Blog Archives

Playing Inside the Lab on a Very Cold Day

It is amazing what you can get accomplished at work when you all is quiet and distractions are at a minimum.  This past summer I collected some networked type data.  I asked folks at my field site in southern Mozambique to describe the social-ecological system in which they live and how it all connects together.  The interviews are part of a longer-term (I hope) project to map/describe the savanna social-ecological system (SES) of southern Mozambique from the perspective of the people who live and work there.  Maps can then be used as a focal point for discussions about key elements of SES sustainability, building long-term adaptive capacity, locating best intervention sites, identifying risk and uncertainty, potential tipping points, etc..  I got the idea from a paper I read about a Turkish team of environmental scientists who used interviews, cognitive mapping, and graph theory to construct maps of a local lake ecosystem from the perspective of the stakeholders.  They used their mapping method to run policy simulations and facilitate the creation of a participatory environmental management plan.

This afternoon I finally got a chance to play with my data.  It has taken me this long to get to it because I first had to learn how to use the software analysis program, Gephi.  Learning new software, at least for me, takes time, solitude, and a lot of button pushing.  I make a mess, delete, start over, delete, repeat et nauseum. Basically, having interruptions (student or otherwise), or at least the potential for them, does not make for a good learning environment for me.

Gephi is relatively easy, particularly if you want to download large datasets or use the datasets they give you – which are aimed at social network analysis.  However, I chose Gephi because it allows you to look at other sorts of networked data.  Including data like mine, linked social-ecological system elements drawn from TEK interviews.  But to do this I had to figure out how to configure a data set for importing into the software.  Surprisingly, Gephi doesn’t have a tutorial on how to put together a basic .csv (comma delimited) file for importing into their program.  I guess they assume everyone who uses this open source software is in the know.Thank goodness for Literature Geek (a.k.a. Amanda Visconti) and History Blogger.  Both researchers have provided detailed instructions about setting up basic .csv data files in Excel for use in Gephi.

So here are the initial results from a single mapping interview.

Salema.practice.map

First some translation and the legend.  A machamba is the local Ronga word for agricultural field and esteiras are floor mats handmade from Cyperus papyrus stalks.  The colors denote different types of capital: green for natural capital, red for human capital, and blue for infrastructure.  The purple denotes a process rather than a type of capital (I haven’t yet figured out what to do with this).  I enlarged the nodes for trees and bees because my informant told me at the end of the interview that these elements were “super important for the life of the community.”  The enlarged nodes of hospital, electricity and machamba show that they are sustainable elements, while fire and charcoal are unsustainable elements in this SES.  I provided weights, based on the perceived strength of connections, for each of the edges but they didn’t come out so well – particularly for elements that are connected but there isn’t really any perceived connection strength like charcoal and esteiras (both household money-making activities).  There were also negative weights given to connections between elements that were perceived as bad.  I’d like to figure out how to show good versus bad connections too.

At this point, I am still playing.  While I plan to create individual maps for each informant, my goal is to eventually link all the maps together.  The interviews were long but people provided a whole lot of very detailed information.  I’m looking forward to seeing more results from my playdays.

Looking to the Future

by Maria Sharova

 

Artisanal fishing. Zanzibar, Tanzania. March 2010

Artisanal fishing. Zanzibar, Tanzania. March 2010, J.Shaffer

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!

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Maria submitted this on 15 December 2015.  My apologies for the late posting. ~J.Shaffer

There’s a map for that!

by Adriane Michaelis

If you’ve been following the blog, you know that we’re wrapping up our data analysis for this semester’s projects. Everyone’s been busy–organizing data, looking for themes, and making some amazing Excel spreadsheets. Now we’re taking that analysis one step further, and trying to visualize the big picture (literally). We’ve moved on to map-making. I’m not talking about applying our cartography or ArcGIS skills (though that may come later), instead we’re using the data we’ve been spending so much time with to create mind maps.

What is a mind map you ask? A mind map is “a graphical organization of ideas and concepts that can be used to facilitate the generation of ideas and the learning process” (thanks to Michael Poh for the succinct definition as well as some examples of pretty creative maps). In the spirit of the semester, see the figure below for a mind map that provides a visual schematic of how to prepare for exams.

Instead of making maps to help us study for the end of semester exams, we’ve been mapping our data for each of the three projects, and maybe, just maybe, eventually creating a super-map that incorporates all three projects (or at least aspects of all three). Through the use of many colors, arrows, shapes, and even illustrations for those so inclined, we’re thinking of different ways to consider and visually depict our data. This can be especially helpful when pulling together large qualitative datasets, and will hopefully help guide the next step, putting all of our analyses to paper…as in writing a paper for each group’s project.

One of the more interesting things about the mapping process is that, though we’re attempting to map other people’s interview responses, perceptions, and ways of thinking about certain things, we’re actually getting a glimpse of how each member of the group thinks (mapping our own minds, one might say). As you can probably imagine, there are a number of ways to approach creating a map of a data set, and you can see different approaches and interpretations in the form that each map takes. This is not a bad thing—we can compare maps and reconsider our interpretations to try and create the most appropriate representation of each analysis.

As a final thought, it’s not so bad to have the task of playing with crayons and colored pencils for a bit. 🙂

Staying Focused

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!

Maiombe Forest, Angola

Maiombe Forest, Angola

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?

Zambia

Zambia

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.

Elming Beach Area, Western Region. Ghana

Elming Beach Area, Western Region. Ghana

 

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!

 

Responding to a changing fieldwork situation

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.

Feet taken from problem elephant. The animal harassed local residents outside a reserve area and would not return to live within protected area boundaries despite multiple attempts to chase him back inside. Image by L.J. Shaffer 2008.

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.

ANTHRO+ Conference Participation – Final Schedule

It recently came to my attention that pretty much most of our lab is participating in the ANTHRO+ conference on Saturday, 6 April 2014 in the Stamp at the University of Maryland.  Presenters and a panel discussant.  Here’s how we’re participating:

Maria Sharova

Public Heritage: A visual study of changing environments in Mozambique and Angola

Mozambique and Angola gained their independence from Portugal in 1975, but subsequent political and economic events have significantly affected the governance of their natural resources and landscapes. Chambers (2006) notes that governments and other institutions often craft specific images to promote a public heritage that will “drive broader socio-political and socio-economic aims.” Others have used such public heritage imagery to assess the success or failure of national and international programs like poverty elimination or crisis management. In this presentation, I compare visual public heritage images produced by Mozambique and Angola on the cusp of their independence with contemporary images of the same or similar locations found on the Internet to analyze how differences in politics and economics at the national level have affected local natural environments over the past 30-40 years. What did these countries make available about their environmental public heritage in the late 1960s – early 1970s? What does this say about what they valued as public heritage? Have these places flourished or deteriorated? Are these places still valued as public heritage today? What, if any, connections between broader political and economic events and environmental governance can be made through this analysis?

“Changes”: Navigating Relationships in a Changing Environment, Margaret Brent A, 9:30-10:30am


Amelia Jamison & Jordan Tompkins

MODERN LOVE: Biomedicine and Public Health

A close reading of both history and theory has redefined our approach to medical anthropology. In this presentation, we seek to apply our new anthropological knowledge to our current research with public health interventions, at home and abroad. Jordan will discuss how concepts from medical anthropology can contribute to our understanding of infectious disease, specifically malaria. Amelia will explain why the critical perspective is a necessary lens to understand the success/failures of national immunization campaigns. Together we’ll argue that medical anthropology is terrific XXXXX.

“Station to Station”: Dialogues Across Disciplines, The Atrium, 10:30-11:45am


Alyssa Nutter & Rebecca Alberda

Who Says Quidditch is for the Nerds? Quidditch and Traditional Sport Culture

In late 2013, five graduate students at the University of Maryland completed an ethnography to describe the university’s quidditch team and analyze how the team defies or reinforces the traditional culture of sport. Quidditch, based on a game in the fictional Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, is a niche sport that is unique for several reasons, but most notably because it is mandatorily coeducational and players must keep a ‘broom’ between their legs at all times. These qualities and the perception of the sport as ‘nerdy’ inspired the researchers’ exploration of quidditch, utilizing ethnographic observation, survey, interviews, and participant photography. Analysis demonstrated that while the quidditch team does defy the traditional sport narrative, they also want to be perceived as legitimate and purposefully conform to specific cultural expectations of collegiate athletics. The data was analyzed across five core themes: athleticism, gender, connection to Harry Potter, community, and outsider perceptions.

“Young Americans”: Ethnographies of the College Campus, Margaret Brent A, 12:30-1:30pm


Katie Chen

A Mix and Match of Data and Dimensions

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”. The amount of change to this definition varies from organization to organization so I attempt 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 am also comparing Dr. Shaffer’s household survey conducted in Tanzania to the information collected by the FAO to see if the the data sets are comparable and representative of food security definitions.

“Underground/Better Future”: Anthropological Approaches to Food Recreating the Past, Making Change in the Present, Margaret Brent A, 2:30-3:30pm


Jen Shaffer, Discussant

“Let’s Dance”: How We Collaborate — Questions of Scale, Perspective & Creativity, Margaret Brent B, 1:30-2:30pm

 

 

ANTHRO+ to highlight visual anthropology research

Maria Sharova will be presenting the results of her visual analysis of historic photographs from Mozambique and Angola at ANTHRO+, a conference hosted by the graduate student organization, PASA, in UMD’s Department of Anthropology.

Public Heritage: A visual study of changing environments in Mozambique and Angola

Mozambique and Angola gained their independence from Portugal in 1975, but subsequent political and economic events have significantly affected the governance of their natural resources and landscapes. Chambers (2006) notes that governments and other institutions often craft specific images to promote a public heritage that will “drive broader socio-political and socio-economic aims.” Others have used such public heritage imagery to assess the success or failure of national and international programs like poverty elimination or crisis management. In this presentation, I compare visual public heritage images produced by Mozambique and Angola on the cusp of their independence with contemporary images of the same or similar locations found on the Internet to analyze how differences in politics and economics at the national level have affected local natural environments over the past 30-40 years. What did these countries make available about their environmental public heritage in the late 1960s – early 1970s? What does this say about what they valued as public heritage? Have these places flourished or deteriorated? Are these places still valued as public heritage today? What, if any, connections between broader political and economic events and environmental governance can be made through this analysis?

Changes: Navigating Relationships in a Changing Environment, Margaret Brent A Room, STAMP, 9:30-10:30AM

Bilene, Mozambique (early 1970s)

Bilene, Mozambique (early 1970s)

More information about the conference can be found in the Schedule Anthroplus 2014.  Conference highlights include:

  • Powered by Pecha Kucha Session
  • Interactive alumni-student workshop on marketing your anthropology background
  • Special session on labor and environment, featuring music, narrative and traditional papers
  • Storytelling session, reprised from last week’s SfAA Annual Conference
  • Poster and photography session
  • And of course our keynote speaker, Dr. Wilton Martinez, President of the Center for Visual Anthropology of Peru, speaking on his work in applied visual anthropology and ethnographic filmmaking

All session titles play on the songs of David Bowie.  😉  Who says conferences have to be boring?