Joseph Kann

Mentor: Dr. Peter Collings
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
"It was more or less inevitable that I would get involved in research; I’ve always loved solving puzzles and trying to figure things out. Struggling to learn something and then finally understanding it feels akin to discovering some new landscape for the first time. I also wanted to seize the opportunity to get my hands dirty with some actual anthropological data, learning how to do research by actually doing it, rather than merely reading about it."


Anthropology, Linguistics



Research Interests

  • Linguistic Anthropology
  • Cognitive Anthropology
  • Athabaskan Languages and Cultures

Academic Awards

  • AP Scholars Award (2013)
  • National Merit Honor Finalist (2013)
  • Third Place in the Humanities and Social Science Division of Santa Fe College's Research in Undergraduate Education Festival (2015)
  • University Scholars Program (2016)


  • N/A


  • Counselor at Westwood Middle School's Techno Building Camp
  • Piano Instructor at Littlewood Elementary's After-School Piano Program

Hobbies and Interests

  • Music Composition
  • Reading
  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • Hiking

Research Description

Tools, Learning, and Cognition in the Arctic: Similarities between the Uses of Tools and Explanatory Hypotheses among the Ulukhaktokmiut

The Arctic is currently undergoing major ecological changes as a result of global warming. To help Inuit communities adapt to these changes, we need to not only understand their traditional ecological knowledge about familiar phenomena, but also how such communities learn and reason about entirely new phenomena. I intend to examine how Inuit form explanatory hypotheses about changing environmental conditions. Specifically, I will look at the distribution and variation of such hypotheses within an Inuit community, and see if the results bear any similarity to the distribution and variation of tools within Inuit communities more generally. If we accept that explanatory hypotheses are a kind of technology that allow one to more successfully interact with one’s environment, then it’s reasonable to think that strategies for creating tools and strategies for creating hypotheses will have similarities.
To accomplish this, I will analyze several interviews conducted by Peter Collings in Ulukhaktok during the summer of 2015. These interviews largely concerned what Inuit in the community knew about Beluga Whales. Once rare, belugas have become increasingly common in the waters around Ulukhaktok during the summer season. Thus, the Inuit interviewed were still in the process of learning about Belugas and the ecological changes resulting in the sudden arrival of the animals.
Within the interviews, I will find all explanatory hypotheses regarding why the whales have suddenly changed migration patterns. By developing and applying mathematical methods for measuring variation and distribution to the hypotheses posited by Ulukhaktok Inuit, and then comparing the results to the variation and distribution of physical tools within Inuit and Thule communities historically, we can perhaps yield powerful results about the relationships between tool use and abstract reasoning. Hopefully, we can ultimately gain a better understanding of how humans interact with their environment, and we can thereby better assist communities in adapting to climate change.