells” in Latin. E. Darwin knew that species evolved, but had not figured out the mechanism. To the original bookplate, a human skull above the crest and two perched monkey skeletons have been added to represent the millions of years of hominid evolution. Plus, as a woman in science, I think the piece is extra cool because Erasmus Darwin was well ahead of his time as a proponent for education for women. Hope you like it as much as I do.

—Amanda L. Smith, U. at Albany

And one final story, about a scholarly tattoo yet to come:

I am a 35 year old father that came from the ghettos of Southern California. I was involved in drugs, crime, gangs, and everything else that guarantees early death or prison. I was kicked out of high school in the first month of tenth grade. I believed education and specifically college were out of the question. At 30 I decided to take one class just to see if I could handle it. I found out I love learning. In four months I will finish my BA in sociology, cultural anthropology, & psychology and a 3.78 GPA. I have put so much of myself into the college experience I feel like I have to get a tattoo to honor that. I need it to symbolize dedication, hard work, sacrifice, knowledge, second chances, and so much more. My school, Saint Martin’s University, has 107 stairs up to the main entrance of the social science department. I thought that I might incorporate those 107 stairs, turning and twisting as they do, into a representation of the climb I made every day to get out of the gutter that I was born into.

—Jason Collins, St. Martin’s U.

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