Amazonia Connected

Popular images of Amazonia exhibit an endless expanse of rainforest replete with towering trees, unusual animals, primeval peoples, and threatened ecosystems. However, the Amazon basin is much more than the world’s greatest rainforest, richest reserve of biological and cultural diversity, and largest source of running fresh water. Amazonia is a region crucial to maintaining a planetary climate balance.  Ultimately, Amazonia is a space of connection and contradiction. Straddling nine countries, the Amazon basin flows through the rest of the world: providing beef to Europe, timber to Asia, and drugs to North America. These and other economic networks threaten the basin before we fully understand the region’s role in climate change, species diversity, and water and carbon cycling. Indeed, today’s Amazonia is puzzling, with a population that is more urban than rural, with more spaces of connection than isolation, and more questions than answers.

Inside the Classroom

Geographers increasingly study regions through connectivity, and thus we will learn how Amazonian blow dart poisons facilitate open heart surgery, how an Amazonian river became the Rio Roosevelt, how Amazonian tree sap fueled the industrial age, how a basin in South America expounds a gendered Greek mythology, and even how one of the city of Richmond’s monumental figures, U.S. Navy commander and Virginia Geographer M. F. Maury, argued for U.S. acquisition of the Amazon. However, we will also explore the ecological connections and relationships within Amazonia such as how a largely infertile soil supports enormous trees, how the canopies of these trees house the greatest percentage of Amazonian organisms, and how these organisms contribute to the livelihoods of peoples near and far.

This course uses geographic concepts to explore the contradictions and connections of Amazonia. We will underscore the region’s importance and relevance to the rest of the world through a study of the ecologies, histories, and geographies of Amazonia. Geography is by nature interdisciplinary, and this course is suitable for student-scholars with broad environmental, global, and Latin American interests.

Outside the Classroom

Participating in this SSIR course will allow you the opportunity to take part in a variety of activities outside the classroom.  You will explore and camp in Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp over a September weekend to understand the cultural, political, and ecological parallels between this Virginian backwater and the world’s largest jungle.  This trip will also prepare you for Fall Break when you will travel to the Amazon rainforest! Over the course of the year, each student is responsible for selecting, curating, and facilitating a discussion on a classic film about Amazonia so the class can learn the myths, misperceptions, and motives of the storytellers.  We will have Amazonian Feast, where we visit a river and have a picnic of Amazonian foods available here.  Also, Amazonian experts will be invited to campus to talk with our class about the geography, ecology, and struggle of the Amazon.

Research and Capstone Project

Over the course of the year students will explore the James River by canoe to better understand parallels between the iconic rivers of Virginia and South America.  Students will also have the opportunity to make a map to present to an Indigenous community seeking to better visualize their territory, rivers, and climate.  The spring semester will be devoted to a capstone experience where students will explore and display the discoveries they have made throughout the year, and where they will also have the chance to reflect on their travel to the rainforest.