Member Profile

Jacob Campbell

Environmental Anthropologist, The Field Museum

Contributor, Platypus: The CASTAC Blog

Research Interests

About Jacob

Jacob Campbell is an Environmental Anthropologist with the Keller Science Action Center at the Field Museum, where he leads the social science team for the Chicago region. Along with museum colleagues, Jacob helped establish the Roots and Routes Initiative with the Chicago Park District and a network of community leaders, artists, and organizations. In Pembroke Township, he conducts qualitative participatory research with local landowners that informs decision-making about conservation and quality of life. Jacob also co-directs the Urban Ecology Field Lab undergraduate summer course, and collaborates with partners across Chicago to improve access to the city’s cultural institutions and natural areas for underrepresented residents. Jacob’s approach to community-based research and applied anthropology has emerged through two decades of work with groups that include the Zuni Tribe, Gulf Coast fisherman, and Trinidadian oilfield workers.

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Contributions to Platypus: The CASTAC Blog

View all of Jacob's posts on Platypus: The CASTAC Blog.

Race, Rural Livelihoods, and Contested Conservation Landscapes

A visit to Basu Farms in Pembroke Township, about 60 miles south of Chicago, provides a glimpse into the entanglement of land tenure, black history and self-determination in rural Northeastern Illinois. On one side of the main building at Basu Natural Farms, shelves line the walls containing rows of dark bottles of tincture and salves labeled ‘black walnut,’ ‘St. John’s wort,’ ‘horsetail,’ and many others.  Pam Basu makes these herbal medicines primarily from plants that she grows organically or wild harvests. The Basus also sell vegetables and flowers produced on the farm. On the other side of the building is a small museum displaying objects that highlight the African-American experience in this region.  For many Pembroke residents, land tenure and the form their livelihoods take cannot be disconnected from local black knowledge traditions and the struggle for post-Jim Crow enfranchisement. The annual Marcus Garvey festival held on the Basu Farm, and a summer rodeo, are demonstrations of black pride expressed through identities and expertise related to the land. In this post, I briefly consider how historic cultural and ethnic ties to contested landscapes can influence biodiversity conservation initiatives in the United States. Land conservation for biodiversity protection is regularly fraught with conflict.  Conservation initiatives often are perceived by local landowners and leaders as threats to sovereignty and an infringement on land use decision-making. Differences rooted in race, class and beliefs about what constitutes “nature” can widen gaps between conservation organizations and the people residing near lands targeted for protection. Yet (more...)