Maxwell Ward

Cowell, history of art and visual culture (HAVC) and anthropology

Max Ward / Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta
Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta
Since he was 6 years old, Maxwell Ward has always wanted to be an archeologist.

Growing up in Carlsbad in San Diego County, he often visited museums and archeological sites with his parents. He vividly remembers attending a lecture at UC San Diego by famed explorer Albert Lin about his unsuccessful search for the tomb of Genghis Khan. And he was in awe of the daredevil archeology professor Indiana Jones in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.

“I remember thinking when I was a kid, ‘What if they discovered everything?’” he said.

But he realizes now that treasure hunting is the smallest part of being an archaeologist. The biggest part today is ethics and helping make the discipline accessible to native people who have been historically shut out of it.

His biggest interest is the Incan civilization, which lasted about 200 years on most of the west coast of South America. His studies led him to Ecuador, where he heard about UC Santa Cruz professor Carolyn Dean. He eventually majored in her history of art and visual culture program and came to admire her for her ability to remove her own modern perspectives and paint a more accurate picture of how the Incans viewed their own culture. Ward, a Cowell College student, is also an anthropology major.

During his time at UC Santa Cruz, Ward took advantage of as many opportunities as he could, serving as a student mentor and chair’s advisory board member for the History of Art and Visual Culture Department. He also served as head writing tutor for the Anthropology Department.

He was able to participate in the UCDC program, securing a spot as collections care intern at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. The museum actually only displays 1–2% of its collection, with the rest of it stored as at a giant offsite facility, “like the warehouse of Indiana Jones,” he said. He saw shelves full of artifacts he had been reading about his whole life, like sacrificial altars, pots, and other crafts.

Ward has a long-term goal of becoming a tenure-track professor. But first, he will go back to Ecuador to do more research this summer, then return to apply for graduate school. He is still deciding between trying to earn a master's degree first or just go straight into a doctoral program.

“I love talking to people about my field,” he said. “To teach people about it is a dream come true.”