“The thing is, to adapt is traditional”: Environmental Change and its Effects on Traditional Ecological Knowledge in the Eastern United States


In this essay, I examine the transformation of traditional ecological knowledge, particularly that concerning plant knowledge pertaining to medicine. I argue that this transformation is a result of an environmental history influenced by the presence of a colonial population. When the Europeans began to arrive in the Eastern United States in the sixteenth century, they created a domino effect of environmental change. This change occurred because the Europeans had different cultural adaptations when interacting with the environment than the natives did; in other words, they drew from a differently developed form of ecological knowledge. When the colonists utilized this knowledge to interact with their new environment in the Eastern United States, they altered the environment in ways that contradicted how the natives interacted with the same environment. The ecological changes occurring as a result of such alterations fostered changes in native traditional knowledge, because there were now new plants, animals, and people to interact with, as well as transformations of the landscape to contend with

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