Thursday, January 21, 2010

Living and exploring history


Parks, reserves, zoos, playgrounds, plazas, backyards, gardens, fields, cities, highways--they are all cultural constructed spaces with natural features. Do they share a unified meaning? What sets them apart? Why do people make them? These places are our platform for jumping head first into Latin America's past.
On this program, we'll not only see and experience the best of biological splendor--at each site we'll consider how different societies have used and conserved these lands over time. In Paracas, we'll ask how it was that bird guano came to be Peru's economic gold mine in the late nineteenth century? As we ascend to the cloud forest, we'll ask why some plants--like coca leaves--acquire such cultural power. While journey deeper away from home, we'll consider why the rain forest tugs at our imaginations and inhabits our wildest dreams? It even pulls like a siren song on U.S. presidents! What does it mean to say some place is "wilderness," and why isn't there a Spanish word for it? As we wander through the modern ancient city of Cusco we'll ask why Inca architecture persists and who it now serves. As we travel to the Sacred Valley, we'll inquire why did the Incas build Machu Picchu and how it was that a Yale archeologist made it famous?

In all of our stops we'll look at the ways nature and culture echo in each other considering how conflict and coexistence among human groups shape nature's form and the way the landscape in turn shapes societies. Students will keep journals and respond to these sorts of questions and we'll engage experts in history and anthropology as well as primary documents in our quest to explain just how societies in Latin America have used and conserved nature.
It will be awesome.

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