Plants, People, and Culture

Discipline: Environmental Science
Instructor: Affolter
Credits: 3

Field Work: Day 2 - Friday, 5 February | China Download Syllabus

This course will explore the interrelationships between humans and plants. An introduction to basic plant biology including plant anatomy, morphology, physiology, reproduction, and taxonomy will provide a framework for exploring the process of plant domestication and its economic and cultural consequences for humans. We will explore the origin and dispersal of major plants used by humans as food, drink, and medicines, and the use of plants in spiritual and material culture. Major focus will be placed on the importance of plants in cultural history, and the continuing importance of plants in human health. Case studies, including the role of plants in local diets and traditional medicine, will be drawn from countries and cultures visited during the voyage.

Field Work

Country: China
Day: 2 - Friday, 5 February

Traditional Chinese medicine has been practiced for more than 5,000 years. It relies heavily on plants for the prevention and cure of disease, and it is based on a belief system that differs strikingly from modern Western or allopathic medicine. Students will visit a traditional Chinese pharmacy to observe the tremendous diversity of plants as well as animals used in Chinese formulas, and to learn about their use and preparation. We will also visit a Chinese clinic to observe additional therapeutic techniques such as acupuncture, moxibustion, and massage.

Academic Objectives:
1. Observe the diversity of plant and animal parts used in traditional Chinese medicine, and the manner in which they are prescribed and prepared.
2. Discuss the differences between the belief systems and objectives of traditional medicine and modern Western (allopathic) medicine.
3. Observe traditional therapeutic techniques such as acupuncture, moxibustion, and massage, as practiced in a Chinese medicine clinic.