Human Ecology and Geography

I work on a campus that has a College of Human Ecology and a department of geography in the College of Arts and Sciences.  I often wonder if the two have ever noticed that their work is quite similar, especially when one looks at their descriptions of studying people interacting with their environments?  Well, I love the disciplines of human ecology and geography!

People fascinate me, and, given their environments, they act and re-act differently.  I like to study such things. I posted this picture of me visiting our Nation’s Capital (standing here in front of the Capitol!).  Next time you’re in Washington DC, go to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.  It’s one of my favorite places on earth.  When you enter the museum, there is an amphitheater on your left, and a grill/cafe on the right.  In the seating area for the cafe, there are marvelous photographs of varying groups including Alaskan Natives.  My favorite picture is of three Alaskan Native boys, about eight years of age, gathered around a white granite ware, sort of, tub from which they are happily eating.  They are shoe-less and have the happiest grins on their faces.  I took a photograph of that photograph, and I use it in my power point slides when I’m teaching about intercultural relationship building.  I did not show it here, because there could be some copyright restrictions.  When I ask workshop attendees to look at the photo then give me their impressions, I’ve noticed that middle class people will give me descriptions of “dirty”, “poor”, and “unkempt”.  Out of 23 times of presenting this workshop, perhaps, three people have noticed the absolutely delightful expressions on the boys’ faces.  I know that the Alaskan Native population does not have a word for “stress”.  When you study “simple” versus “complex” societies (the U.S. is a complex society, and many populations (Native to their lands) are often called “simple” societies).  Simple societies are less likely to live stressful lives, because they work to support a collective and are not caught up in acquiring things (read Jared Diamond’s, Guns, Germs, and Steel).

From a human ecology point of view, our environments determine how we live, how we meet our daily living needs, and those things influence how we develop as humans.  From the time we are born, our environments (family, church, schools, politics) influence our development of our preferences, our knowledge, our traditions, our points-of-view, and our paths in life (Bronfenbrenner).  Our geography has that influence, too.  I grew up in Colorado, in the mountains.  Being in the outdoors and  living in high altitude determined how we dressed and in what sorts of activities we engaged.   If one lives in a hunter-gatherer society, then one works in a subsistence culture, which tend to be collective communities (where everyone works for the common good).  If one lives in a capitalistic society, it tends to be more individualistic.  The gaps in wealth tend to be wider in a complex society than a simple society.   In terms of simple and complex societies, one is not better than the other.  They are different.  If simple societies were left alone (not colonized), they functioned quite well on their own.  It does terrible things to the psyche when people in a simple society are told they are wrong (“uncivilized, savage, heathens, etc.), and that “wrongness” carries through to the subsequent generations.  From my point of view, the effects of colonization has not been good for simple societies.  It’s caused many disparities among the colonized people, and it’s developed environments of inequalities.

I think I will come back to this, because I have not developed my thoughts completely.  Besides, my granddaughter wants a bedtime story!  Thank you for reading.

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