Two of the seven papers selected for publication in the 2013 issue of the Midwest Journal of Undergraduate Research (MJUR) were written by students who participated in ACM’s Tanzania: Ecology & Human Origins program last fall.
The students, Abby Guthman from Lawrence University and Robert Cermak from Albion College, submitted papers they completed for their field practicum projects, a major component of the Tanzania program. Guthman studied elephant behavior and Cermak’s project examined changes in the traditional pastoral diet of the local Maasai population during recent decades.
Fall 2012 Tanzania Program participants and staff at the field camp.
The practicum project includes a six-week field portion, during which students live in a tent camp in northern Tanzania and gather data for their projects in and around Tarangire National Park. The field site accommodates projects in a wide variety of subject areas, such as ecology and environmental studies, anthropology and archaeology, public health, education, and geology.
The program’s Visiting Faculty Director, a professor from an ACM college, teaches a course in research methods, including ethical considerations in field work, and guides the students in their projects. The program is based at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), and the curriculum also includes courses taught by UDSM faculty in Human Evolution, Ecology of the Maasai Ecosystem, and Kiswahili, the national language of Tanzania.
“African elephants are highly intelligent, highly social animals capable of incredibly complex and transient relationships spanning several generations,” Guthman noted in her paper on “Effects of Group Size and Composition on Interactive Behaviors of Wild African Elephants in Tarangire National Park.”
During her field work, Guthman observed groups of elephants, taking samples of the size and composition (gender and age) of the herds, keeping notes on behaviors (aggression and submission) she saw, and analyzing the data she collected.
Although elephant populations are rebounding, poaching remains a great threat to the species as it disrupts the animals’ social relationships and herd hierarchies, according to Guthman. “By more fully understanding the complexities influencing how elephants interact with each other,” she wrote, “those working to preserve the species can make informed choices that allow populations to reach maximum densities and maintain healthy interactions with their ecosystem.”
Cermak, an anthropology major who also is completing minors in paleontology and religious studies, drew on several methods to gather information for his project on “Ethnoarchaeology among the Maasai: Subsistence and Faunal Remains in Northern Tanzania.”
The Maasai, a pastoral ethnic group living in northern Tanzania, traditionally relied on a diet based exclusively on livestock, according to Cermak, but that has been changing. To gather insights into current Maasai customs, he first observed and participated in a ritual slaughter of a goat and the meal that followed. He then spent most of his time in the field mapping and surveying an abandoned boma – a house and livestock enclosure used by an extended family – and analyzing bone fragments and other materials from the site.
“[M]y study seeks to document both the contemporary means of meat processing and consumption among the Maasai, and to then compare the results to the archaeological records going back several decades in order to see how these traditional Maasai practices translate into an archaeological context,” Cermak wrote.
Published annually, the Midwest Journal of Undergraduate Research aims to promote high quality research by students at ACM colleges. The Journal is produced by an editorial board of students and an advisory board of faculty at Monmouth College.
In its Call for Papers for the 2014 issue, MJUR invites undergraduates at any Midwest institution to submit research-based papers in any discipline. Manuscripts submitted by January 15, 2014 will be guaranteed review.