April 23, 2009
Source: Piedmont 2003

Freed, Benjamin Z.
Department of Anthropology


Project Summary

The 2003 Piedmont Project helped me identify several issues that affected the extent to which I could discuss in Anthropology 302 topics related to ecology, conservation, and sustainability:

1) Students who enrolled in the course were largely interested in behavioral issues that revolved around questions in psychology & neuroscience and behavioral biology. As one student reviewer put it, “This is supposed to be a course on primate BEHAVIOR and ecology.”

2) These students were either bored or failed to see any relevance to discussion about specific plants and the behavioral and dietary adaptations that primates have for them. Simply lecturing and using videos did not “hit it” with these students.

3) The few ENVS & anthropology students who were genuinely interested in the interaction between behavior & ecology were never given the opportunity to engage before all of their senses aspects of coevolution between flowering plants and primates. I have many experiences from my own field work, so I could discuss how these issues related to ethnobotany and conservation. Yet students had no such experiences; they simply could not relate these topics to everyday life.

The course was successful, as all students enjoyed collecting and analyzing the behavior of real primates. Working at ZooAtlanta was a highlight. Several of these students have since worked abroad on field studies of free-ranging nonhuman primates. Most of theProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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students have taken more primate and conservation-related courses in anthropology and ENVS.

Largely as a result of the interaction with the Piedmont Project, I realized that I must incorporate even more HANDS-ON work with the students. I have decided to continue with a ZooAtlanta behavioral project, as the Zoo staff is short on observers for their golden-lion tamarin project. From discussions with the Piedmont Project’s Eloise Carter, I have decided to incorporate more botany into class material. I have established a relationship with curatorial, conservation, and education staff of Atlanta Botanical Gardens (ABG). ABG is a fairly young resource in Atlanta; very few people from Emory have incorporated this resource into course activities. In particular, ABG has a unique set of greenhouses that allow students to see plant adaptations in a variety of habitats, including montain forest, lowland rain forest, and desert. ABG also possesses most major plant families from those regions covered in the primate course, including the Neotropics, Africa, Madagascar, China, India, and Southeast Asia. For example, ABG’s Madagascar collection includes most of the unique plant families found on the island’s dry southwest region, where Emory Anthropology’s Dr. Pat Whitten works each summer. My own research involved plant-animal interactions in a northern Madagascar montain rain forest. ABG has the depth of a collection necessary for this course; its staff is eager to fulfill its own educational mission. They have offered to lead a lecture on plant adaptations; I have offered them lectures on primate-plant interactions in Madagascar. ABG is also interested in seeking interns.

The behavioral component of this course will continue to include work at ZooAtlanta. I have also decided to include free-ranging ringtailed lemur populations within a six-hour radius of Atlanta. Based on class enrollment and student interest, I will take a group of four students to either the Duke University Primate Center or St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia.

Funds from the Piedmont Project will help support transportation and logistics with each of these behavioral field experiences. Funds will also be used to help ABG develop educational materials for exhibits, such as their Madagascar desert exhibit.

Students learn through behavioral data collection. I also believe that students value working with local institutions such as ZooAtlanta and ABG. Ultimately, the inclusion of additional local and regional resources into Anthropology 302 should provide students with a set of experiences that they can use to generate questions in further course work. More importantly, by interacting with these local institutions, students will gain a set of contacts and research experience that they can parlay in their own future work. Two recent honors students who returned from primate field work in Nicaragua and Indonesia lamented on the lack of ecological training they received here. Both commented that they received good training from 302, but they wished they could have had some hands-on ecological experience. I now have two students ready to work on primates in Argentina and China. I do not know how many others want to study primates abroad. Based on my own field experiences, my dialogue with ZooAtlanta and ABG, and the thoughts of my first two honors students, the botanical component and even more hands-on work with primates is essential.

As Eloise Carter and Tong Soon-Lee showed us in the Piedmont Project, the most effective learning comes when one uses all the senses. That was what was missing the last time I taught Anthropology 302. I hope that the incorporation of local resources from ABG, ZooAtlanta, and elsewhere will help further the study of ecology, conservation, and sustainability at Emory Anthropology. Hopefully no students will bemoan the ECOLOGY part of this course!

Course Syllabus attached.

Download: Freed_2003.pdf (116.9 KB)

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