Integrated Search Menu

Gabriella Soto

Profile photo
Honors Faculty Fellow
Faculty, POLY Campus, Mailcode 1980
Biography: 

Gabriella is a contemporary archaeologist who builds from archaeology’s attention to the material world to make sense of contemporary social issues, also drawing from ethnographic methods, GIS technology, and archival research. Her expertise is in the field of migration materialities, with a geographic focus on Latinx migration and border security at the US-Mexico border. This materiality includes the infrastructure of security and humanitarian aid, as well as the material results of security practice that account for a vast footprint of belongings and survival tools left behind by undocumented migrants crossing the border. How can this contemporary material culture be understood to make sense of border experience and its role in US culture and politics? Or, for a growing international orientation towards securing borders, and a wider understanding of migrant experience? How does this present-day materiality articulate with regimes of heritage; how should heritage address ongoing crises? Her current book project applies her contemporary archaeological expertise towards postmortem investigation, forensic evidence, commemoration, and care for undocumented migrants who die during border crossings in the US southwest.

Gabriella’s work appears in numerous refereed journals including Political Geography, American Anthropologist, and the Journal of Social Archaeology. Her article, “Object Afterlives and the Burden of History: Between ‘trash’ and ‘heritage’ in the footsteps of migrants,” was awarded the American Anthropological Association Archaeology Division’s Gordon R. Willey Paper Prize in 2019. She has contributed chapters for the scholarly volumes, The New Nomadic Age: Archaeologies of Forced and Undocumented Migration and Sociopolitics of Migrant Death and Repatriation: Perspectives for Forensic Science. Gabriella also contributes to the online anthropology magazine, Sapiens.org. Her research has been funded by the Louis Foucar Marshall Foundation and the Wenner Gren Foundation. She has been invited to participate in workshops concerning migration materiality at Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World and at Oxford University’s School of Archaeology.

Gabriella is a research affiliate at the Binational Migration Institute.

Education: 

Ph.D. Anthropology, University of Arizona 2018

M.A. 20th Century Conflict Archaeology, University of Bristol (UK) 2011

B.A. History and Political Science, Wellesley College 2008

Research Interests: 

Undocumented Migration, US-Mexico Border, Migrant death and disappearance, Contemporary Archaeology, Materiality, Heritage

Publications: 

MANUSCRIPT IN PROGRESS

Abjectivity Politics: Investigating the deaths of undocumented migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. First author with special assistance from Drs. Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith and Anna Ochoa O’Leary. Planned submission to the University of Arizona Press, Fall 2022.

PEER-REVIEW JOURNAL ARTICLES

Forthcoming   The Time of Agony: Abjectivity politics and the investigation of migrant deaths along the US-Mexico border. Current Anthropology. 

2020   Absent and Present: Biopolitics and the materiality of body counts on the US-Mexico border. Journal of Material Culture. Pre-print online. doi: 10.1177/1359183520959397.

2018 Banal materiality and the idea of sovereignty: The migration funnel effect and the policing of the U.S.-Mexico border, 2000-2016. Political Geography 66 (1): 113-129.

2018 Object Afterlives and the Burden of History: Between “trash” and “heritage” in the footsteps of migrants. American Anthropologist 120 (3): 460-473.

*Cover article and recipient of the 2018 Dozier Paper Prize and 2019 Gordon R. Willey Paper Prize

2017 Place-Making in Non-Places: Migrant Graffiti in Rural Highway Box Culverts Journal of Contemporary Archaeology special migration issue: 174-195.

2016 Migrant Memento Mori and the Geography of Risk. Journal of Social Archaeology 16(3): 335-358.

2014  Expanding Toolkits for Heritage Perpetuation: The Western Apache Ethnography and Geographic Information Science Research Experience for Undergraduates. Journal of Applied Geospatial Research 6(1): 59-75. Fourth author with K. Hoerig, J. Welch, and T.J. Ferguson.

BOOK CHAPTERS AND EDITED MONOGRAPHS

2018 Place-Making in Non-Places: Migrant Graffiti in Rural Highway Box Culverts. In Y. Hamilakis (Ed.) The New Nomadic Age: Archaeologies of Forced and Undocumented Migration. (pp. 58-79). Equinox: Sheffield, UK.

2017 The Geography of Death: Implications for Policy and Forensic Science In K. Latham and A. O’Daniel (Eds.) Sociopolitics of Migrant Death and Repatriation: Perspectives for Forensic Science. Springer: New York. First author with D. Martínez.

2016  Cartographic Research. In S. Hart, T.J. Ferguson, and M.T. Hopkins (Eds.) O’odham Trails on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: The Western and Central Travel Corridors. School of Anthropology, University of Arizona.

2016 Trauma, Things, and Collective Action: An Informal Survey of the January 8, 2011 Vernacular Shrine at University Medical Center. Arizona Anthropologist, Discourses on Death Edition: 76-99.

2016 Arizona Anthropologist. Discourses on Death Edition. Co-editor with D.O. Phelps.

2015 Dear Gang: A History of the Atlatl and 100 Years of Anthropological Community. Arizona Anthropologist, Centennial Edition: 1-20. 

2015 Arizona Anthropologist. School of Anthropology Centennial Commemoration Monograph. Co-editor with D.O. Phelps.

2015  Arizona Anthropologist. Notes from the Field Edition. Co-editor with D.O. Phelps and A. Storey.

2014  The U.S.-Mexico Border Wall. In A. Ochoa O’Leary (Ed.) Undocumented Immigrants in the United States Today: An Encyclopedia of Their Experiences. ABC-CLIO Greenwood: Santa Barbara, CA.

2012 Beneath the Waves: Conflict Landscape of the Baltic Sea. In N.J. Saunders (Ed.) Beyond the Dead Horizon: Studies in 20th Century Conflict Archaeology. Oxbow Press: Oxford.

TECHNICAL REPORTS

2021 Migrant Deaths in Southern Arizona: Recovered Undocumented Border Crosser Remains Investigated by the Pima County Office of the Mexican Examiner, 1990-2020. Binational Migration Institute, University of Arizona. Tenth author with D.E. Martinez, R.C. Reineke, G. Boyce, S.N. Chambers, B.E. Anderson, G.L. Hess, J.M. Vollner, B.O. Parks, C.C.M. Vogelsberg, M. Kreyche, and R. Rubio-Goldsmith. 

2017 Documentation and Condition Assessment: Compound A, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. Project No. UAZDS-410. Report prepared on behalf of Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, National Park Service. Drachman Institute, University of Arizona. Third author with L. Jensen and G. Miller.

2015 Protocol Development for the Standardization of Identification and Examination of UBC Bodies Along the U.S.-Mexico Border: A Best Practices Manual. Report prepared on behalf of the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance by the Binational Migration Institute, University of Arizona. Grant No. 2010DDBX0716. Contributor to report issued by the Binational Migration Institute.

PUBLIC WORKS AND DIGITAL PROJECTS

2020 The dead must be counted. Sapiens.org. https://www.sapiens.org/culture/migrant-death-counts/.

2019  Material traces of life and death on migrant trails. Sapiens.org. https://www.sapiens.org/culture/mexico-border-migrant-trails/

Research Activity: 

ONGOING PROJECTS

The Contradictions of (In)security: Rescue beacons in the south Texas borderlands is an ethnographic and archaeological case study on non-governmental and border enforcement rescue efforts and infrastructure creaed to serve migrants who may experience emergency medical need while transiting the remote borderlands on foot. This research asks questions about the social and material meanings of rescue-based humanitarian interventions in a field where migrant deaths are frequent.

Border Matters: A social archaeology of enforcement through attrition in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands is an interactive digital heritage exhibition and research database focused on the diachronic present and the entangled multi-temporal assemblages of materials and social actors in the landscape of undocumented migration in southern Arizona.

Fall 2021
Course NumberCourse Title
HON 171The Human Event
Spring 2021
Course NumberCourse Title
HON 272The Human Event
Fall 2020
Course NumberCourse Title
HON 171The Human Event
Presentations: 

SCHOLARLY CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS AND WORKSHOPS (* indicates invited)

*(Conference cancelled) “Picking up the pieces: Salvage politics in response to border security” invited submission for Disrupting Narratives of Risk and Rescue in Migration at the annual meeting for the Society for Applied Anthropology. (Albuquerque, New Mexico)

*2019 “Communities of care and grief: Research and activism for postmortem care of undocumented migrants on the US-Mexico border” invited submission for Experts as Activists, Activists as Experts panel, at the annual meeting for the American Anthropological Association. First author with A. Ochoa O’Leary and R. Rubio-Goldsmith. (Vancouver, Canada)

*2019 Panel Discussant for Methodologies for the Study of Migration in Contexts of Violence, at the annual meeting for the Latin American Studies Association. (Boston, Massachusetts)

*2019 “Uneven efforts to identify and enumerate migrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border” invited submission for Methodologies for the Study of Migration in Contexts of Violence panel, at the annual meeting for the Latin American Studies Association. Second author with A. Ochoa O’Leary. (Boston, Massachusetts)

*2019 “Migration Materiality and New Heritage in Southern Arizona” for Migration Materialities mini-conference at Trinity College. (Hartford, Connecticut)

*2019 “Migration materialities” mini-conference at Trinity College. Co-organizer with Timothy Landry and Jane Nadel-Klein; Event co-sponsored by the Graduate Program and the Department of Anthropology at Trinity College. (Hartford, Connecticut)

*2019 “Migration, Materiality, Survivance” invited submission for Chicanx Archaeology, at the annual meeting for the Society for American Archaeology (Albuquerque, New Mexico)

*2018   “Uneven efforts to identify and enumerate migrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border” invited submission for Border Deaths and Migration Policies: State and Non-State Approaches, hosted by the International Organization for Migration, Médecins San Frontières and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. Second author with A. Ochoa O’Leary. (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

*2018 “The Border Enforcement ‘Funnel Effect’: A material culture approach to border security on the U.S.-Mexico border, 2000-2016. The McDonald Institute of Archaeology, Cambridge University. (Cambridge, United Kingdom).

*2017 "Local Laws/Foreign Bodies: Postmortem care for undocumented migrants in the United States" invited submission in Law and the Public-Private Dichotomy: Rights, at the annual International Meeting on Law and Society. Second author with R. Rubio-Goldsmith. (Mexico City, Mexico). 

2017  “Microhistories of the ‘Funnel Effect’: Tracing the banal materialities of U.S. border enforcement, 2000-present” at the annual meeting for the Society of American Archaeology (Vancouver, Canada).

*2016 “The Lives of Others: On Traces Left Behind in the Arizona Borderlands, 2007-present.” Invited paper and panel discussion in The dialectics of power and points of escape: refugees, undocumented migrants, and survivors at the American Anthropological Association Annual Conference (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

2016  “The dialectics of power and points of escape: refugees, undocumented migrants, and survivors” panel and discussion session at the American Anthropological Association Annual Conference. Co-organizer with Abby Wheatley (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

2016  “Enunciative Walking: Illegality, Prevention through Deterrence, and the Arizona-Mexico Border, Results from Phase 1” at the Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Conference (Vancouver, Canada)

2016  “Problematizing Resistance: A Multidisciplinary Workshop on Informal Political Action and Scholarly Praxis.” Workshop and panel discussion in Resistance: Borders and Power, Social Justice and Community at the 44th Annual Conference of the National Association for Ethnic Studies. Co-organizer with Sophie Alves, Jesus-Jaime Díaz, and Sofia Gomez (Tucson, Arizona)

*2015 *“Socioeconomics and Death Investigation on the U.S.-Mexico Border: The implications of social vulnerabilities for identification of undocumented border crosser remains” invited paper presentation and panel discussion in The Geographies of Civic Engagement: Mapping Community Organization and Collaboration in Efforts to Identify and Enumerate the Dead Along the U.S.-Mexico Border at the annual meeting of Rocky Mountain Association of Latin American Scholars (Tucson, Arizona)

*2013 “When Death Comes Knocking: The role of geography and civic engagement in efforts to identify and enumerate the dead along the U.S.-Mexico border” Invited paper presentation and panel discussion at the annual meeting of the Latin American Studies Assocation Second author with A. Ochoa O’Leary (Washington, DC)

*2013 “Contested Space: Materiality of an undocumented journey” invited paper and panel discussion in “Aqui Estamos…”: Interdisciplinary perspectives on transborder places and transnational spaces as sites of resistance at the annual meeting of the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Scholars (San Antonio, Texas)

2012  “Archaeology in Clandestine Spaces: A case study at the U.S.-Mexico Border” paper presentation at the annual meeting of the Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory Group (York, United Kingdom)

*2012 “When Death Comes Knocking: The Role of Geography and Civic Engagement in Efforts to Identify and Enumerate the Dead Along the U.S.-Mexico Border” Paper presentation and panel discussion at the Conferencia Binacional de Globalización y Inmigración. Second-author with A. Ochoa-O’Leary. (Mexicali, Mexico)

2012  “Crossing the Line: Considering undocumented migration as collective action” paper presentation and panel discussion in The Archaeology of Contemporary Protest Movements at the annual meeting of the Theoretical Archaeology Group – USA (Buffalo, New York)

*2012 “What’s Left: An Archaeology of Undocumented Migration at the U.S.-Mexico Border” invited paper presentation in Putting People in Places: Negotiating Tenuous Relations in Space at the annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology (Baltimore, Maryland)

2012  “Practical Politics on the Migration Trail” paper presentation in the General Session: Below the Surface and Beyond the Stereotype at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology (Baltimore, Maryland)

2011  “The Undocumented Landscape: Transience and Subsistence on the Border” paper presentation and panel discussion in Archaeologies of the Post-Industrial at the annual meeting of the Theoretical Archaeology Group—USA (Berkeley, California)

2011  “The Undocumented Landscape: Transience and Subsistence on the Border” paper presentation in Historical Ecology and Anthropogenic Change in the Americas at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (Sacramento, California)

*2009 “Architectural Styles and Designs as Indicators of Community at the site of PVN647, Northwest Honduras” paper presentation and panel discussion in Communities Across Space and Through Time: Investigations into Southeast Mesoamerica at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (Atlanta, Georgia)

PUBLIC LECTURES

Forthcoming (September 2021) “Humanitarian Forensis: Collaborative Care in the Context of Border Crossing Deaths in South Texas” Public lecture at Arizona State University, Barrett Honors College’s “Scholars Series for Hispanic History Month.” (Mesa, Arizona)

2021 “Counting the dead as activism: The border and beyond” Invited public paper and discussion for the panel, “Death and Disappearance in the Borderlands: Recent Research in Undocumented Border Crosser Deaths in Southern Arizona” at the Binational Migration Institute, University of Arizona. (Tucson, Arizona)

2020 “Towards an anthropology of body counts” Public lecture at Arizona State University, Barrett Honors College’s “Scholars Series for Hispanic History Month.” (Mesa, Arizona)

2019  “Mapping the unmappable: A social archaeology of border enforcement through attrition in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands” Public lecture at Brown University, Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology. (Providence, Rhode Island)

2016  “Best Practices for the Standardization of Examination and Identification of UBC Remains Along the U.S.-Mexico Border.” Invited paper for panel discussion, "Life, Death, and Mass Incarceration at the Border" sponsored by the Binational Migration Institute and Coalicíon de Derechos Humanos (Tucson, Arizona)

2014  “Archaeology and Activism at the U.S.-Mexico Border: The role of archaeological mapping and survey to facilitate migrant search and rescue” invited for the Migration Research Dialogues lecture series, sponsored by the Binational Migration Institute (Tucson, Arizona)

Honors / Awards: 

2019     Gordon R. Willey Paper Prize for “Object Afterlives and the Burden of History: Between ‘trash’ and ‘heritage’ in the footsteps of migrants.” Archaeology Division, American Anthropological Association.

2017     Dozier Paper Prize for “Object Afterlives and the Burden of History: Between “trash” and “heritage” in the footsteps of migrants.” School of Anthropology, University of Arizona (UA).

2015  Binational Migration Institute Recognition Award for Excellence in Migration Research. Binational Migration Institute, UA.

Editorships: 

Reviewer, World Archaeology, 2021

Reviewer, Field Methods, 2020

Reviewer, American Ethnologist, 2020

Reviewer, Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 2019

Reviewer, PLOS One, 2019

Reviewer, GeoJournal, 2019

Reviewer, National Science Foundation Scholars Awards, 2018

Professional Associations: 

American Anthropological Association

Society for Applied Anthropology

Theoretical Archaeology Group (US)

Society for American Archaeology

Latin American Studies Association

Graduate Faculties / Mentoring History: 

STUDENT COMMITTEES (Degree completed only)

Masters Thesis Chair: Maria Tuckler (MA 2019, Trinity College)

Masters Thesis Committee: Sarah Wolcott (MA 2019, Trinity College); Steven Wapen (MA 2019, Trinity College); Ashley Esposito (MA 2020, Trinity College)