Ethnobiological Media Archive

Maguey, 1930, Mexico

In Production...

The Ethnobiological Media Archive is a proposal under development.  Some of the activities described have already been begun; others are projected.  Commentary is welcome and may be sent to David Strauch here.

This program will further develop the use of electronic media in ethnobiological research and presentations.  The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Botany Department will offer classes in research filmmaking in collaboration with UH's Academy for Creative Media, establish an accessible collection of media for both research and presentation uses, and produce a series of films treating ethnobotanical issues.  This has been selected as one of the programs for the University of Hawai‘i Foundation's Centennial Campaign.

Research and Visual Media

Academic research and documentary filmmaking are similar in structure, but have historically differed in orientation.  A result of this has been that most documentaries lack academic rigor.  New developments in digital media put filmmaking within the means of researchers, yet the possibilities of more rigorous use of the media are only beginning to be explored.  This project aims to encourage this exploration.

The goals of the Ethnobiological Media Archive are:

  • to foster the culturally respectful use of visual media in ethnobiological research
  • to improve the quality of visual media being collected and produced by ethnobiologists
  • to provide training and design materials and academic curricula in ethnobiological filmmaking
  • to develop a library of visual material documenting cultural/ecological interactions
  • to facilitate access to and distribution of these materials
  • to develop and produce academically rigorous documentary films
  • to foster academic rigor in documentary filmmaking
In order to approach these goals, the Archive will have three basic, interlocking components: a library of footage, a training program, and a production studio.


At the center of this project is a collection of footage documenting culturally significant plant/human interactions. The library of footage will provide a resource for both researchers and filmmakers.  One of our projects is to figure out how best to structure access to the material.  There may be a catalog available online, from which high-quality material can be selected and sent to researchers on DVD or to filmmakers on tape.

One of the functions of the catalog is to track information on participants and filmmakers, and develop protocols for the use of footage and assignment of rights.  Different levels of ownership of material will need to be recognized and maintained.  Informed consent of participants is a critical feature of both research and filmmaking, and will be prioritized within the archive.

Our initial collection at the University of Hawai‘i contains footage from Southeast Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific. Additionally we have taped presentations from the 2001 Building Bridges with Traditional Knowledge conference, some presentations from Society for Economic Botany (SEB) meetings, and 40 presentations for the UH Introduction to Ethnobotany course (accessible here).  We are in the process of cataloging this material. 


In order to foster the use of media in research, and to increase the coverage and quality of material available in the archive, a key component of the archive project is the training of students of ethnobotany in skills of using new digital media, both filming and editing.

Trainings have thus far been conducted at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and at the 2006 SEB meeting in Thailand.  An ongoing film workshop/project at UH Mānoa is described here.  The training in Thailand was supported in part by an Arts and Sciences Advisory Council Award, and an Academic Opportunities Scholarship from the Colleges of Arts and Sciences Alumni Association, which also funded the beginning production on a film on the usefulness of markets in ethnobotanical research.  Future trainings will be conducted internationally in conjunction with trips to produce films.

An exercise for beginning ethnobotanical filmmakers is described here.
A course on ethnobiological filmmaking is being developed and will be described here later.


Part of the work of the Archive will be the production of documentary films treating ethnobiological themes.  These will conform to the standards of research expected by academic journals, including submission to peer-review.  In preparing productions our target is not a film which may be shown at festivals, but a navigable presentation available through other digital means of distribution, such as DVD, which offer greater possibilities for access and rigor.

For example, since DVDs allow multiple sound and subtitle tracks, no original material need be lost to a covering voice-over.  One of our ongoing concerns will be the preservation of material in its original language, and the accessibility of this material in the final presentation, so that members of the communities in which the research took place will be able to view the final work.  Other advantages of the navigable presentation are the ability to have multiple layers of presentation, from an accessible abstract to a possibly more specialized exposition, and the ability to append research data to the presentation.

One of our projects for the coming year will be the production in Mexico of a film on the Ethnobiology of Mole, presented by Edelmira Linares of the UNAM Botanical Garden.

When funding is available, the EMA will award several small grants for the production of ethnobiological films.  Successful applicants will demonstrate, within the working team, competence in both filmmaking and ethnobiological research, and will present a research plan and storyboard of their proposed projects.