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Dr. Jon Hageman
Dr. Jon Hageman

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Research @NEIU: Anthropology Professor Joins Field Museum, Receives Federal Grant To Build Plant-Use Database

Dr. Jon Hageman, Associate Professor in Anthropology, has been appointed Research Associate at the Chicago Field Museum, in recognition of his work with the museum's Searle Herbarium. Dr. Hageman also received a National Science Foundation grant from the area of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (Archeaology-Senior Research Program) to complete an online Mesoamerican ethnobotanical database. 

Ethnobotany is a multidisciplinary area of research that, broadly, explores the relationships and interactions between people and plants. Specifically, ethnobotanists study the traditional knowledge and customs of a people regarding the uses of plants, including medicine, food, construction, fiber, ornamental, resin, and religious uses. Disciplines contributing to ethnobotanical inquiry include botany, anthropology, chemistry, religious studies, nutrition studies, comparative folklore, and archaeology.

Together with his colleagues, Dr. Hageman will complete the Mesoamerican Ethnobotanical Database (MED), an online ethnobotanical reference for over 1400 plant species. Currently, ethnobotanical information and scaled color images of plants, wood, seeds, fruits, and flowers do not exist in one published source. There is a lack of comprehensive reference and plant identification resources, particularly online databases. The MED database will remove these obstacles. The database could also be used to facilitate new research agendas, including ancient medicine, and aesthetics, and create a more comprehensive understanding of ancient diet.

By making this database available online, Dr. Hageman and his colleagues will make open the resources of the Field Museum of Natural History's Searle Herbarium (known for its extensive New World tropical plant collections) to traditionally underserved scholars, particularly those in smaller institutions located far from large herbaria and those in Latin America. Underserved scholars will have a bounty of information available to help train new generations of students and foster novel research in the area of ethnobotany. Using the database, plant identification can be taught to undergraduate and graduate students in archaeology, cultural anthropology, and botany.  

The preliminary version of the MED is available for use. It can be accessed at: http://emuweb.fieldmuseum.org/botany/search_mesoamerican.php

Dr. Hageman is an archaeologist interested in the meanings of plants and animals consumed by the ancient Maya. His interest is in the ways in which plants were used as components in the creation and maintenance of social inequality in Pre-Columbian Maya society.  

Note: in addition to this award, two other Northeastern Illinois University faculty have received National Science Foundation research grants. Dr. Breckie Church, Psychology, was awarded a grant in 2009, and Dr. Zhonggang Zeng, Mathematics, received two: one each in 2004 and 2007.

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