Cultural Anthropology

Ellie Finkenaur ’15

Ellie Finkenaur '15 with woman in MexicoDuring summer 2014, Ellie Finkenaur ’15 undertook life history research with Maya-speaking women in rural Yucatan, Mexico, under the direction of Prof. Allan Meyers. Ellie, an anthropology and Spanish double major, conducted interviews in Spanish with the help of a Maya-speaking translator. The research culminated in a senior thesis that explores kinship, motherhood, and gender roles in agricultural communities near the market town of Oxkutzcab. Ellie contends that life history interviews “are powerful tools for understanding the complexity behind prevailing social issues. They may also be used as tools for identifying directions for further applied research, such as the availability of medical care.” Ellie presented her research findings at the 2015 annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Partly as a result of her ethnographic research abroad, Ellie was named the 2015 recipient of the Ken Keeton Award for Cross-Cultural Engagement. The award is the highest honor of the Comparative Cultures Collegium at Eckerd.

Belize: Tropical Ethnobotany

Boy from the Blue Creek Village in Belize climbs up a tree to scare Iguanas.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? These questions and more were explored in the tropical rainforest of Belize on a 2015 Winter Term trip, led by Professor Fly (Anthropology) and Professor Conrad (Biology).

The group traveled to the Blue Creek Rainforest Preserve where, in addition to conducting plant surveys and ethnographic interviews, students had opportunities to hike in the rainforest, track howler monkeys, explore limestone caves, and interact with local communities. The course culminated in an excursion to Tikal National Part in Guatemala, one of the largest archaeological sites of pre-Columbian Maya civilization.

Major topics 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

Objectives:

  • 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.