Apr 23

Book talk: Dangerous Spirits

Invite to Book Talk

Invite to Book Talk

If you live in Oregon, I will be giving a free book talk at Powell’s bookstore on Hawthorne in Portland this May 7th. Please note that it’s the Southeast store, not the main branch of Powell’s downtown. In this talk, I’m going to talk about my most recent book on an evil spirit in Northern Algonquian belief. I plan to discuss why I became interested in such an unusual topic, and then trace the history of the windigo through time. I will begin discussing the windigo in the early records of the Jesuits, through 19th century murder trials, before finishing with a discussion of the windigo in contemporary popular culture. Throughout, I will focus on how different generations used and adapted the idea of the windigo in response to colonialism, which has become a common theme in recent indigenous literature. I’m looking forward to this event, and want to welcome anyone in Portland who would like to attend.

Are you curious about the book, but aren’t able to attend? The book is available in print from Amazon in the United States now. You can also find the book in Kindle in the United States and Canada, as well as other formats such as Google Play BooksNookKobo and iBooks.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/04/book-talk-dangerous-spirits/

Apr 18

The AIDS Pandemic in Latin America

This week I had a chance to have a discussion via Skype with a class in Ithaca, New York, which had read my book on the AIDS Pandemic in Latin America. The class asked what had changed with the epidemic since I wrote my book, as well as what would I change if I were to write it now? The good news is that there has been a great deal of progress in the fight against HIV in the region. More people are receiving appropriate therapy, fewer babies are being born with HIV, and the rate of condom use is up in many nations. At the same time, the number of people living with HIV is slowly increasing, in part because people are now living longer with the infection, thanks to better therapy. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/04/the-aids-pandemic-in-latin-america/

Apr 15

What happened in Coahuila?

Metropolitan cathedral in Mexico City, from the CIA World Factbook, which states that it is in the public domain

Metropolitan cathedral in Mexico City, from the CIA World Factbook, which states that it is in the public domain

In September 2014 there was a tragic event in Mexico when 43 students in the state of Guerrero, Mexico disappeared. Despite some conspiracy theories, it is now clear that all were murdered by a drug cartel, which worked in collaboration with both the local police and the mayor, as well as the mayor’s wife. Mexicans were shocked by this event, which caused a political crisis for President Enrique Pena Nieto.  The world media gave extensive coverage to events, as people were stunned at the brazenness of the crime. The Iguala murders became a symbol of the horror of the Mexican drug war, and the extent to which it has corrupted not only the police, but also political elites. But what happened in Coahuila, in northeastern Mexico, and why have events there not received similar coverage? Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/04/what-happened-in-coahuila/

Apr 09

Mexican Ambush

Since 2006, when the Mexican drug war began, perhaps 150,000 people have either been killed or disappeared. Very few of these murders have ever been prosecuted. Even the number of dead is controversial, and it is possible that the true figure is much higher. The Mexican government has had significant successes recently, such as the capture on February 25, 2015 of La Tuta, the head of the Knights Templar in the Mexican state of Michoacan. Still, as quickly as one cartel is destroyed, a new one emerges to take its place. In this particular case, the New Generation cartel is quickly filling the space vacated by the Knights Templar. If anything, the level of violence against the state seems to be increasing. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/04/mexican-ambush/

Apr 07

Ancient Medicines

Bayeux Tapestry Scene 44, taken from Wikipedia Commons at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bayeux_Tapestry_scene44_William_Odo_Robert.jpg

Bayeux Tapestry Scene 44, taken from Wikipedia Commons

Over the last ten years there has been a lot of discussion about the post-antiobiotic era, as increasing numbers of drugs lose their efficacy. One of the key problems has been the practice of using antibiotics as a growth enhancer in agriculture. Recently, researchers at Texas Tech discovered that antibiotic resistant bacteria from feedlots are airborne. Now there may be a new alternative to addressing antiobiotic resistance discovered in England, where researchers at the University of Nottingham tested a recipe to treat infections from the 9th century. There cannot be too many medical researchers willing to work with directions that have to be translated from early Anglo-Saxon. If you’re curious, you can click here to see the strengths of a medieval approach to the problem of infection. What the researchers found was that a recipe based on cow bile, garlic and wine successfully killed MRSA in the lab, even when it had developed biofilms, which make it difficult to treat. Of course, this study took place in testtubes and mice rather than in a clinical setting. It will be some time before we know if these results can be replicated in people. Still, it raises the point that the modern age does not have a monopoly on medical knowledge.

When Chinese scientists needed to find a treatment for drug-resistant malaria during the Vietnam War, they turned to sweet wormwood, which was an age-old treatment found in classic Chinese medical texts. It soon became the standard treatment for malaria, although resistance is again emerging in South East Asia. Who knows what other remedies may be hidden in old formularies that have not been used in centuries, not only in Europe, but also in many other nations?

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/04/ancient-medicines/

Apr 01

Book Review of Nicholas Arons’ Waiting for Rain

Dry earth in the Sonoran desert, taken by Tomas Casteleza. Obtained from Wikipedia Commons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Drought.jpg

Dry earth in the Sonoran desert, taken by Tomas Casteleza. Obtained from Wikipedia Commons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Drought.jpg

Last fall I taught a hybrid course on Modern Brazil, in which I sought cover all of Brazil’s major regions. I assigned Nicholas Arons’ Waiting for Rain: the Politics and Poetry of Drought in Northeast Brazil, because of it examines many facets of life in this vast region. While the focus of the book is drought, Arons uses this theme to talk about all aspects of northeastern society, because he believes that drought is not only a natural phenomenon. If societies can be made either vulnerable or resilient to natural catastrophes, then a study of drought entails a rich description of society. The inequality of landholding, self-serving elites, and indifferent government, have all exacerbated the impact of drought in the region. The review that follows is shaped by not only my reading, but also the thoughts of my students.

Many students liked the fact that Arons described his own experiences during fieldwork, which were sometimes reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson’s prose. During the class discussion their was some concern about how these passages should be read. Could these events really have happened as he described them, or was this a stylized, gonzo journalism rendering of his experience? Most students agreed, however, that the levity of these stories lightened the tone of what would otherwise have been a bleak work. The absurdity of his personal stories also mirrored the ludicrousness of government efforts to fight the drought, which led to such outrages as water containment facilities for wealthy ranchers, and rain seeding experiments in northeastern skies. His stories also evoked a sense of compassion for the ordinary people living in the region. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/04/book-review-of-nicholas-arons-waiting-for-rain/

Mar 23

Online “course” about Ebola

Two outstanding journalists in the area of infectious disease, Helen Branswell of Canada Press and Martin Enserink with Science, have teamed up to create an online “course” on Ebola.  Although it was designed (with support from the U.S. Department of State) to help journalists preparing to cover Ebola, the website will give anyone a good introduction to basic facts about the disease. Another good source for information is the CDC Ebola website, for more in depth coverage.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/03/online-course-about-ebola/

Mar 15

David Quammen’s The Chimp and the River

Mercator Map of the Congo, 1595, from the Northwestern University Library Maps of Africa collection, accessed through Wikipedia.

Mercator Map of the Congo, 1595, from the Northwestern University Library Maps of Africa collection, accessed through Wikipedia.

I have done work for much of the last 15 years in global health, and wrote a book about the AIDS Pandemic in Latin America. I’ve returned to thinking about HIV recently because I’ve just given a lecture on the Global AIDS pandemic, during which I discussed media coverage of not only the new gene therapy to fight HIV, but also the discovery of an HIV strain in Cuba that seems to lead to AIDS more rapidly than is typical. Behind these news stories remains the fact that over 35 million people are now living with HIV. It is true that impressive advances in both medicine and public health now mean that there is more hope concerning the epidemic than at any time before. Still, despite the merited attention given to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, it’s worth remembering that over a million people died of AIDS last year, far more than all the Ebola outbreaks in recorded history combined. How did this outbreak begin? Since I first began to study the virus a great deal has been learned about its evolutionary history, and the circuitous path that the virus took from an unknown individual in Cameroon to become a global pandemic. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/03/david-quammens-the-chimp-and-the-river/

Mar 05

Climate Change and War: the origins of the Syrian Conflict

Climatologists and social scientists have been debating whether a severe drought in the MIddle East may have led to the outbreak of war in that country for at least two years. I discussed this topic in a blog post published in 2013. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is now receiving a lot of attention for its detailed study of the question. So far, the best coverage that I have seen of the topic has been Andrew Freeman’s article, “The Seeds of War,” which combines text with photographs and graphics. I highly recommend this piece. You can also read the abstract for the original article here. Of course,  few questions are trickier than the causation of a war, which are multi-factorial. The anniversary of the outbreak of World War One last year led to a plethora of academic studies about that war’s causation. By its nature, it’s almost impossible to do counter-factual history; that is, to demonstrate what would have happened if something had not taken place. Nonetheless, the causal link in Syria between the collapse of the agricultural economy, the explosive growth of urban populations, and the breaking of social bonds, is a persuasive one. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/03/climate-change-and-war-the-origins-of-syrian-conflict/

Mar 02

INTL at Portland State is on Facebook

Quite a few of the people who follow this blog are either at Portland State University, or in the Portland area. So I wanted to let people know that the Department of International and Global Studies is now on Facebook. We have a lot going on, as you can see here. I also want to give my thanks to Katrina Grundman for her fantastic work building this.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University.

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/03/intl-at-portland-state-is-on-facebook/

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