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Cynthia Fowler, An Anthropologist Back to School

Today’s guest blog post is by Cynthia (Cissy) Fowler. Dr. Fowler is an Associate Professor at Wofford College, Secretary of the Society of Ethnobiology, and co-Editor of Ethnobiology Letters.  She conducts transdisciplinary research on society and nature. In her fieldwork in Eastern Indonesia’s dry monsoonal tropics, she studies the materialization of fire — fire as a creative expression of social relations and ecological perceptions.

Dr. Fowler has volunteered to lead a program in the Anthropologists Back to School initiative. Her program will take place at The Field Museum. This new initiative seeks volunteers to lead and assist programs at various host sites throughout Chicago on Wednesday, November 20 from 9am to12pm. Share your passion of anthropology while giving back to this year’s host city – Chicago. Learn more about how you can participate in Anthropologists Back to School and register today!

Cissy FowlerThe Anthropologists Back to School initiative caught my attention because it is an outlet for connecting with and contributing to the community beyond the meeting rooms and conference hotel during the AAA Annual Meeting. I selected the Field Museum host site with colleagues Isabella Abuchaibe and Natalie Bump. The Anthropologists Back to School initiative provides an unusual opportunity to experience the Field Museum in potentially meaningful ways, where we can be both observers and interpreters of the exhibits. It also provides an opportunity to support the teaching mission of Wofford College, where I work. Other Wofford faculty inspire me with their publications, grants, and continuing education related to teaching excellence and service through education.

I hope to share my fascination with the diverse, colorful, sometimes inspiring and sometimes troubling character of human-environment interactions. In my life-long pursuit of inspiration, I have witnessed many beautiful places and encountered many amazing creatures.  Along the way, I have met inspiring people who have sustainable (and other) lifeways and compelling (and humdrum) beliefs.  Anthropology provides the most amazing tools for understanding those people relative to Earth’s ecosystems.

During the program, we will guide school children through interactive experiences as they move through the “Restoring Earth” exhibit hall.  “Restoring Earth” already operates as an interactive exhibit, thus it will be easy for us to play off of that set up.  We will spotlight the Field Museum’s ongoing conservation-related projects with indigenous peoples in Amazonia, Peru, the Philippines, and other places/communities where their scholars work.  As an anthropologist, I’d like to infuse the exhibit with lessons about how anthropologists determine the role people have had through time in maintaining, creating, destroying, and/or conserving biodiversity.  We will discuss biocultural diversity during which we will emphasize the association between megabiodiverse regions and cultural/linguistic diversity. We will also point to the importance of considering the presence or absence of people in conservation areas and the implications of those alternatives for diversity.

Writing and delivering our presentation will be a collaborative effort between Isabella, Natalie, and myself.  Isabella’s special interest is in American food industries.  Natalie will share her special interest on the restoration of nature in the Chicago area drawing from her research on the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. And my special interest is in social justice and global change. The umbrella theme for our three segments will be the value of anthropology for understanding Earth’s processes and resolving the problems the Earth and its people face in ways that are socially just and ecological sound.

The children’s greatest take home message will be a recognition that culture has a major influence on people’s perceptions of environments and the ways people manage landscapes.  The children will take away with them the knowledge that anthropology is a science that asks especially fascinating questions about biological and cultural diversity and has powerful techniques for answering those questions as well as brilliant insights on achieving conservation. so that the school children will gain an appreciation for the value of anthropology.  The 6th-12th graders who attend the AAA Back to School initiative at the “Restoring Earth” exhibit will learn the message that the world consists of diverse cultures living in diverse environments, and will learn to not only value biocultural diversity but also to think critically about it.

Share your passion of anthropology while giving back to this year’s host city – Chicago. Learn more about how you can participate in Anthropologists Back to School and register today!

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