Dormant Ethnobotany: A Case Study of Decline in Regional Plant Knowledge in the bull Run Mountains of Virginia

Susan Leopold (2011)

This dissertation introduces and applies the concept of dormant ethnobotany, a concept that helps explain the socio-economic, cultural and ecological aspects and implications of the transition away from active use of ethnobotanical knowledge and the factors that may lead to its re-emergence. Dormant ethnobotany is the study of relationships between people and plants that are inactive, but nonetheless still alive in memories, the historic record, and folklore and thereby capable of reemergence in support of the transition to a more sustainable society. The dissertation extends the field of ethnobotany from its current roots in the dynamic ethnobotany of indigenous peoples. I studied dormant ethnobotany from three significant perspectives - socio-economic, cultural, and ecological - using a multiple methods approach and in the context of a case study of the Bull Run Mountains of northern Virginia's Piedmont Region. The research is further refined by focusing on the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s as the key transition period from dynamic to dormant ethnobotany in this geographic area. Each perspective helps shape the concept of dormant ethnobotany and explains its causes and consequences. In this abstract I state key findings about the significance of dormant ethnobotanical research, how it should be conducted, and its relevance to sustainable development. Understanding the causes and consequences of dormant ethnobotany in turn sheds light on the pathways for ethnobotany to reemerge and the benefits of this reemergence as the world turns towards more localized, sustainable production systems consistent with the preservation of traditional ways of interacting with the land.

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