Belize: Tropical Ethnobotany
Ethnobotany, the study of the relationship between people and plants, is an exciting collaboration between biology and anthropology. Ethnobotanists ask such questions as: How do people name the plants in their environments and what do those names tell us about the cultural importance of the plants? What kinds of plants do people use for food, income, medicine, art, recreation, etc.? What special environmental knowledge helps to protect local ecosystems? We will explore these questions and more in the tropical rainforest of Belize on a Winter Term trip, led by Professor Fly (Anthropology) and Professor Conrad (Biology). Following a brief orientation, we will travel to the Blue Creek Rainforest Preserve where, in addition to conducting plant surveys and ethnographic interviews, students will have opportunities to hike in the rainforest, track howler monkeys, explore limestone caves, and interact with local communities. The course will culminate in an excursion to Tikal National Part in Guatemala, one of the largest archaeological sites of pre-Columbian Maya civilization.
Major topics to be covered:
- Basic tropical plant taxonomy and identification
- Rainforest ecosystems
- Qualitative and quantitative ethnobotanical methods
- Economic use of plants in Mayan tradition and contemporary Belize
- Ethnobotanical research design
- To teach basic skills in tropical plant identification and ethnobotany.
- To facilitate cross-cultural interaction.
- To familiarize students with Belizean cultural groups and ecosystems.
- To guide students through the design and write-up of a field-based research proposal.
- To encourage interdisciplinary collaboration in the study of plants and culture.