Event #2- Ethnobotany

Studies on the Biocultural Diversity of Micronesia

On Monday, November 18, 2013, I attended a lecture called “Studies on the Biocultural Diversity of Micronesia: Plants, People and Health in a Changing World” by Dr. Michael J. Balick. Dr. Balick is the vice president and director of the of Institute of Economic Botany at the New York Botanical Garden. He is extremely knowledgeable on the field of ethnobotany, especially in the area of the Caroline Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Through Dr. Balick’s talk, I learned how plants affect the culture of Pohnpei, as well as how globalization affects the islands of Pohnpei and Palau through the lens of his ethnobotany research.

Dr. Balick first introduced the field of ethnobotany in respect to global change. He explained that ethnobotany is the study of the relationships between plants and people. The father of ethnobotany is Richard Evans. Dr. Balick gave an example of the effect plants had on humans by comparing the loss of forest in Brazil between the 1940s and 1990s. He spoke of the languages, and that there are only an estimated 6,800 languages left in the world and only 600 have enough speakers to ensure their survival past the end of this century, which is a survival rate of less than nine percent. Dr. Balick also suggested the idea of devolution-because of modernization, there is less knowledge of living things, therefore knowledge “devolved.” His research in Pohnpei, Palau, and Kosrae confirmed this idea of devolution.

In Pohnpei, Dr.Balick addressed the effects endemic plants had on the culture of the island. In one example, he mentioned the Filoboletus manipularis singer, which is a bioluminescent mushroom. The native people refer to the mushroom as the “ghost’s ear”, and parents will often threaten to send their misbehaving children out to the mushroom fields to the ghosts for punishment. The refering to the mushroom as part of a ghost, and the threatening of parents to send their children to the mushroom fields show that culturally, ghosts are an important part of the Pohnpeian belief system.

One of the most significant plants Dr. Balick mentioned that had an impact on the Pohnpeian culture was the sakau plant, similar to the plant we know as kava. Dr. Balick stated that the Sakau plant holds the culture together because of its power and respect. The community comes together to pound the sakau plant, and the first person to sip the juice is the most senior chief. Pohnpeians believe that the sakau decreases in power as more people sip from the community cup, therefore, the order of sipping the juice is from the most powerful person and so on. An interesting aspect of sakau is the Pohnpeian use of the plant to show different meanings. There are over twenty-two “types” or “names” of Sakau based on the intention and declaration of purpose. For example, the sakau used for asking for forgiveness has a different name for the sakau used for celebration. However, the sakau in actuality is the same exact plant in its being. The naming sakau for different purposes is extremely unique and has never been recorded. Some other uses for sakau includes solving differences- sakau holds the chemical dihydrokavain which produces and anti-anxiety feeling. These characteristic also displays the enormous cultural impact plants have on Pohnpeian culture. In fact, the Pohnpeian-English dictionary contains 10,000 words, and 20% of these words are plant names.

An example of the effect of globalization has on the Caroline Islands is with canoe-making on the island of Palau. In older generations, canoe-building was an important skill necessary to survival. However, surveys found that there an extreme drop in knowledge of how to make a canoe and few people know the skill today. The lack of knowledge in this skill shows how globalization affected the island– knowledge of reading, writing, and arithmetic superseded knowledge of canoe-building. Globalization and exposure to world outside of the island lead to changing of means of survival. Now, one in five people on Palau work government jobs, and a survey done by Dr. Balick showed that government workers know less about canoe-making than others with different jobs. Coincidence?
Some constraints to preservation of traditional knowledge Dr. Balick emphasized was individualism and television, both results of globalization. Individualism affects traditional knowledge because in former times, the community would come together to survive, including building houses/canoes, and finding/cultivating food. In modern times, less emphasis is placed on the community, and more on an individual’s productivity, resulting in less emphasis on these cultural traditions. On another hand, television provides a distraction from these traditions. Dr. Balick explained how the island children are enthralled by television and are much more willing to watch television than engage in learning traditional skills. Both of these constraints demonstrate the negative effect globalization has had on preserving and maintaining traditional knowledge and culture.

This talk was interesting to me because I found similarities in the effects of globalization has on the culture with the effects globalization has on language. In my Linguistics class, I learned that a big part of language loss is globalization and people moving toward a dominant language, usually English. Globalization also changes the attitude of people. In Palau, less people want to learn their traditional practices in favor of new and more exciting ideas, such as television. Similarly, globalization changes the attitude of people with language in that they would rather learn and speak the new dominant language everyone else is speaking, rather than use their native language. As a result of globalization, both traditional practices and languages are dying out.

Medicine as a Calling

In high school, I did pretty well in school, but I always found the subjects of English and Social Studies much easier and therefore I enjoyed them more.  I never considered myself to be a “math and science” person, but here I am, majoring in Biology .

I definitely think that majoring in a science is a more difficult major than others, mostly because it is so credit-heavy and each class comes with a lab.  Also, for the Biology, Chemistry, and Physics majors each has to take a class from the other two, which are similar in some ways but also very different (so just because one is good at Bio doesn’t necessarily mean one will be good at Chemistry and Physics).  Also, since I am pre-med I have to take all of those science classes anyway, regardless of my major.  

I know that undergrad is basically a “weeding out” of those who want to be doctors, and at first I didn’t understand why.  I thought it was unfair that they make the undergrad years so hard when (from what I’ve heard) a lot of the things I learn will not really be applicable in medical school.  Now I realize that undergrad needs to be challenging because the coursework in medical school is so challenging, and applicants need to show that they are able to get through the rigor and have the ability to get through medical school.  Also, becoming a doctor is a lot of responsibility because you are in charge of a person’s life, therefore it wouldn’t be right if anyone could simply sign up and become a doctor.

I recently read this article from a Philadelphia newspaper that talked about the fact that doctors want to provide the best care, and are unsatisfied when they are unable to, especially when it is because they have to deal with paperwork and administration tasks that take away time with the patient.  I thought this quotation by Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven, AMA president, was an adept explanation of what I believe medicine to be:

“Medicine isn’t a job. It’s not even just a career. Medicine is a calling.”

Once my grandma told her doctor friend that I wanted to be a doctor, and he replied to me “My condolences.” I definitely feel called towards medicine and I think it would be hard to get through the training if one didn’t feel it was his or her’s calling.  I think Dr. Mau also echoed these sentiment when she visited our class.   Sometimes I question why I am even doing pre-med, considering I have to work 10x harder to get an okay grade because science doesn’t come naturally to me. Then I remember the long term goal and that I can’t picture myself having any other career.  

Response to Professor Anne Misawa

When Anne Misawa spoke in class, I was intrigued.  Her path to her current career was not necessarily a typical one, and I admire her for that.  Judging by what Professor Misawa spoke of in class, I could tell she is extremely intelligent and smart.  The fact that NYU offered her a full-ride for her doctorate is evidence enough.  However, what I most admire Professor Misawa for is her willingness to change in order to stick with her passion.  She never did any film before USC, and yet she willingly switched career paths in order to do what she thought she may like.  Although I believe my parents will support me with my decisions in life, including career choice, I can relate to Professor Misawa’s parental pressure to go to law school or have a set career goal/path.  I believe society, especially educated society, pushes people to get their education and work for that 9-5 desk job because it has a steady paycheck and provides for their needs.  Professor Misawa instead chose not to be safe, rather, she chose to take control over her own life and do what she wanted to do, no matter what anyone (even her parents!) said.

I also admire Professor Misawa because of her line of work, which is film.  When I was a junior in high school, I took a filmmaking class and produced a short, 7-minute film.  The film I made was not a simple point-and-shoot, edit bloopers film either.  My teacher made us each carry out the roles in a real film, such as the roles Professor Misawa mentioned like key grip and gaffer.  I can honestly say it took hours to film those 7-minutes, and then hours to edit the film.  Before that class, I didn’t appreciate movies or the people behind them.  Now I have a greater appreciation for the creative minds behind films, like Professor Misawa, who have the passion and talent to produce well-made films that are laboriously created.



Event #1-Meroe and the African Encounter with Greece

Event #1

On Thursday, September 25, 2013, I attended a talk by Professor Stanley M. Burstein from California State University, Los Angeles.  It was sponsored by LLEA and the Archaeological Institute of America.  The talk centered around archaeological artifacts that demonstrate the spread of Hellenistic culture in the Egyptian area and Africa.

Towards the beginning of his lecture Professor Burstein mentioned two significant archaeologists that made major excavations in archaeology: Sir John Garstang and George Reisner.  Although both were significant, they were somewhat foils of each other– Sir John Garstang was incompetent while George Reisner was the best Egyptian archaeologist of his day.  Garstang excavated royal cemeteries, while Risner figured out how to date pyramids as well as made a history of the Egypt.  I learned that Greek culture first came in contact with the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great.  The culture first appeared in Nubia in the 3rd century.

Professor Burstein focused on Ptolemy II and his involvement in Nubia.  In ~270 B.C., Ptolemy decided to invade Meroe with troops to hunt for elephants, which were extremely important in his day and age for military use.  During this time, Meroe royalty used Greek goods as luxury items.

An archaeological find that demonstrates Hellenistic culture in Nubia came in the form of writing left on Ramsey II colossi. When the Greek soldiers campaigned actively in Nubia they defaced the statue with their names.  Professor Burstein laughingly stated that the “Greeks invented graffiti”, which was easy for them because of their alphabet.  The “graffiti” on the colossi is evidence of the spread of Greek in the Egyptian area.

Some other artifacts that demonstrated the spread of Hellenistic culture in the Egyptian area mentioned include a painting of a virgin and a child protecting a Nubian king and a tomb of a 12th century bishop which was covered in inscriptions of the four Gospels in Greek.   Furthermore, Professor Burstein presented evidence that a Bishop Timotheus’ coptic installment document included a greeting written in Greek.  These examples show how the Greek culture and religion spread and how the Nubians even accepted their beliefs and intertwined the two cultures, as shown in these two examples.

Concerning Africa Professor Burstein briefly showed examples of artifacts in which the Africans used Greek objects to express African culture ideas.

Altogether, I learned a lot from Professor Burstein and about the spread of Greek culture.  Something that particularly impacted me was when Professor Burstein talked about Sir John Garstang and criticized his sloppy archaeological work.  I realized the impact of Garstang’s subpar work negatively affected many other archaeologists in his field.  Personally, I learned how important it is to take pride in one’s work and do one’s best because even though you might not care, your work might later have an impact on others who do.

I also found that Greece, a relatively small area, had such a profound impact on the world, and realized how significant Alexander the Great’s conquests were in the spreading and sustaining of the Greek culture.  I found it interesting how the Nubians tied in their culture with the Greek religion through the paintings.

Annotated Bibliography Rough Draft

Note: WordPress does not let me format the bibliography correctly, but it will be properly formatted in the final.

Quevedo, L. A., Silva, R. A., Godoy, R. R., Jansen, K. K., Matos, M. B., Tavares Pinheiro, K. A., & Pinheiro, R. T. (2012). The impact of maternal post-partum depression on the language development of children at 12 months. Child: Care, Health & Development, 38(3), 420-424.

This is a study published on the effect of post-partum depression on children done on mothers treated by the Brazilian National System of Public Health.  The studies first tested mothers and their children a month after delivery and then a year after.  This study focused on the effect post-partum depression had on the linguistic abilities of the children, and found a negative effect, which was worsened the longer the post-partum existed.  This study is useful for my research because it shows the effect post-partum depression has specifically on a child’s linguistic ability, which is a relatively short term effect after the initial post-partum depression.

Denis, A. A., Ponsin, M. M., & Callahan, S. S. (2012). The relationship between maternal self-esteem, maternal competence, infant temperament and post-partum blues. Journal Of Reproductive & Infant Psychology, 30(4), 388-397.

In this study, mothers completed surveys concerning depression levels from pregnancy to three years after birth  Their depression was measured using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.  The mothers’ children then took an IQ test at eight years of age.  The findings pointed that there was no significant correlation between a mother’s post-partum depression and a child’s cognitive ability.  This study is useful for my project because it shows the long-term outcome of post-partum depression and how it didn’t effect children in this aspect of measurement (IQ testing).

Murray, L., Arteche, A., Fearon, P., Halligan, S., Croudace, T., & Cooper, P. (2010). The effects of maternal postnatal depression and child sex on academic performance at age 16 years: a developmental approach. Journal Of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 51(10), 1150-1159.

This study tested children who were sixteen years old that had mothers with post-natal (aka post-partum) depression.  They tested the children using a variety of things, including the “General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exam performance of maternal depression (postnatal and subsequent) and IQ, child sex and earlier cognitive development, and mother-child interactions, using structural equation modelling (SEM).”  The study showed that male children were affected by post-partum depression during early cognitive development, and these effects continued throughout the years.  This study contributes to my research by showing some relationship between post-partum depression and children, measured in a variety of aspects.  The specificity of gender (only males affected) is also an important note.

Deave, T. T., Heron, J. J., Evans, J. J., & Emond, A. A. (2008). The impact of maternal depression in pregnancy on early child development. BJOG: An International Journal Of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 115(8), 1043-1051.

This study surveyed mothers about their depression at 18 and 32 weeks of gestation and at 8 weeks and 8 months postnatally using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.  When the child was 18 months, the mothers filled out another survey concerning their child’s development.  The findings of this study show that children were developmentally delayed because of post-partum depression, but also that depression throughout the pregnancy contributed to the developmental delay as well.  This study is important to my research because it also includes results and links to children being affected by depression during pregnancy, as well as after.

AKTAŞ, D., & TERZİOĞLU, F. (2013). Occurrence of depression during the postpartum period and risk factors that affect the development of the depression. Turkish Journal Of Medical Sciences, 43(5), 843-850.

This study involved 320 women in 2007 who took the Edinburgh Scale of Postpartum Depression (EPDS) to see how the results would correlate to the development of postpartum depression.  The study found that the number of points scored (13+) was indicative of sensitivity to depression.  The study also found that the points scored was significant, according to factors of  “educational status, age, desire for the pregnancy, and having difficulty in caring for the baby with the spouse.”  Concerning my research topic, this study would help me look at the various factors of postpartum depression and see how those individual factors may affect a child (ie not only the depression affects the child, but the factors that trigger the depression).  I think this is useful because it shows that even though studies might state different ways the postpartum depression affects the child, one must keep in mind the other factors that affect a child’s growth beyond the depression.

Letourneau, N., Dennis, C., Benzies, K., Duffett-Leger, L., Stewart, M., Tryphonopoulos, P. D., & … Watson, W. (2012). Postpartum Depression is a Family Affair: Addressing the Impact on Mothers, Fathers, and Children. Issues In Mental Health Nursing, 33(7), 445-457.

This paper addresses postpartum depression effects on the entire family, including the mother, father and child(ren).  It addresses the effects of postpartum depression in children, and their “cognitive and social-emotional development.”  The overall purpose of the paper is to research and possibly identify postpartum depression as a family condition.  This piece is useful because it brings another perspective to the effects of postpartum depression.  It may be possible that the effects of the depression on the child do not only stem from the mother, but also from the father and his reaction to the depression.  This possibly leads to the change in the overall well being of the family, which is another factor to consider that affects the child(ren).

Grace, S. L., Evindar, A. A., & Stewart, D. E. (2003). The effect of postpartum depression on child cognitive development and behavior: A review and critical analysis of the literature. Archives Of Women’s Mental Health, 6(4), 263-274.

This article synthesizes various literature on the topic of postpartum depression.  It discusses the results of studies on the effect of postpartum depression, including the effect on cognitive development depending on the sex of the child.  It also mentions the fact that chronic or recurrent maternal depression is more likely to affect children in the long-term, as opposed to postpartum depression.  This article is helpful to me because it summarizes and links different studies while also giving the effects of postpartum depression on children something to compare the effects to.

Emanuel, L. (2006). Disruptive and distressed toddlers: The impact of undetected maternal depression on infants and young children1An earlier version of this paper titled ‘The effects of post-natal depression on a child’ appeared in Psychoanalytic.. Infant Observation, 9(3), 249-259.

This article describes clinical interventions where the interactions between the parent and toddler suggested the mother had undiagnosed postpartum depression.  This was confirmed by the mothers.  This article states that this example shows how the toddler’s disruptive behavior could be linked to innate defenses by the young baby against the anxiety of postpartum depression.  The information found in this article is useful to me because it gives a visible example and link to post-partum depression in a child.  In addition, it suggests the idea that the disruptive behavior of the toddler was specifically because of an innate defense of the infant, which is a possible symptom to the effects of postpartum depression in children.

Segre, L. S., O’Hara, M. W., Arndt, S., & Stuart, S. (2007). The prevalence of postpartum depression. Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology, 42(4), 316-321.

This study was done to find out the prevalence of postpartum depression based on social status.  Three factors are considered for social status: income, education, and occupational prestige.  These all were found to play a role in the likelihood of postpartum decision; the highest factor found was income.  This article is helpful to my research because it presents a background to postpartum depression and also looks at different factors that trigger the depression.  No person is the same, and this article brings to mind the idea that the effects of postpartum depression on children may vary depending on the mother’s personal life.

MacDonald, P. (2013). A need for vigilance. Practice Nurse, 43(6), 34-37.

This paper address the role of practice nurses managing postpartum depression.  Because practice nurses have so much contact with the patient, they ideally are the one that will help the mother manage the depression.  The paper also states the symptoms of postpartum depression, including fatigue, loss of appetite, and guilt.  This paper is useful to me because it gives a partial solution to postpartum depression which could possibly ease or negate the negative effects on the mothers’ children.  It also lists the general symptoms of postpartum depression, which is important for the paper background.