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Directory Listing
College of Liberal Art & Sciences » Anthropology » Faculty
Stephen Chrisomalis
Stephen Chrisomalis, Associate Professor
3019 FAB
Research Area
linguistic anthropology, numeral systems
(313) 577-9922

Education:  PhD - McGill University, 2003

Hello!  My name is Dr. Stephen Chrisomalis, and I am a linguistic anthropologist who specializes in the anthropology of mathematics and the interaction of language, cognition and culture.  My four-field anthropological training includes work in cultural, cognitive, archaeological, and linguistic anthropology.   My book, Numerical Notation: A Comparative History, published by Cambridge University Press in 2010, is a cross-cultural cognitive analysis of systems of written numerals as used over the past 5000 years. My work focuses on the relationship between individual cognition and broader social, political, and economic processes.  Understanding how systems of number words and number symbols interact in specific contexts - how they are used rather than simply how they are structured - helps us to rethink assumptions such as the widely-held belief that we are now at the 'end of history' of number systems. 

In addition to this work, I publish and supervise work on cross-cultural methods and theories in anthropology, the relationship between linguistic and archaeological anthropology, the anthropology of literacy and writing systems, and the history of anthropology.  I am also the author of the academic blog, Glossographia.

Since 2008, I have been undertaking linguistic and ethnographic research with the Math Corps at WSU, aiming to understand the social and cognitive processes by which Detroit middle school students acquire and use mathematical concepts.  I am also the director of the Stop: Toutes Directions project, which looks at language ideologies in the city of Montreal, Quebec, Canada through its stop signs, which are important objects of linguistic and political discourse.  My new research projects include a sociolinguistic investigation of changes in the English numeral system since 1800, and a multidisciplinary project on quantification and uncertainty in prostate cancer diagnosis.

I am interested in working with graduate students at both the MA and PhD level who are interested in the anthropology of science and mathematics, cognitive anthropology, linguistic anthropology, cross-cultural comparison, or writing and literacy.  Please feel free to email me at any time to discuss the possibility of coming to study with me at Wayne State.


Selected Publications

Greatness in the Math Corps family: integrating ethnographic and corpus-based approaches to a conceptual metaphor. Language and Communication 33(3): 155-166. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.langcomm.2013.03.007. (2013)

Human Expeditions: Inspired by Bruce Trigger (ed., with Andre Costopoulos). Toronto: University of Toronto Press (2013)

“Trends and transitions in the history of written numerals”, in The Shape of Script: How and Why Writing Systems Change, Stephen Houston, ed., pp. 229-254. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press. (2012)

Numerical Notation: A Comparative History.  New York: Cambridge University Press. (2010)

The origins and co-evolution of literacy and numeracy, in The Cambridge Handbook of Literacy, David R. Olson and Nancy Torrance, eds, pp. 59-74. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (2009)

The cognitive and cultural foundations of numbers, in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Mathematics, Eleanor Robson and Jacqueline Stedall, ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (2009)

Full curriculum vitae (10/22/2012)



As Wayne State's only linguistic anthropologist, I teach a variety of courses in the anthropology department, most of which are crosslisted in our interdisciplinary linguistics program, in which I am a program faculty member.  Please contact me for more specific details about my teaching for any specific academic term.

Courses Taught (click through to course syllabi)

ANT/LIN 3310    Language and Culture
ANT/LIN 5320    Language and Societies
ANT/LIN 7665    Seminar in Linguistic Anthropology
ANT7900    Synthesis


Doing Anthropology in Detroit

Since 2008, I have been conducting long-term ethnographic field research with the Math Corps program at Wayne State.  This program serves middle and high school students from Detroit public and charter schools, providing a year-round enrichment community focused around mathematics.    This work takes my theoretical concerns in the anthropology of mathematics to a local community of practice and has implications for mathematics education nationally.  I am interested in how arithmetical practices relate to students’ ideas and their talk about mathematics, and how the mathematical lexicon used at Math Corps reflects and affects mathematical cognition.   More broadly this research aims to make an intervention in ideas about the relationship between mathematics, culture, and thought in educational settings.   I continue to work at Math Corps as an instructor and expect to be initiating a new research project in 2014, building on my earlier work.

656 W. Kirby Street 3054 Faculty/Administration Building
Detroit, MI 48202
Phone: (313) 577-2935
Fax: (313) 577-5958
Website: clasweb.clas.wayne.edu/anthropology
Email: svillerot@wayne.edu