It’s all about wood: urban oaks between beetles and beeches

Doing research in Kassel, a middle-sized city in the very middle of Germany, I quickly became pulled into an urban oak wood that has a rich history and some time ago was turned into a nature conservation area – the “Eichwald” (literally “oak wood”). Its history is well documented by a local initiative called “Erinnerungen im Netz” (engl: memories online, translation CL). Local residents remember playing in the wood as children, drinking coffee at the “Eichwaldrestaurant” – a popular destination for day trippers – and much more. Humans have long used the Eichwald in their everyday lives and it plays a vital role in individual and collective memories. “After all, the wood is for the people, isn’t it?” one interview partner claims as he shows me where the playground once was. Standing there in 2019 we see fallen leaves showing through shrubs and ivy on the ground. The wood is full of scions growing up between dead oaks and beeches. Both the summers of 2018 and 2019 have been unusually dry – many healthy trees died throughout Germany. For woods to cope better with hot and dry summers, which are very likely to appear more often in Germany under climate change, they need to be diverse. Biodiversity is key to render forests resilient to climate change. Governing a wood – from an imperial park to a nature conservation area It had always been a tidy wood – until 2013. In the 18th century landgrave Wilhelm VIII had installed a pheasantry and an alley framed by oaks. The pheasantry, like all buildings in the Eichwald, does not exist anymore. Still everyone of my interview partners referred to it and pointed to the places where they remembered it. While oaks are not necessarily common in North Hesse (most woods are dominated by beeches) they have been in wide use in German parks for centuries, a circumstance that brings us to the hermit beetle (Osmoderma eremita), an endangered species under special protection, which lives in old oaks (preferably 200 years or more of age). Osmoderma eremita is basically the reason I was drawn to do research in that wood, because a conflict arose between the local forest authority, the city administration and the citizens from the area after the Eichwald was turned into an area of nature conservation in 2013. The beetle gained a protected area to live but some people feel they lost an area that has been so vital throughout their lives. Who is the wood for? The Eichwald is supposed to develop into a “virgin forest” and be a biodiverse habitat for the endangered hermit beetle and other species....

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The Visitor Experience: Adapting in Post-Covid World

The heritage and tourism industry has suffered in numerous ways due to the Covid pandemic currently prevalent in our world. When we think about the relationship between heritage sites and consumers who are eager to explore history and heritage, this has naturally been subject to change during these challenging times. Ensuring that collections, artefacts and displays are appreciated, and that the heritage is valued by the visitor is key for a successful visitor experience (Wallace, 2017, p. 3) and this coupled with the new safety precautions, is what all heritage sites are attempting to balance. As a researcher, I have visited different heritage sites and experienced how they have adapted to the current circumstances where social distancing, improved hygiene practices and safety precautions have been put in place. One heritage site of note is New Lanark, where I have also had the privilege of working for the past year on a part-time basis. Awarded World Heritage Site (WHS) status in 2001, New Lanark celebrates the industrial history of Scotland through a Visitor Attraction Centre and various other tourist facilities such as a hotel, café and shop. It can be found alongside the River Clyde, between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The purposes of this WHS are summarised below (New Lanark, 2020): Conserve the site’s heritage, site and environs, Contribute socially and economically to the area, Evolve to stay relevant to our people and the world. As the Covid pandemic has swept through the country, New Lanark has attempted to balance the consumer needs and wants with government restrictions and guidelines to ensure a safe, enjoyable and informative visit to the site. Arguably, this is in keeping with the above purposes of the site. With the visitor experience already being widely recognised in literature as a ‘multidimensional and complex’ learning environment with varying perspectives (Packer and Ballantyne, 2016, p. 129), adding necessary safety precautions into the mix has created many challenges which have required urgent solutions. Using online platforms such as social media to further promote heritage and history has enabled New Lanark to reach various target audiences and promote the visibility of the site. A new socially-distanced exhibition entitled ‘A Tenement Through Time’ has also been opened to the public, where the consumer can learn how people lived through their words, lives and wallpapers. Despite these successful promotions of history and heritage, New Lanark has been unable to fully open its doors to tourists which is sadly the reality for a great number of heritage sites. Thus, we ask ourselves… How long can this be sustained? The temptation to think negatively of such circumstances is to be expected but perhaps when...

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Negotiating Contested Landscapes: The Alaska Lupin in Iceland
Jul16

Negotiating Contested Landscapes: The Alaska Lupin in Iceland

A windy summer day gives a glimpse into the complex, and at times contested, relations that emerge between people and plants in Iceland’s quickly transforming landscapes.

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Content Wanted! Become a Part of Transformations

How much of the experience and results of our anthropological research reaches the public? Far too little in our eyes. We want to change the cycle of invisibility. Anthropologists do have a lot to offer. We have the expertise to engage in public discourse. Anthropology matters. Tell your stories, write for us.

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From the Field to the Laptop: The Art of Writing a PhD Thesis
Apr30

From the Field to the Laptop: The Art of Writing a PhD Thesis

The fact that one should go for a PhD only when s/he is 100 percent sure is well-publicised. What, however, is often not known is that even after being sure about one’s research topic, writing the dissertation can still be a difficult task! The struggles that a researcher has to go through to write a dissertation is underrated. It can be both academically and personally challenging. The two most significant aspects of doing a PhD include the collection of data and then writing the thesis. My PhD research explores the relationship between the mobile theatre of Assam and the ideas of the public. I argue that Assamese mobile theatre has created an intersection between two kinds of public – the counter-public and the public culture. While mobile theatre is seen as an assertion of Assamese identity in the face of increasing globalization, at the same time, it has adapted itself to the demands of the time by using the latest technologies and content. Thus, the example of mobile theatre shows that a public can exhibit characteristics of being both a counter-public and public culture at the same time. There is an intersection between the two categories of public. Keeping in mind the nature of my topic, the methods that I used were mostly qualitative and include oral history, both participant and non-participant observation, interview, case study and ethnography. These methods complement each other in the sense that oral history, observation, interview and case study help a social scientist in writing a good ethnographic piece. However, doing a PhD is not just about collecting the data. A lot of it is also about writing, writing and more writing. This is especially true for students of the social sciences. It can be very overwhelming to come back from the field and sit down with the field notes. It often happens that the fieldwork goes great, and the researcher collects very rich and insightful data. But the challenge lies in putting the field notes into writing. After all, a researcher is someone who ‘observes, records, analyses, interprets and writes’ (Geertz 1977: 5).  The writing part is equally important as the fieldwork part. So what can be done to ease the process of writing? As someone who has just finished writing her thesis, I have some vital insights to share with others who may be struggling. First of all, it is a good idea to discuss one’s ideas thoroughly with his/her supervisor. It is also not a bad idea to note down every minute of those discussions. Many times, brilliant and interesting ideas can emerge from those meetings. It is also important to...

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Citizen Scientists Wanted! In the Fight Against the Coronavirus
Apr01

Citizen Scientists Wanted! In the Fight Against the Coronavirus

“I asked myself how I, as a computer scientist, could contribute in a meaningful way to research on the pandemic. […] I have little time, but some unused computing capacity. In light of the severity of the situation, I am willing to bear the temporary significant increase in electricity costs if it means that researchers can work on a drug faster.”[1] While precautionary measures are taken worldwide and solidarity networks are emerging locally, scientists are working day and night to develop medication and especially a vaccine against COVID-19, the new coronavirus that is spreading globally. But this needs time. In order to accelerate the processes some projects reach out to the public for help. By participating in citizen science projects volunteers can now contribute to the research on the virus, both with their resources and with their creativity. Increasing numbers of participants in such projects show that this meets the desire of many people to do more – besides staying at home and washing their hands – to stop the rapid spreading of the virus. Online citizen science describes the practice of involving the general public (a.k.a. “the crowd”) into scientific projects. The aim is to solve a specific scientific problem that scientists and their computers alone are unable to solve at all or in foreseeable time. Oftentimes, the tasks to be solved are time consuming and include a large amount of data to be collected and/or analyzed. One of the unsolved questions scientists around the world currently need the help of the crowd with concerns the protein structure of the coronavirus. The coronavirus detects and infects human cells with the spike proteins on its surface (more information on this). Knowing more about these structures and creating proteins that can bind to the spike protein of the coronavirus to blog it is essential. One general problem in protein structure prediction is that there are numerous ways that a protein may fold. This is where the crowd comes in. Three citizen science projects that try to tackle this problem with the help of the crowd and that have gained increased attention over the last weeks are Folding@home, Rosetta@Home and Foldit ­– and each does it in their own way. Folding@home is a distributed computing project for simulating protein dynamics based at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.[2] After downloading the software, users help advance research on cures for diseases simply by running the software while they’re not working at their computer, using idle CPU-cycles of their computer. With the announcement of Folding@home in late February to specifically focus on coronavirus, the project has received huge response...

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