Dr. Joshua Marshack, Anthropology

Experiential Sustainability Learning in Biological Anthropology

The Valley & Ridge workshop helped me to reimagine biological anthropology courses by combining experiential and sustainability components previously incorporated independently. After exchanging ideas with other attendees and going on fieldtrips to examine regional instructional opportunities, I developed several “living laboratories”—projects that bring a hands-on and place-based approach to teaching topics which integrate ecological and social sustainability.

Previously, when learning the methods of field primatology and conservation, students collected observational data at nearby zoos. Now, in addition to this, they will assess fauna and flora near campus using line transect surveys and camera traps. Along the same lines, when learning about the evolution of sociality and what distinguishes primates from other gregarious animals, students will now go beyond texts to volunteer at the college farm and engage with the campus bee cooperative. Likewise, using databases measuring the impact of agroecosystems on nonhuman primates, students will develop a sustainability food guide to evaluate meals served on campus.

In the same vein, in addition to critically assessing the fallacy of biological determinism through library, archival, and museum research, students will be encouraged to address issues of social inequity and ecological instability on a more tangible and local level. For example, when learning about the role of “scientific” racism in establishing concentration camps and the complex interaction between concepts of geographic space and biological race, students will visit the nearby forested site of Camp Michaux, where the U.S. War Department operated a secret interrogation camp for German and Japanese prisoners from 1943-1945. Similarly, students will apply lessons on food insecurity and environmental inequality by dissecting the multilayered history imbedded in a recent meal. They will then reassemble and illuminate these connections layer-by-layer in an infographic.