A good field researcher is relatively flexible and plans for the inevitable change of plans. You still try to accomplish what you planned for – particularly when funding is attached. However, ethnographic fieldwork is not bench laboratory work. There is no real control, no do-overs, and your study subjects talk back. This past summer I went to the field expecting to explore indicators of climate change, even though I wrote my research questions to be open to the possibility of discovering other sorts of environmental change indicators. And while I did get to ask a few questions about responses to climate change, most local residents wanted to talk about elephants. So I did. It was a risk to go off “script”, but given the stakes for my friends and others living in this place, a risk I think worth taking.
I think this seemingly abrupt change of plans initially made Jordan, my graduate assistant, uncomfortable. However, as I said there was some flexibility built into my research plan. When anthropologists go to the field to work with people, that means we work with them where they are. Pushing and pursuing questions that have no relevance makes immediate research difficult, and future research darn near impossible. This is something they don’t tell you in school (and why pilot studies are so important). The ongoing human-elephant conflict at my field site in Mozambique has entered a new phase, and as such, definitely constitutes a major environmental change to the social-ecological system. Jordan finally got it when during one of her malaria interviews a woman told her that folks in the community wouldn’t even be speaking to her if I weren’t present. They knew me and I was asking relevant questions (despite my anxiety that this wasn’t going to pan out). Right now, their focus and attention was on the elephants raiding their agricultural fields not malaria. The health clinic in Salamanga provides free treatment for malaria so this wasn’t really an issue. Not having food to eat was an issue.
This fall seven anthropology students are working with Jordan and I to code our summer interviews, field notes, and digital images. I can’t take them to the field with me and given the elephant issue that might not be wise anyway. However, they can learn how to use basic ethnographic tools and we are getting a serious lot of data organized in preparation for full analysis. They will also help with some of the analysis, but the primary goal is to provide some hands on training on what it is that anthropologists actually do. One of the first products we will produce is a report on the state of the human-elephant conflict in Matutuine District based on the data we collected this summer. This will be sent to various Mozambican government agencies and the local communities. Report writing is an important part of applied anthropology. I would also like to put together a short piece for Mozambican newspapers, and maybe something on living with charismatic megafauna for American newspapers. Elephants are one of the coolest animals ever, but they are also incredibly destructive if they are running loose in your maize and cassava fields.
We had a lot of visual data this summer – mine and some from local photographers who are participating in a PhotoVoice project documenting local changes to the environment. Yesterday I used some of this data to put together a short video for my ANTH 222 course (Introduction to Ecological and Evolutionary Anthropology). We are currently talking about biotic and abiotic factors and processes that influence evolution and shape landscapes. Given that every term students ask me to talk more about my research, I thought the human-elephant conflict a good example. Competition for food, water, & space resources, population growth, keystone species, fire, shifting climatic factors, national & international laws, cooperation, etc. I’ve posted it below. Please note there are some graphic depictions of animal butchering if you are squeamish.
Both Katie Chen and Raquel Fleskes successfully defended their honor’s theses. Katie’s thesis explored food security and how differences in data sets at the national and local levels could affect food aid. Raquel’s thesis involved the creation and analysis of new lab activities for a new course in our department – ANTH 222: Introduction to Ecological and Evolutionary Anthropology.
Chen, K. 2014. A comparison between local and national data: how food security definitions, dimensions and interpretations can impact aid. Honors Thesis written for the Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland. 38 pp.
Organizations around the world define “food security” in a variety of ways, but usually derive their version from the World Food Summit in 1996. Food security from this meeting is defined “as existing when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. This definition varies from organization to organization, and in this thesis I to compare the definitions from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to understand how the definitions are shaped and how this impacts the information they collect. In an extensive search through documents, survey data, reports and published works, I found that the surveys conducted may not give an adequate idea of what food security is. I also compare Dr. Shaffer’s socio-economic household survey conducted in Tanzania to the information collected by the FAO to see if the datasets are comparable and representative of food security definitions.
Fleskes, R. 2014. Facilitating a deep learning approach for university students in an interdisciplinary lab setting: a case study approach to the formulation of the Introducation to Ecological and Evolutionary laboratory course at the University of Maryland. Honors Thesis written for the Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland. 171 pp.
In interdisciplinary higher education, the challenge for educators is to understand how to design a curriculum that teaches course material effectively, while still encouraging deep learning and interdisciplinary thinking in the classroom. We present a case-study illustrating how this was accomplished for the Introduction to Ecological and Evolutionary Anthropology (IEEA) laboratory course at the University of Maryland. Laboratory session styles varied between activity-based, discussion, station, and out-of-the-classroom formats and contained critical thinking and application-based questions. A pre- and post-test on learning objectives were distributed at the beginning, middle, and end of one academic semester to assess if students were learning course material. Additionally, student opinion surveys on the quality of the laboratory course were distributed to assess student-perceived effectiveness of the course. Over three academic semesters, laboratory activities were either modified or implemented, leading to improvement in the student opinion survey. The IEEA curriculum design provides framework for how educators in higher education can enhance course effectiveness and student opinions to facilitate deeper learning and interdisciplinary thinking for in their classrooms. [a good portion of the thesis is appendices containing the labs and related materials]