Category Archives: education
Earlier this week a fellow anthropologist from Australia posted a suggestion to our environmental anthropology listserve that we “consider ways to move our posts and conversations online to Twitter. I am serious about this.” I giggled. Not at my colleague, because I think she’s absolutely right about the need to take our work to the people, but at the idea that anthropologists could condense their thoughts into 140 characters. Despite our ability to craft pithy interview questions and participant observe quietly for hours on end in far-flung communities, members of our chatterbox tribe tend to pontificate when provided the opportunity. We are a long-winded and multi-syllabic people. Yet a challenge had been issued. And that’s when I found myself reopening a Twitter account from 2009 to see how it had evolved.
My fellow environmental anthropologist raised some great points about how Twitter could be used by us all to reach a wider audience.
- Are you worried about the public understanding of how environmental anthropology can help respond to pressing regional and global issues?
- Would you like more people to know about your recent publications, job announcements, or call for papers?
- Would you like to expand your network of colleagues, potential collaborators, and co-authors?
- Is your university placing increased emphasis on rewarding scholars who seem publicly visible and engaged?
- Would you like an open-access forum to debate topics about environmental anthropology, one that includes public participation?
- Would you like to help build a database of searchable resources that secondary, higher education, and continued education learners could access on their smartphones and tablets within seconds of following a hashtag?
As a whole we are an invisible tribe. That is not to say that exceptions don’t exist. Margaret Mead, Temperance Brennan, and Indiana Jones are the most likely candidates for household recognition (well, at least those are ones my mom could name quickly), and two of them are fictional characters. Those of us who work at the human-environment interface should really be making our work more widely known. Sure a virus or an asteroid could wipe out life as we know it, but the majority of environmental problems we face as a species have their roots and solutions in human behavior and decision-making.
Engaging the public by relating what we do, how we do it, and what it means requires that we actually put something out there for consideration, recognize that people will respond, and commit to civil conversation that may take us in unexpected directions. Public environmental anthropology might not get counted towards tenure (if that’s your goal), but it takes a step towards building scientific literacy, public trust, and a community that works together to make the planet a more sustainable place for all living beings.
So, I accept the challenge and will give Twitter a try for the summer. #environmentalanthropology
For more information:
- Five ways in which Twitter can be useful in academic contexts, Raul Pacheco-Vega
- Twitter for academics, The Online Academic
- The academic benefits of Twitter, Carole McGranahan, Savage Minds
Just as March came to a close, Adriane Michaelis, a first year PhD student in the KRAC lab, received word that she’d been awarded a 2015 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. The award covers tuition and provides a stipend for up to 3 years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period – a huge investment by the US government in its young STEM researchers. Essentially, a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution for study leading to a research-based master’s or doctoral degree in science or engineering. According to the NSF website, they received approximately 16,500 applications for the 2015 cycle and awarded 2,000 fellowships to a diverse group of individuals.
Adriane has proposed to study what factors contribute to effective, and ineffective, community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) of Mozambique’s artisanal fisheries. As part of her comparative ethnographic study she intends to work with local fishermen to develop a community-based monitoring plan and assess the efficacy of this activity in improving CBNRM. Within a broader framework, Adriane writes “[t]he motivation of this study is to enhance natural resource management dynamics by providing agency to those without. This need is not exclusive to Mozambique, and results can be applied elsewhere, including the United States. Important to this project will be sharing results with relevant groups, such as community fishing councils (CCP) or the Ministry of Fisheries.”
by Maria Sharova
As the end of the semester draws to a close, I am once again sitting down to try to map out my progress and figure out next steps. Over the course of the semester I have had meetings with a variety of amazing faculty who have told me about their research, I have selected my own methods for comparison, and I have selected my photos.
My methods for comparison include change in land use, change in sea level, erosion, and industry development. These speak to visual changes in environmental processes. Additionally, many pictures in the African photo database I accessed have descriptive metadata that provides, specific dates, photographers, and locations that could be further researched to locate a more specific modern photographic example.
I will compare the 8 historic images to pictures taken within the last 5 years to assess environmental change. My project will explore the applicability of using images collected from social media sites like Facebook, Flickr, and Instagram for citizen science of environmental change. Pictures posted online could be used in a variety of manners in future research endeavors. For example, there is potential to link social media to remotely sensed images or ground truthing. If changes in sea level could be tracked in pictures taken by tourists and supplemented with remotely sensed images taken over time, this could provide a more accurate and holistic view of change occurred. The potential to use photographs as a dataset in citizen science research projects is realistic, cost effective, and could provide valuable information.
Before the start of Spring Semester I will also need to finalize a list of committee members that will proof read my thesis, be present at my thesis defense, and finally provide final suggestions for edits that I will make to my paper.
I’m feeling really excited (and nervous) about my project! It’s coming together nicely, and I have to credit Dr. Shaffer with being the most amazing advisor ever! She’s been so patient with me and I definitely would not have gotten as far as I have without her expertise. I still have a lot of work to get through. I have to finish selecting my modern photographs, complete my background research on each photograph, actually write up my findings, and start thinking about future directions for the research (is there potential to use Landsat images of erosion and coastlines to study visual change in the environment over time?) Here’s to health, happiness, and getting this project done in the New Year!
Maria submitted this on 15 December 2015. My apologies for the late posting. ~J.Shaffer
by Sarah Strada
This week in our research lab we worked a lot of analyzing the data we have been coding. I am working on the Agency Project which is looking at the relationship between the government and the community on the issues of malaria and wildlife conflict. I quickly realized that analysis is a lot messier than coding! I started by pulling out major themes and separating those on an excel spreadsheet. Then I broke those themes down into more specific themes. I felt like I could have gotten even more specific but then I realized that 3 hours had pasted and I had 3 more codes to analysis. It is really easy to get lost in the analysis but I felt like I noticed things about the data I hadn’t seen before and I felt like I was really beginning to understand it. It was a really rewarding feeling.
After the agency team had gone through all their data once we met to discuss some of the themes we saw. As far as wildlife conflict goes, the overall theme was: fence. The government built a fence to deal with wildlife conflicts, the community felt this fence was of really low quality and it was pointless, and the community thought the best way to solve the wildlife problem was to build a fence . . . fence, fence, fence, so many things about the fence. It really made me want to organize a service trip to Mozambique to build them one the best fences this world has ever seen.
Anyway, after we met we all went through our codes again and started to combine them all onto a single excel spreadsheet for each issue (one for malaria and one for wildlife conflict). Now we were all separating the codes into the same themes so they can be easily combined later. Going through the codes this time, I left a lot more out because at the end of the day I just had to accept that not every interesting thing said adds to the purpose of our paper. This analysis has been difficult but I often found myself unable to pull myself away from it. It felt like a puzzle that I had to finish solving.
Setting boundaries in research is one of the toughest things to learn to do, and not easily teachable. There are all sorts of fun and interesting ways to look at data, and analysis is supposed to generate more questions. However, if a researcher doesn’t narrow down their topic the analysis and final writing can get unmanageable and frustrating. Sometimes the best way to learn is just to dig in and see. ~JS
Our work in the KRAC Lab focuses on how people, households, and communities use their environmental knowledge to respond and adapt to environmental change. We work with rural communities primarily in southern Mozambique. However, Ronga communities are not the only communities facing environmental change, potential natural disaster, and day-to-day emergencies.
Back home, here in the United States, here in Maryland, we face potential threats and deal with emergencies big and small on a daily basis. Heck, getting into the car to go anywhere in the DMV region is like a death wish with the way most people drive.
Rebecca Alberda, a masters student in the KRAC Lab, has been working with START over the past 6 months on the social science side of Maryland and U.S. emergency issues, potential disasters, and terrorist threats. Recently, she participated in an exercise to complete her Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) certification. CERT is a FEMA program that trains local citizens to respond and assist in emergency situations. Prince George’s County has a CERT presence and soon so will the University of Maryland, College Park. It’s all part of UMD’s emergency preparedness plan.
by Maria Sharova
These first few weeks of school have been crazy—between family issues, the GRE, and my amazing new internship at the U.S. Global Change Research Program, I am finding it difficult to sit down and flush out ideas for longer than an hour at a time. But I have made some progress!
When I left off my Independent Project last semester, I had compiled a series of 10 photos from Angola and Mozambique depicting visual change over time—whether it be environmental, political, or economic. This semester, I am working on my honors thesis, which involves the same set of images, but with a different set of questions in mind. I will still be doing a comparison of old pictures to modern images, but I will be focusing on landscape photographs rather than portraits. The main idea I hope to address in my research is that of pictures being a legitimate source of information (in the way that quantitative measurements are). Can images created for non-research purposes be used as scientific evidence for identifying and quantifying environmental change? What changes can be measured based on images we have?
With this set of questions in mind, there are already several aspects of my research that I would like to identify more thoroughly. I would like to solidify my methods for comparing the images I select. What exactly will I be looking for between the old photograph and the new photograph? Erosion? Change in water? Change in crop yield? Change in crop type? This will of course depend on the images I select. Furthermore I would like to identify methods of quantifying that change. Will I be literally taking a ruler to the picture? Most likely not, but how will I quantify change in the photographs? Unlike last year, I am not confining myself to a specific country—instead I am working with the full range of images I have.
I have a few meetings set up with other faculty members who have done some visual anthropology, and I am excited to discuss their methods and projects with them. My project, I feel will be significantly different, since I am viewing my analysis as a form of citizen science, without the citizens knowing that they are participating in research. Social networks and social media can be regarded as an untapped data source. People are constantly taking pictures of the places they visit, so developing a methodology for using those photographs to analyze changing climates could be very interesting and useful to scientists. Here’s to hoping the next few weeks go well!
by Tarika Sankar
I think I could probably get lost in the oceans of information accessible to a student at a major research university, and spend the rest of my life wandering through the stacks while my family wonders how it is possible to go missing in a library. But that’s close to how I felt last week poring over a small stack of books about Mozambican history and ethnography, and while sifting through journal articles on UMD’s Research Port. There’s just so much research and information, even on a seemingly specific topic like socio-ecological systems in Mozambique, or even more narrowly, the project I am working on, agency in community-based natural resource management. A search of that exact string of text on Research Port returns nearly four thousand hits. Of course, not all of these will be relevant to our research, but it is still amazing to see that so much scholarship has been conducted in this area. Added to all this information related to agency, I’m really intrigued by several books on gender relations, economic success and politics in Africa that I borrowed from Dr. Jen. I’d love to read through these and examine how they relate to our research, but I know I don’t have time to read everything in addition to finalizing my coding from last week, scanning in the relevant chapters, and continuing to add to the literature review.
Facing a potentially overwhelming amount of information—all of which I find interesting and would continue exploring if I had the time—it helps to keep our specific research mission in mind. While sorting through journal articles, I have to keep reminding myself that we are focusing on how the community communicates and interacts with the government and NGOs and whether it has the capacity to act when managing health and environmental issues that directly affect it. It also helps to keep referring back to the raw data that I’ve now become very familiar with from both the wildlife conflict and agency angles, and thinking about how we can situate our research within the larger academic conversation.
While I’m reading (and skimming, to be honest) the sources about gender and resource management, I’ll also want to consider its relevance to our particular topic. It seems like a lot of the research I’ve encountered could be tangentially related to the idea of agency in communities, but I realize now that some kinds of research will be more relevant than other kinds, and that is what I’ll want to look for. As with any thorough and careful research process, it will take time!
- Pitcher, M. Anne. Transforming Mozambique: The Politics of Privatization, 1975-2000. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
- Tripp, Aili, Isabel Casimiro, Joy Kwesiga, and Alice Mungwa. African Women’s Movements: Transforming Political Landscapes. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
- Waterhouse, Rachel and Carin Vijfhuizen, Eds. Strategic Women and Gainful Men: Gender, Land and Natural Resources in Different Rural Contexts in Mozambique. Maputo, Mozambique: Nucleo de Estudos de Terra (NET) & Faculty of Agronomy and Forestry Engineering, University of Eduardo Mondlane, 2001.